I'm Living Large, but It's an Illusion

Posted: Sep 18, 2014 12:01 AM

A few months ago I made a trip to attend my daughter Isabelle's commencement at an institution of higher learning. Having no apparel to signify my investment in this particular school, I entered the bookstore and found a shirt emblazoned with its name. Too impatient to try the shirt on, I eyeballed the medium and the large and decided the medium would fit.

When I got it home, of course, I found it didn't. It was a bit short and a bit snug. I should have gone with the large. So it's official: Appearances notwithstanding, I'm a big man.

_This claim will elicit disbelieving chortles from my 5-foot-7 wife, who told me early in our courtship that I was the shortest guy she had ever dated. She also has three sons taller than I am. I informed her that at 5-foot-10 - or, as Robin Roberts says of herself, "5-foot-10 and worth the climb" -- I am above the average for American males, which is 5-foot-9.

Her reaction to this claim was something like that of the Swedish mother in the new NBC TV comedy "Welcome to Sweden." Told that her statuesque daughter's American boyfriend is of average height, she scoffs: "No way. Maybe if you include children and Asian people."

I wish I could tell you my new shirt is tight because of my massive pectorals and biceps. Truth is, I'm of the body type technically known as "pencil neck." I pump iron at the gym mainly so my arms don't look like they belong to a female fashion model. Some days, I think it's working.

In my early teens, someone gave me an old, battered shot put: a 12-pound metal ball. I suddenly discovered a burning ambition to be a shot putter and spent hours heaving it in my backyard. At the time, I didn't notice that a) everyone who actually threw the shot in organized competition had the physique of a rhinoceros and b) I didn't.

Nobody had the heart to tell me that there is no such thing as a middleweight shot put champion. When I showed up for high school track and field tryouts, the coach took one look and sent me over to the distance runners. Had the band been practicing, he might have sent me over to the woodwind players.

Eventually, I figured out that nature had blessed me with the perfect physique for hefting a reporter's notebook. And really, I'm fine with it. Piano-moving never struck me as a profession with a future.

I would barely qualify as large on a girl's high school basketball team. Yet when I look in my closet, I find that most of my shirts, jackets and overcoats carry the mark of "L." A Martian inspecting them might worry that if I caught him in my closet, I could crush him to death by sitting on him.

The clothes sizing issue baffles me, and it baffles my trim, 5-foot-4 daughter. Isabelle buys gifts for four adult males -- dad, two brothers, boyfriend -- who are all roughly the same size. She does not consider any of us big.

Back when she was playing high school ice hockey, she liked to show off her strength by giving me a hug and then lifting me off the floor, a habit she has not outgrown. It's kind of sweet and kind of humiliating.

_"Have you ever seen a large man?" she asks. "Have you ever stood next to a large man? You're not a large man. But I always have to buy a large."

I can't argue. Liam Neeson is large. A Chevy Suburban is large. The Mall of America is large. If I'm large, what is Charles Barkley? Or Alaska?

Or even Barack Obama, who at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds has a decent height and weight advantage on me? Come to think of it, so does Michelle Obama.

But the clothing manufacturers must think they can appeal to my ego by suggesting that I'm built to be a bouncer, just as they flatter women by turning size 10s into size 4s. Alas, the illusion only lasts until I go into a bar and find myself nose-to-sternum with an actual bouncer.

Real life has a way of reminding me that I'm just an average-sized guy, no matter what the tags say. So if I ever decide to try making it as a rap artist, I'll go with the name that, unlike that shirt I bought, fits perfectly: Notorious M.E.D.