I was sitting around the house one evening when I suddenly wondered how tall Rock Hudson was. It’s not often that I think of him, but I’d recently rewatched the movie Giant, so he was on my mind.
One of the many things I’ll never understand is why a search on my computer might be different from a search on someone else’s – my sister Amy’s, for instance. She’ll go to Google, type in “What does a 50-year-old woman look like?” and summon pictures I can’t believe they allow on the internet, unlocked, where just anyone can see them. I don’t mean Playboy shots but the sort you’d find in Hustler. It’s as if she’d asked, “What does the inside of a 50-year-old woman look like?”
I did the same search and got pictures of Meg Ryan and Brooke Shields, smiling.
I said to my boyfriend Hugh, “This computer of mine is so… wholesome.”
I said it again after looking up Rock Hudson. “How tall is…” I began, and before I could finish, Google interrupted me with “…Jesus? You want to know how tall Jesus was?”
Well, OK, I thought. But it’s Rock Hudson I was really curious about.
Were Amy to open her laptop and type “How tall is…” Google would finish her question with “…Tom Hardy’s dick?” With mine, though, it’s Jesus, who they’re guessing came in at around six foot, which is ridiculous in my opinion. What are the odds that he was both tall and handsome? Is he described that way in the Bible? In some of the early northern European paintings, Christ looks like you flushed him out from under a bridge, but in Sunday-school books and the sorts of pictures they sell at Christian supply stores, he falls somewhere between Kenny Loggins and Jared Leto, always doe-eyed and, of course, white, with brown – not black – hair, usually wavy. And he always has a fantastic body, shown at its best on the cross, which – face it – was practically designed to make a man’s stomach and shoulders look good.
What would happen, I often wonder, if someone sculpted a morbidly obese Jesus with titties and acne scars and hair on his back? On top of that, he should be short – five foot two at most. “Sacrilege!” people would shout. But why? Doing good deeds doesn’t make you good-looking. Take Jimmy Carter. Habitat For Humanity didn’t do a thing for those tombstonesize teeth of his. Or at least I remember his teeth as seeming pretty big. I should Google Image them. On Amy’s computer.
At five-five, I never give much thought to my height until I do. Whenever I come across a man my size – at the airport, say, or in a hotel lobby – I squeak the way a one-year-old does when it spots a fellow baby. It’s all I can do not to toddle over and embrace the guy. Whenever I do say something – “Look, we’re the same height!” – it turns weird, though I don’t know why. Don’t fellow Porsche drivers acknowledge one another, or people walking the same breed of dog? With small straight men, I often get the feeling that they don’t want their shortness pointed out, that it’s like saying, “Look, I have a bald spot, too!”
I want to ask the guys my size if, like me, they find themselves being hit up for money a lot. Hugh and I will walk through one city or another and, while he’ll advance down the sidewalk uninterrupted, I’ll get stopped again and again. “Can you give me a dollar? A cigarette? Whatever’s in that bag you’re holding?”
It’s not that I have a particularly friendly face, so I have to assume that my stature has something to do with it, especially when the request becomes a demand. “I said, ‘Give me a dollar.’”
“Would you be talking to me this way if I were taller than you?” I want to ask the 10-year-old with his hand out.
I know that short straight men sometimes have it hard when it comes to finding a girlfriend, but I thought that for people like myself – “pocket gays,” we’re sometimes called – it was no hindrance. In retrospect, I guess I wasn’t paying much attention. The Washington Post has a regular feature in which they send two people out on a date and then check in to see how it went. Recently the couple was gay. Both stood more than six feet and listed in their “Deal-Breakers” box “short men”. They did not, I noticed, exclude white supremacists or machine-gun owners.
Who wants to date you anyway? I wondered, scowling at the photos.
I’m not one of those short men who feels he got shafted. Yes, it’s hard to buy things off the rack, but that’s what tailors are for. I fit easily into aeroplane seats. I can blend into crowds when I want to. Added height would be of no more use to me than a square head, so who needs it? I like knowing how tall other people are, though, especially celebrities. That’s why I Googled Rock Hudson, who, at six foot five, had every right to appear in Giant. He towered over his co-stars in that picture, but with other actors it’s hard to tell.
I once asked someone in the movie business how tall Paul Newman was. This was back when he was still alive and before I had the internet. “Oh,” said this woman who’d worked with him on Mr & Mrs Bridge, “he’s tiny.”
“What does that mean?”
“He’s a shrimp,” the woman said. “In photos he seems average enough, but in real life you practically need a microscope to see him.”
“So he’s, like, the size of a flu germ?”
“Just about,” she said. “I’d put him at around five-nine.”
“I’m four inches shorter,” I told her, “so what does that make me?”
“Well… you know,” she said.
Before I learned to never, under any circumstances, read anything about myself, I’d occasionally stumble upon an interview I’d given. Then I’d recall the journalist who wrote it and mistakenly wonder what his or her writing was like. In Australia a few years back, I was surprised when a woman I’d very much enjoyed talking to described me as “bonsai-size”. This didn’t offend me. Rather, I was taken aback. She might have been an inch or two taller than me, but it’s not like I came to her knees or anything. I’ve been called “diminutive” as well, and “elfin”, as if I sleep in a teacup.
A few years ago I opened a paper in Ottawa and saw that the journalist I’d spoken to the day before had described me as “slight and effeminate”. Really? I thought. The first adjective seemed fair enough, but the second one threw me. I know I cross my legs a lot, but I don’t think my walk is especially ladylike. I don’t wave my hands around when I talk or address anyone as “Miss Thing”. In the end I decided the word was more about him than it was about me. But isn’t it often that way?
It’s one thing for someone to describe you in print, to go through several drafts and, after careful consideration, choose the adjective “Lilliputian” over, say, “pint-size”. It’s another thing when they blurt it out. “You horrible little man,” an Englishwoman once said after I’d written something she didn’t like in her book. In 1987, while I was home for Christmas, my sister Tiffany got into a fight with my sister Gretchen. I came in at the very end, just as it was breaking up, and when I asked what was going on, Tiffany said, “Why don’t you go back to your room and write some more about being a faggot?”
How long has that been in there? I wondered. It’s scary the things that come out when you’re mad at someone. Some years back at a small airport in Wisconsin, a TSA agent ordered me to take off my vest. “I’ve been wearing this for three weeks,” I told her. “Every day I’ve traveled to a different city, and this is the first time I’ve been asked to remove it.”
The woman was maybe 10 years older than me, which at the time would have put her in her early 60s. Her dyed hair was cut short and was carefully styled in a way that made me think of chocolate cake frosting. “I want it off now!” she barked.
“It must be nice to hold such an important position,” I wanted to say as I started undoing the buttons. Then I thought of how snobbish that sounded and was ashamed of myself. Here I was, angry, and my first instinct was to attack her job – her class, really. Have I always been this person? I wondered as I walked through the archway in my stocking feet. What does it mean that my second option, “I’m so glad you’re not my grandmother,” wasn’t much better?
I later wondered how this woman might have described me and realized that all she needed to say was “the jerk in the vest”. Actually, in this context, the word “jerk” is unnecessary. As with “the guy in the white boots”, I think it’s already implied. I mean, really, a vest! What was I thinking? It wasn’t the kind that came with a suit but rather a “worker’s vest”, modeled on one from the nineteenth century, with pockets for all my mule-skinning tools.
She also might have described me as “the gay guy”. While this doesn’t bother me, I don’t think of it as the cornerstone of what I am. Given all my current options, I think I prefer “the little guy”. Who wants to waste his time bothering a person like that? So tiny. So inconsequential. A speck.
• Calypso, David Sedaris’ new collection of short stories, is published by Little Brown Books Group on 5 July at £16.99. To save £4 on your copy, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846.
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