WASHINGTON -- Poor posture defines me. Even in a city of slack spines, I am a sultan of slump. Tapping at my keyboard in my typically invertebrate style, I am a poster boy for ergonomic reform. Collapsing wearily into my subway seat during my commute home, I give new meaning to the concept of suburban sprawl. I look at others around me and see that the fatigue I feel is widespread.
Call it what you want, seasonal affective disorder, winter blues, maybe even election stress syndrome. The madness of the presidential campaign is behind us, but the problems of our nation remain -- and they are disturbing enough to put anyone in a funk. Persistent joblessness, deteriorating schools, the threat of terrorism, the quagmire in Iraq. If you let them, they can sit on your shoulders like a 380-ton bundle of neuroses, one that could explode at any time.
Depressed by the appalling grotesqueries of the election season -- the smears, leaks, lies and alibis -- and crushed by my beloved Cardinals' obliteration at the hands of the unstoppable Red Sox, I search for a bit of encouragement, an infinitesimal spark to lift my sagging spirits. And so I seize on this whimsical nugget: I'm above average.
In height, that is. According to a report released Oct. 27 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average height of American men is now 5 feet 9 1/2 inches, up from 5 feet 8 inches in 1960. Women have grown from an average height of 5 feet 3 inches to 5 feet 4 inches in the same period. Although I'm 5 feet 11 inches when I wake up in the morning, the events of the day usually leave me considerably shorter by sundown. Even so, I regard the CDC report with a great deal of satisfaction.
The tip-toppers among you may scoff, but I suspect "average" folks will understand. I was so small growing up that my grandfather, a trainer of thoroughbred racehorses, hoped that I would consider becoming a jockey. I entered high school a shade under 5 feet and pledged to remain there until I grew to 6 feet tall. I grew a foot, but like the Cardinals I ran out of steam near the finish line.
It's too bad that "I Wish," Skee-Lo's 1995 rap hit, came out long after authorities threw my diploma at me and ushered me to the door. It would have been the perfect soundtrack to my high school days. "I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller," he rhymed. "I wish I had a girl who looked good. I would call her ..."
I was never a baller but I admired Calvin Murphy of the Houston Rockets and Ozzie Smith of the San Diego Padres, athletes who proved that, on occasion, mortals of ordinary stature could also acquire glory and, presumably, girls.
"The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," a 2004 study by economists Nicola Persico, Andrew Postlewaite and Dan Silverman, found that tall adults tend to earn more than short ones. They linked the disparity to adolescence, during which taller teens benefit from richer social relationships. Kids with less altitude tend to have less confidence, they found.
Their conclusion differs little from that of Skee-Lo who, as it turns out, was years ahead of science. Discussing the young lady of his dreams, he noted, "I know she's livin phat/ Her boyfriend's tall and he plays ball/ So how am I gonna compete with that?"
Fortune hasn't always favored the vertically blessed. The day after the CDC issued its report, scientists writing in the journal Nature reported their discovery of (BEG ITAL)Homo floresiensis(END ITAL), an ancient human species that lived on the Pacific island of Flores, midway between Asia and Australia.
Flores Man, they wrote, lived 18,000 years ago, overlapping with our own human ancestors before dying out. These primitive folks made stone tools, hunted pygmy elephants -- and stood about 3 feet tall.
Scientists speculate that the isolated habitat determined the height of Flores Man. In such environments, something called the island rule often prevailed. According to the rule, the lack of predators, scarce food supply and related factors made height a hindrance. In playground terms, nature was choosing sides and tall people got picked last. Short people thrived while taller folks died out.