"Chatting with reporters on his campaign jet recently, Dean complained about a New York Times story that had described him as 'diminutive.' Dean first noted that the Times reporter, Adam Nagourney, is 'about five-three.' Then he added, 'I don't know that I'm so short.' Well, a reporter asked, how tall are you? 'I'm five-eight,' Dean replied. 'Almost five-nine.' Dean probably should have stopped here, but he didn't. 'Five-eight and three-quarters,' he continued. 'The reason I don't tell anybody about the three-quarters is that it sounds like I'm very sensitive about my height. And I'm not.'"
Source: The New Republic - October 27, 2003 (Michael Crowley: The Cutest Little Baby Face)
First, let me tell America and the world that those three quarters of an inch are damned important. Like Dr. Dean, I too am five feet, eight and three quarter inches in height. But unlike Dr. Dean, I am not ashamed to trumpet those three quarters of an inch.
So, let me say that again: I am five feet, eight and three quarter inches tall. Almost five foot nine, and as you may know, that is just shy of the impressive six feet.
When I was ten, I went to an orthodontist for the first time. I inherited from my mother three things: crooked teeth, an absolute lack of a chin (now carefully concealed by a long, manly beard) and a short, stocky stature well-suited for coal mining. But, because of an early growth spurt in the forth grade (where I got my healthy head start on that oh-so useful beard) I was shown a growth curve by my new orthodontist that was wildly inaccurate. Of course, at the time, it was also highly flattering. My orthodontist showed me the growth curve and declared to me and my parents that I would be well over six feet when fully grown. As a fourth grader, I was already taller than my mother (she's five-five) and certainly that meant that when I was in twelfth grade I would be a lumbering monster whose heart had grown so large that walking up stairs would be considered a victory.
(In retrospect, we had a very strange orthodontist. He also told my sister that one of her legs was shorter than the other.)
My uncle lives in Springfield, Virginia, in the same neighborhood where Andre the Giant lived. We saw Andre at the supermarket once, before he died (his huge, all-loving heart would one day burst, but then, while nagging my mother for Twinkies, I had no inkling of that tragic fate). What we all noticed was that Andre was married to a decidedly diminutive woman. And they looked very happy.
And privately, I wondered what it was like for them to have sex. Along with starting a beard in the fourth grade, I can say now my imagination as a fourth grader had also grown.
I imagined that little Mrs. The Giant would have to ride atop Andre like a child on a Clydesdale. That is, a child riding a large horse as it is intended to be ridden, not in any sort of perverse or sexual way. Though, as a fourth grader, I knew a boy whose father owned a dairy ranch and that boy claimed that he had had a sexual experience with one of the cows. And I had also heard that another boy I knew, the boy with all of the rubber wrestling figures he carried around in a plastic tub, (a boy, who years later would be featured in the Jackson Citizen-Patriot for having been paid one thousand dollars by his parents for giving up television for a year... though he was allowed to watch video-tapes which I contend is cheating) had his first sexual experience with his black poodle.
Need I remind you that I and Howard Brush Dean III, M.D. stand at exactly the same height? Almost five foot nine by any reasonable man's reckoning.
I remember that Andre the Giant's hands were so large that when he held a gallon of milk, it was as though he were cupping the breast of a young lady. He was huge. And so gentle. His face was broad, almost bovine, the lips and the chin so full and fleshy that you could lose yourself in the details. His face was very much like Lou Ferigno's face, but with one important exception.
In Jackson, the largest city near where I grew up (a tiny village called Parma, Michigan... it used to be called Cracker Hill, and its population is 801, but we changed our name to Parma, I think out of misplaced pride... or perhaps out of a feeling of a need for overcompensation... and really, no one says they are from Parma because that place is just too small. We all say we are from Jackson, instead, because at least people can pretend to know where that is. Jackson once had a population of 60, 70 thousand people. It's the physical same size as Ann Arbor, which has a population of 100,000 people. But Jackson hit rough times during the 70s when auto plants closed and the Goodyear plant moved. Now, you are hard pressed to find more than 30,000 souls in the city limits, and a child can sit in the middle of Michigan Avenue downtown and fear no cars.)
Where was I? Five-foot-eight and three quarters, sex with cows, Jackson . . .
Oh, yeah, so, in Jackson, where I grew up, we have a thing called the Rose Festival. One of those well intentioned manufactured holidays for small cities that wish they were bigger. We have a Mr. Rose City contest that attracts second-tier body builders from all over the Midwest. They wander the streets for a day with their orange-fake-tans and ribbons tied just above their biceps, the day-glo streamers fluttering in the summer breeze. We watch hot air balloons pass over head, and everyone in Jackson tries to catch a glimpse of the typical celebrity judge, Mr. Lou Ferigno, former Mr. Olympia and former star of Television's The Incredible Hulk.
Lou doesn't bother with the fake tans or the streamers. He just stalks the streets with an expression that would be derisive if you could imagine Mr. Ferigno properly pronouncing "derisive." But, because you can't imagine that, I would say it's just sort of sullen. Grouchy is probably the word.
Andre never looked grouchy. Or, rather, that one time when I was kid in Virginia and I saw him at the grocery store near my uncle's house, he didn't look grouchy. He looked beatified. Serene. Benevolent, like an aging king. And I can imagine him saying those words.
I'm sorry he died. He really was as big as he seemed. Even his heart.
I guess that was the good news and that was the bad news.
But me, Howard Dean, we're five-eight and three-quarters. It's the only way we can be.
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