Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On Getting Short

Gravity is the universal enemy in more ways than one

Getting short" is a familiar old military term: You're coming to the end of your deployment or enlistment, and you don't have much time left before your life will be drastically altered. Just this week, Marlene and I had reason to ask whether actually getting short (physically) means that our time also is short. At the same time, some changes in a supposedly unchangeable cockpit were explained.

This all started innocently enough: Marlene (aka The Arizona Redhead) had gone for a physical and called me up in a near panic. "Budd, they say I'm only 5'4". That can't be! I'm 5'6" and always have been. They have to be wrong!"

Being the good husband who has always known her to be 5'6" (she didn't appear to have changed), as soon as she got home, I broke out a framing square, backed her up to the door jam, whipped out a tape measure, and quantified the pencil mark.

"Honey," I said, in as soothing a manner as possible, "This says you're just under 5'4½"."

She was incredulous, crestfallen and just a little PO'd. Her attitude was, "How dare my body betray me by shrinking?"

I was doing my best imitation of a warm and caring human being as I tried to calm her down. As a way of diverting her, I had her measure me. Same square, same door jam. I ran the tape measure and, when I found the hash mark at 68½", I said, "Holy, crow!" Only it was something much less PC.

I don't remember the last time anyone measured my height, but every FAA document I have says I'm 5'101⁄2" tall. Give me a break! Five-foot-eight can't be right. If the FAA says I'm 5'10", then I'm 5'10". The government is NEVER wrong. Time for a replay!

Second time, I stood my tallest. Still 5'8½" inches on the tape. Damn! I've shrunk a solid two inches. No wonder Marlene didn't seem any shorter to me. We're shrinking in unison. This kind of togetherness I could do without.

I'll admit to having some serious mileage on me, but I'm not THAT old. Still, gravity is working against me, as it does everyone. Then I thought back to an interesting episode I had with my back last year. I had started developing pain high in my spine level with the bottom of my shoulder blades. When the doctor got my X-rays back he called, all excited, "What did you do to yourself that fractured the crap (his word not mine) out of two vertebrae? They have all sorts of healed compression fractions. Did you injure yourself at one time?"

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