The television reporter followed me out into the street.
"You and your big head were blocking two cameras!" she fumed. I gave her my widest "I don't care" smile and entered into a brief conversation that quickly devolved into a mutual exchange of obscenities.
Now, I didn't mind being cursed out by a TV reporter — TV reporters are the lowest, rudest people on earth; their cameramen would just as soon club you to the ground with their 20-pound battery packs as ask you to step aside. I was glad I blocked two cameras.
But the "big head" comment really hurt — as the most painful insults always do — because it is true. I've got an enormous head. Always have. "I had to give birth to that head," my mother said, on too many occasions, never completing the thought because nothing further need be said. Nobody follows up, "I climbed Mt. Everest" with "quite a feat since it is really tall, you know." The listener is expected to understand.
My head stands out in school pictures, as if a character greeting patrons at Disneyland had slipped in among the normal-headed children.
I try not to think about huge-headedness. But there are always reminders. The recent redesign of the Sun-Times features section, lovely in every other respect, abandoned my suave "I've got a regular head" column photo for the above Wizard-of-Oz-like orb.
Or hats. I used to buy normal hats and try to stretch them out. But that was torture — I could feel the headband squeeze every time I moved my jaw. So now I limit myself to Kangol caps, which come in XXL.
"They also make XXXL sizes," said Edwin Urrutia, manager of Hats Plus on Irving Park Road, who confirmed my suspicions that we melon-heads are a forgotten lot.
"Most companies don't even go up to an 8," he said, noting that many broad-pated customers find his store only after being turned away elsewhere.
"I've had customers look all over the place — many stores won't even go as far as extra large," Urrutia said, noting that, as an extra large himself, he knows first hand the pain of trying to find a nice topper.
"You see a product you like, but they don't even have it in your size. You spend 20 minutes waiting. It's frustrating," he said.
His pet peeve is baseball caps, which, rather than recognizing the rights of the Brobdingnagian-beaned to boost their teams, instead seem to be shrinking.
"Fitted baseball caps used to go up to a size 8. Now they only go as far as a 7 3/4," he said. And forget those adjustable caps.
"One size fits all is actually one size fits most," said Urrutia, who keeps a waiting list of customers to be called when certain styles of hat arrive in the jumbo sizes.
Richard Alcala, of Alcala's Western Wear on Chicago Avenue, said keeping the largest hats around the store costs a lot of money in inventory, and many stores don't bother, since just one customer in 50 has truly gigantic noggin.
"We have a hatmaker in Texas who can make a size 9," he said, with a certain pride. "Most people stop at 7 1/2."
For some reason — chauvinism, I suppose — I assumed Mardi Gras float heads were a male problem, but Alcala finds both sexes are afflicted.
"This is definitely not confined to men. A lot of them are women," he said. "Hair is a factor, but not only hair. It's not unusual to get a woman in here with a really large head. Of course they don't like to admit it. Who does?"
Not me. Though I'd would have guessed that women wouldn't mind much. Big-headedness is a central element of being cute, is it not? Think of Charlie Brown, Hello Kitty, baby ducks, etc. All with big heads, proportionally.
Men don't want to be cute, however. They want to be rugged, handsome, regular-headed. And here I can offer a bit of comfort from the highest authority: Roger Ebert, who once claimed on his television show that movie stars tend to have these really large heads.
He showed a clip of Clint Eastwood standing with a crowd of people on a courthouse stairway. Clint was a few steps behind the crowd, Ebert pointed out, so his head should have seemed smallest. Yet it loomed above those tiny-headed people around him, demanding attention, creating a focal point for the star.
So maybe there's an upside to this. Maybe, as a column brand image, my nearly size-8 head will work to my advantage. It's about time.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 20, 1997