Monday, March 23, 2015

Little Big Man

I'm a little guy.

On a good day, when gravity isn't being too dickish, I totter around at a vertigo-soothing five feet six inches.

Undertall for an average adult man, to be sure.

But hey, what are you gonna do? Genes are genes. They line up how they line up. No point getting fussed about it.

Unlike a lot of short guys, though, I've never been one to get overly hung up on my lack of verticality. No Napoleon Complexes for me, thanks.


Probably because, while I've always been a little guy, I've also always been a pretty big guy.

Which is to say, what I lack in height, I more than make up for in breadth.

Visual Approximation:

This. Except my cape isn't as fancy.
Also, I'm much blockier.

I've always been broad. Cartoonishly so. Even when I was thin. (Check that. "Thin" isn't really a thing I can be.) "Unfat" I suppose.

When I hit puberty it was like somebody yanked the ripcord on an airplane escape raft. Almost overnight, muscle sprouted everywhere. I went from a scrawny little spider monkey of a child ... to a lowland gorilla of a teen.

Sturdy. Burly. Dense. Thick.

I have the type of body that's built for pulling a plow. Like a Shetland pony crossed with a Clydesdale.

So even at my unfattest, I'm still absurdly broad.

Like a mailbox made of meat.

I honestly don't know how they got this photo of me without skin. I almost always have skin.

I'm often reminded of a great throw-away joke from Cheers:

What are you up to, Mr. Peterson?

My ideal weight, if I were eleven feet tall.

Which pretty much sums up the relationship I've had with my body since about the age of 10. (By the way, some quick back-of-the-envelope math says my ideal height would be about 8'4".)

So I wasn't hugely surprised when the doctor turned to me and said:

"You are morbidly obese."


(Okay, I was pretty surprised.)

"Morbidly obese."



"As in--"


Jeez. I knew I'd paunched up a little in recent years, but it's not like I'm one of those poor souls that have to be cut out of their houses by the fire department.

"Just out of curiosity ... where are you getting those numbers?" I asked.

"Your BMI."


"That's Body--"

"Body Mass Index. Right. The chart. I'm familiar with its work."

"I'm sorry, but your pie chart seems to be composed entirely of pie."

Now, I'm not saying the chart is bullshit. It's a generalized tool meant to help a broad spectrum of people get healthier. I have no quarrel with that.

And I'm also not denying that I'm significantly "well-marbled" right now.

It's just that, if you're built like me -- and god help you if you are -- that chart doesn't really "work."

It doesn't factor in muscle mass or bone density or frame. So if you're a dense meat brick like myself, the numbers get a little squiffy.

According to the BMI chart, a fella of my height ought to be tipping the scales at roughly HALF of my current weight.

It's true -- I really do need to drop some weight. (I'm planning to shed about 50 pounds of unneeded girth over the next year.) But the BMI chart would prefer I drop a ludicrous 130!

This is not a thing that is likely. Nor is it -- without considerable assistance from a serious consumptive disorder and at least two amputations -- even remotely possible.

At the recommended 135 pounds, you'd be able to see every bone in my body. Every rib, every vertebrae, all my teeth ... Even the microscopic bones inside my eardrums.


Look, I know my body. I've been lumbering around inside it for the past 45 years. At 190 pounds I'll have a pretty respectable six-pack. At 135 I'd be horrifying. Like, Christian-Bale-in-The-Machinist horrifying.

So, what I'm saying is ... if I can land in the neighborhood of 200 pounds ... that'll do, pig. That'll do.

"Hey kids! It's Mr. Bulky! Enjoy my thickness, won't you? I certainly don't!"

So while I try not to take the whole BMI thing too personally ... it does jab a pointy stick straight into one of my emotional sore spots.

Like I said at the top, I've never been hung up about being short.

But I've long been hung up about being wide.

I may not be tall, but I'm physically obtrusive.

Put simply ... I'm in your way.

It's an issue I've had my entire adult life. Even in the salad days of my 20s and 30s. Back before the washboard turned into a washtub.

I've always been in your way.

This is especially vexing for me because I consider Personal Space to be sacrosanct. A right guaranteed by the Constitution. Or the Magna Carta. Or at least by the unwritten, but widely agreed upon Social Contract. We are all entitled to our own physical buffer zone. I don't want you in mine, and I sure as hell don't want to be in yours.

Trouble is, when you're essentially a slow-moving man-hassock, it's near impossible to stay out of everybody's buffer zones.

I don't want to be in your way ... desperately so ... but my thickness makes a hypocrite of me. A fact that drives me more than a little nuts.

At all times, I'm acutely aware of the space I take up.

I twist and I contort, but I just can't help it. I'm physically obtrusive. I'm in your way.


When you're broad, the world just isn't designed for you. Restaurant booths, crowded sidewalks, escalators, theater seats, not so crowded sidewalks, subways, buses, trains -- any kind of public transit, really -- it's all gonna be uncomfortable somehow.

I can't squeeze through a subway turnstile unless I twist sideways. I can't walk down the aisle of my commuter train without having to bob and weave to keep my shoulders from bouncing off the heads of everybody on the damn train as I trudge past.

Even those little "modesty" partitions they put between urinals to keep guys from spraying urine all over one another are too narrow for my ridiculous shoulders. I either have to stand further back (not recommended), or wedge myself in at a 45 (also not recommended). Hell, if men's public restroom toilet stalls weren't universally horrifying places, I'd consider doing all my peeing in there. But then, there's usually not enough room in those things for me to turn around either.

And as you'd expect, air travel is particularly fraught with miseries.

There's nothing quite so dispiriting as that grim, crestfallen look that settles over your seatmate's face when they realize the wide, rhinoceros-shaped guy squeezing down the aisle is headed for the seat next to them.

It sucks pretty hard knowing that your mere physical existence is causing other people discomfort.

I always try for an aisle seat so at least one shoulder can hang over the side. (Which then gets clipped by every single person heading to and from the toilet. Not to mention the bruises from the drink cart.) Then, in order to clear the arm rest, I clamp my hands in my armpits and cross my arms high across my chest for the duration of the flight. Worst case scenario, I also have to keep my torso twisted at a 45 degree angle the whole time.

When you're thick-set, the world is a neverending Parent/Teacher Night and you're crammed into those little kindergarten desks wherever you go.

Then, of course, there's the fact that I commute into Manhattan from Jersey every day. A voyage teeming with thousands of some of the most aggressive, impatient and hostile humans on the planet.

(I've said it before and I'll say it again: When we get the news that the asteroid is coming and the world is about to end, commuters will be the first ones to start with the cannibalism. Even before the asteroid hits. And even if they've just had lunch. Just to be dicks.)

I'm in their way. And they hate me for it.

I can feel their loathing searing into me as they push, shove and desperately scramble to get around, over and away from me at all costs. All the while, resenting the utter volume I occupy.




And it sucks.

Penn Station. 7th Avenue and 32nd Street, New York, NY 10001

(True, they pretty much hate every other living soul, too, but that doesn't make you feel any better about it in the moment.)

Buying clothes is exactly as vexing as you'd expect, too.

Well, buying nice clothes, at any rate. There really isn't a rack off of which I can buy formal wear. This is why I'm almost always seen wearing cargo shorts/pants and t-shirts. I just buy a double or triple XL in everything and roll it up.

The good news is, I'm mercifully through the gauntlet of all my friends' first marriages. There was a stretch in my 30s where I was asked to be in about a dozen weddings in a row. The chief indignity of renting a tuxedo when you're anvil-shaped is that you will endure more fittings and alterations than the bride. And when you're done, it's still going to look like shit and be crazy uncomfortable.

I remember once trying to buy a suit jacket at a Men's Warehouse and having a great deal of trouble finding one to fit me across the chest and back. (Nevermind the foot and a half they'd need to chop off the sleeves.)

The sales clerk, who clearly wished he was somewhere else, tried to hurry me along. He made no effort to hide his disdain. (His name, if I recall, was something like Smuggy McFuckStick, but I could be mis-remembering that.)

"I think I need more room through the shoulders and upper arms. It feels like I'm going to rip right out of it if I move wrong."

"Well, I don't think it's meant for wearing to the gym," he smirked condescendingly.

"Well, I don't think it would be appropriate if it splits up the back while I'm carrying the coffin," I shot back.

He didn't say much after that.

And yes. One of the armpits did rip out during that funeral. But fortunately, no one noticed.

Except me.

So, yeah ... the point is ... I'm sorry for being in your way.

Maybe someday I'll figure out how to get out of mine.

Till next we meet ...

(Total side note: If we have Big & Tall stores why don't we have Short & Thick stores? Humans CAN be big without being tall, people. It's Science.)

(Seriously, how great would it be to have a shop that specifically carried short and thick sizes? How great? Very great. And it should be called "Napoleon's Complex." And I would totally shop there all the time.)

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