Hey ho, let’s go.

How I Hid My Extreme Height With a Ramones T-shirt

I’m a 6′ 9″ African-American male. Every week a total stranger will ask me the same four-word question that I heard the week before, and the week before that, and every single week of my life for last 30 years. It’s practically a script:

MARK is standing on a street corner, minding his own business. Suddenly we see GENERIC EVERYPERSON approach him from the front, looking up at MARK’s height in amazement, mouth opening in slo-mo as a question stumbles out of it.
Do you play basketball?
(neutral, but like so over this)
No I do not.
(confused, with a hint of hostility)
What? Why? If I were your height I’d play all the time! Yadda-yadda-yadda Michael Jordan yadda-yadda-yadda high school coach yadda-yadda-yadda basketball-specific reference that I assume you understand…
(totally checked out)
Uh-huh. Uh-huh. That’s nice. Uh-huh.
(still rolling)
Yadda-yadda-yadda are your kids tall?…

I get it. The reptilian part of our brain makes snap decisions based on stimuli presented to it, and that stimuli says I probably played power forward for the NBA and might still have a sports lawyer on retainer. And this phenomenon isn’t enabled by whatever I’m wearing at the time. I own zero professional sports jerseys, I rarely wear hi-top basketball shoes, and I tend to dress like a slightly arty, business-casual, Bay Area dad. It doesn’t matter. The bulk items section of Whole Foods might as well be ESPN’s SportsCenter when I show up to weigh some oat flour. Visually I’m speaking the language of basketball, a language of which I’m culturally illiterate.

However, the culture I can speak to is music. I can wax rhapsodic about Kanye West samples, Shostakovich viola rhythms and Dorothy Asher harp compositions until I pass out from thirst. My usual texts to friends include Spotify playlists, photos of vintage recording gear, and random observations like “Did you know Prince’s Erotic City doesn’t have any cymbals on it?” I’d discuss music with a complete stranger in a heartbeat, but unless I’m at a record store or a live concert, this type of conversation doesn’t start organically.

Or can it? (Mwah ha ha!)

Since fashion is also a language, I decided to embark on a culture jamming experiment.


If I wear a T-shirt from a beloved cult band, can I shift a stranger’s question from basketball to music?


How about American punk icons The Ramones? Through 14 albums and 22 years of touring they never had a worldwide hit single but their speedy bubblegum riffs inspired hundreds of acts that did. (Talkin’ to you, Green Day.) They also have a snazzy band logo. One Amazon Prime purchase later I was ready to rock, so to speak.

Experiment 1: Whole Foods.

I slipped on my new Ramones T-shirt and sauntered over to the bulk items section. A middle-aged White dude walked up to me while I clenched my jaw in preparation for THE QUESTION. But he only smiled, said “Nice shirt” and walked away, asking nothing about my height. Okay. One down. I unclenched my jaw.

Experiment 2: “Weird Al” Yankovic concert.

As soon as I hit the third floor balcony, a middle-aged White dude looked at me from across the room and yelled “Nice shirt! I saw them at the Fillmore!”, spilling his overpriced craft beer in the process. Now my shirt is unleashing happy memories. Nice.

Experiment 3: My son’s basketball game, cause now I’m cocky about it.

Nobody said anything to me AT ALL. I’ll take that as a win.


Many middle-aged White dudes love The Ramones more than basketball, and want to share that love with me when I’m wearing a Ramones T-shirt. This also means that though I’ll never blend into an environment, I can occasionally steer my presence into a non-basketball conversation.

My next step is to mix it up a little and invest in a Funkadelic T-shirt. Let’s see how much sports talk I can neutralize with that.

Mark Montgomery French is the editor of CircusTall, featuring very tall pop culture writing at its funniest. Embrace your vertical endowment! Read more at circustall.com

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