You graduate college without a plan, or even a clue as to what to do with yourself now, and move back in with your parents in the suburbs. After six months spent wallowing in a strip-mall malaise, you’re informed by your father that you’ll have to start paying rent. Getting the hint, you pack up your clothes and a mattress and flee to the city.
You move into a shoebox studio apartment, and have a panic attack the first night when you realize it’s not even large enough to contain all of your meager possessions without stacking them nearly to the ceiling. The fact that you’re six feet, eight inches tall only compounds your claustrophobia.
After a long and fruitless search for a job in your field, you take an hourly position with a data entry firm. All day long you stare at ads for big box stores, recording 3-for-$9 deals on twelve packs of soda and instant rebate offers on gargantuan plasma TVs. It pays just enough to cover the rent.
Eager to fit in with your new co-workers, you begin to fraternize with them, making covert jokes about your supervisor’s penchant for wearing mock turtleneck/blazer combos and commiserating over the repetitive mundanity that is the work of a lowly Data Miner, which is your official job title. You can’t resist picturing your co-workers outfitted with hard hats, headlamps, and pick axes, and you even create a fictitious company mascot—a canary named Bogo who is constantly dropping dead of chronic monotony.
While eating your lunch of two peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches in the break room one day, you notice a flyer on the employee bulletin board for the company rec league basketball team. Your heart immediately sinks. Sure enough, during the fifteen-minute afternoon break that very day, a fellow Miner named Travis appears at the edge of your cube, recruiting you for the team. While you are indeed exceptionally tall, your lack of talent at basketball is surpassed only by your lack of interest in the sport. You tell him “Thanks” but that you’ll pass. “Ha, no pun intended,” you quickly add with a smile. Travis persists. His hair is spiked so high and symmetrically as to almost be grotesque, and it is so white-blonde that it is clearly dyed. He has long but neatly manicured sideburns trimmed to sharp points just above the base of his jaw. He says the team is desperate for “some height down low” and that all you’d have to do is rebound and block a shot here and there. “But mainly you’d just be a presence in the paint, which we’re sorely lacking,” he adds. He is oddly well-tanned, especially for early summer.
You want to tell him about your extraordinary lack of coordination, about your unpleasant experiences with the sport throughout your life, about how, as a child, you learned early and often that despite your parents’ adamant belief, basketball is not a great way of making friends. Not for you, anyway.
He perseveres, citing the camaraderie created among co-workers on the team, how they all go out for beers after each game. “C’mon, man, we play for fun. We don’t take it too seriously.” You think of Bartleby the Scrivener and his repeated utterance: I would prefer not to. You’re fairly certain the reference would be lost on him, but quite certain of the implication of such a reply: ostracism, swift and permanent.
Besides, this Travis is stubborn. You suspect he’s the type that, no matter how many times you decline, he will continue to ask until he gets the response he desires. You wonder why he is not working in sales. Against your better judgment, you agree to join the team. Travis says “Sweeeet!” in a singsongy voice and offers you a fist bump.
Despite your apprehension, you begin to feel good about your decision. Even excited. You’ll get to know some of your co-workers outside of the office, and you’ll get some weekly exercise. Though you know it’s foolish, a certain measure of pride swells up within you—you finally made the team, and you didn’t even have to try out! The attention that your height draws has always made you uneasy, for the most part. For once, you feel comfortable with being an exceptionally tall person. Confident, even.
The game is on a Wednesday night. You get a ride after work from Travis. To your dismay, he drives a hatchback. You manage to fold yourself into the passenger seat—knees wedged against the glove compartment, head pressed into the layer of felt lining the ceiling. You learn that Travis is into house music, and that he “spins” at various clubs around the city on the weekends. “The data mining thing just pays the bills right now, till I can line up some resident club gigs and some national tours,” he says. “I’m gonna blow up soon,” he says. He pops a blank CD into the stereo. “This is a new mix I’ve been working on.” He turns the volume knob up and a throbbing techno beat assaults your ears. Synth swells pulse in time, along with a heavily processed vocal sample of a soulful female voice. It sounds like she’s saying Can you feel me/I need you to feeeeeel me! Either that or “feed me.” Over and over and over again. Travis nods his head to the beat, glances over at you. You nod and smile politely, hoping that you arrive at your destination soon.     
The games are played in a cavernous old Catholic church on the northwest side. You walk into the gym and meet up with the rest of the guys on the team. “You play ball in college?” one of them asks. When you say “No” the guy squints his eyes at you and says “Really?” Then he shoots a glance at Travis that you pretend not to notice. You soon learn that all of your new teammates played ball in high school, some even in college, and that Travis was once a starting point guard at a small private school in Wisconsin until he was kicked off the team. “For some violation of team rules bullshit,” he says. You later learn it was for selling Ecstasy to his classmates.
Despite Travis’s prior reassurances, you also learn that your new teammates take basketball very seriously. They are all quick and in great physical condition, zipping up and down the court endlessly and with great ease. You are soon winded, and are told by multiple teammates to “Hustle up!” Travis instructs you to “camp out in the paint.” At one point he drives past his defender and whips a pass at you with such speed that it completely catches you off guard, smacking you in the cheek before you can get your hands up. It only gets worse from there, and culminates in you getting dunked on by an undersized opponent that elicits a collective “Ohhh!” from his teammates. “You just got dunked on by the IT guy!” one of them shouts at you.
You are subbed out for the last time, and as you pace the sideline, struggling to take command of your breathing, your mind races through the comedy of errors that you just performed, which leads to a full-on panic attack. You consider ducking out early, to avoid the searing scorn that is sure to be heaped upon you by your coworkers once the game is over. You grab your coat and inch your way toward the double doors on the baseline that leads out to the parking lot. As he’s running up the court, Travis makes eye contact with you. It’s clear he knows what you’re up to, but he says nothing. “I’m just going to get some air,” you say. He has already turned to face up to his man on defense.
You consider hoofing it to the el but the church is in a rather sketchy neighborhood. After a few minutes, Travis walks out. You fumble for something to say. “Did we win?” Travis shakes his head and swigs from a Gatorade bottle. “Man did I ever play poorly,” you offer. “I’m so out of shape.” He shrugs and says “Don’t worry about it,” as you both walk to the car. You decide it’s best not to ask whether the rest of the team is going out for beers.
“Where do you live?” he asks. “Lakeview,” you say, “Montrose and Sheridan.” Once you’re both in the car, he starts it up and says, “Mind if I drop you off at the Red Line?” You buckle your seatbelt. “That would be great. Thanks,” you say. He starts the car and the thumping bass of his DJ mix resumes. Can you feed me/I need you to feeeeeed me!
At work the next day, Travis hardly even acknowledges you. While occupying a bathroom stall after lunch, you hear the door to the men’s room open, followed by laughter and shuffling feet as two guys step up to the urinals. They continue their conversation in hushed voices. “I had the worst headache this morning,” one says. “Probably all the goddamn Jameson shots,” the other says. “I needed ‘em after that freak show.” “That was pretty horrendous.” “I honestly felt kinda sorry for—” “Dude!” the other one says, abruptly. They say nothing else. You can’t identify them through the crack in the door, but you have your suspicions. You hear flushing, then the roar of water, followed by the whirr of the electric hand dryers. By the time they shut off, you’re alone again.
As you sit in the stall, pants bunched at your ankles, you curse your foolishness for believing it might have ended in anything but a complete disaster. You curse your paper-thin will. Why couldn’t you be like Bartleby and remain steadfast in your refusal to play? You curse your parents—especially your father, also exceptionally tall—for passing on their genes to you. You curse your pale thighs, long and narrow, your bony knees, your size 16 feet. You curse that confounding growth spurt that ravaged your body during your junior and senior year in high school. Nine inches in fourteen months? Seriously?
You recall the severe aches in your arms and legs during that time—the feeling of your bones stretching and expanding. You decide to remain there, on the toilet, for the time being. It feels safe, secluded. Secure.
With time, you put the rec league incident behind you. You focus on your work, as monotonous as it is. During your interview, your supervisor had promised that there would be opportunities for advancement within the company. While you’re not exactly looking to make a career out of mining data, you sure wouldn’t mind a pay raise in the near future.
One day, a couple weeks later, you’re hunched over the water dispenser in the break room refilling your bottle when you feel a tap on your shoulder. You look up to see a female coworker smiling at you. “Hi,” she says. “Sorry to bother you but I was wondering if you could help me with something.” She’s petite and raven-haired, with deep brown eyes and full lips. You know that she’s a fellow miner—her cube is at the far end of the production floor—but the two of you have never spoken. “Sure,” you say as you straighten up and screw the lid on your bottle. “Great,” she says. 
You follow her across the hall to the supply room. “Would you mind grabbing a new box of coffee filters?” she says. “They’re way up on that top shelf.” She gestures to a shelving unit in the corner that rises to just above your chin. “No problem,” you say. You pull the box down and hand it to her. “Thank you so much. I’m Anna, by the way.” You introduce yourself and say, “Nice to meet you.” “You, too,” she says. She has been smiling this whole time, and it is positively radiant. You are transfixed; completely disarmed.
“Just how tall are you, anyway?” You struggle to keep from grimacing as you tell her. “Wow,” she says. “Hey, listen—me and some other miners are in a coed beach volleyball league. You should come out and play with us some time.” You feel the familiar rush of blood draining from your head—the onset of a panic attack. But that smile.
You thank her for the offer but tell her that you’re not really into sports. She laughs and says that she isn’t either. She briefly pokes her head out into the hall, then lowers her voice and says that it’s basically just an excuse for everyone to drink and bitch and commiserate over how much their job sucks. “We even made t-shirts,” she says, explaining that they went so far as to design a logo—a volleyball, wearing a hard helmet and head lamp, wielding a pick axe. “Anyway,” she says, “think about it.”
You tell her you will.  


Drew Downing lives in Chicago with his wife and a cat. He is generously listed at 6'4".