The San Gabriel Valley Tall Singles held a barbecue and pool party at Marita Pinkel's house in Arcadia last week. Men were supposed to be at least 6 feet tall; women, 5-foot-8. A few didn't quite measure up but stuck around anyway, a development that was remarked upon by purists in the group.
Marilyn Longstreet, a 6-foot-2 critical-care nurse who's been going to tall singles events around the country for more than 20 years, sized up the mixed crowd on Pinkel's lawn with a critical eye. "Most of the Tall Clubs expect the men to be 6-2, and the girls have to be at least 5-10," she grumped, gesturing toward a shorty or two. "They even used to have initiations and measurings."
On the tall club circuit, which stretches from Culver City to Fountain Valley to Riverside, the San Gabriel Valley club is about as liberal as they get. One woman, a once-in-awhile participant, even confessed to friends as the party was warming up that she was really only 5-foot-6.
"Me? I'm 1,830 millimeters," said Eric Kaczynski self-righteously. One of the marginal men, he stretched to his full height--six feet.
But nobody was going around with a tape measure Saturday night. The emphasis was supposed to be more on having a good time than on imposing rigorous physical standards. At least, that's the way Pat McGookin saw it. "It's the person that's important, not the size of the package," said McGookin, a 5-foot-10 grandmother from Pasadena, standing shoulder-deep in the pool, the palms of her hands moving gently against the water.
The seven-year-old organization certainly has its share of people who have to duck going through doors. Rob over there, for example. He could easily slam dunk without standing on a chair. A limber 6-foot-6 Cal State Northridge accounting major, Rob gives you the restless young man's perspective on the club. "A lot of young people come and get disappointed," said Rob, 28. "The way I see it, this could be a total bust, but it's early. Every place else that I ordinarily go to is still open."
The idea of the club, which has accumulated a mailing list of more than 500 tall people, is to provide a low-pressure setting for the rangy crowd to get together, said Joan Brady, a YWCA executive who is one of the organization's founders. "It's hard enough being single, but if you're a 6-foot-1 woman, sometimes it's difficult meeting people," she said.
There are activities almost every weekend--pool parties, game nights, beach excursions and, about eight times a year, discount weekends in Palm Springs. "It's a real nice club," said Brady, who is 5-foot-10. "We get nice-quality people."
Young Meets Old
Heterogeneous, too. There's probably a 35- to 40-year spread between youngest and oldest. And maybe a 12-inch spread between shortest and tallest.
Spread out in Pinkel's yard or lollygagging in the pool, the three dozen or so singles didn't look much different from the singles crowd anywhere else nowadays: wary, studiously blase, their eyes drifting frequently to the door to see who might be coming through.
"I'm not here to meet anybody," insisted Longstreet. "I just want to talk to people, dance. I feel more comfortable here than other places."
There's a certain vulnerability to being single nowadays, says Brady. "The climate of singleness has changed," she said. "People want partners."
Maybe so. But the business of coupling was flowing like molasses this evening. A big three-quarter moon floated up over the pepper tree next door, and Pinkel, a native of Upstate New York who delights in playing hostess, turned on the lights in the pool. "The Jacuzzi's getting hot, folks," Pinkel announced invitingly.
Time to talk about romance. Well, how about frustrated romance?
'Lot of Clubs Around'
"I've been coming a year (to Tall Club events)," said Tessy Muir, a willowy elementary school teacher in a wide-brimmed hat, "and I've only met one decent guy."
"I've met two guys, but they just sort of disappeared," piped in Muir's best friend, Robin Hansen, an Army reservist who was wearing an Army T-shirt.
The singles scene in the San Gabriel Valley, with its Pasadena restaurants and Monrovia nightclubs, is as pressured and unrewarding as it is anywhere else, club members said. "There are a lot of clubs around if you want to just hang out with your peers," said Rob, still wearing his sunglasses. "All the trendy places are somewhere else."
But bar-hopping can run into a lot of money. "You go to a bar and dance with somebody, then she turns away and dances with somebody else," said Rob, who gets by on a student's stipend. "Or else you follow her around all night." Rob met a tall single one night and took her out. "She said she didn't mind paying her own way, but I think she did," he said gloomily.
Bob, a muscular bruiser who looks as if he could paint the ceiling without using a ladder, is a first-timer this evening. He isn't sure he'll be back. "I usually don't go with tall women," said Bob, 35, a factory supervisor. "They're not that good-looking. I've been married before, and I'm looking for a particular kind of woman." Like what? "Petite and good-looking."
There's a fundamental injustice about tallness, several women say. It can be seen as desirable in men ("Read the personals and the women are always looking for somebody tall," said one woman) but a liability in women.
'It Was the Pits'
"I was always taller than all the guys," said Chicago-born Dorothy Prince, a statuesque 5-foot-11. "It was the pits. I think I was 5-9 in junior high. I did not date in high school."
The Canadian-born Longstreet ran into similar difficulties. "When you're a teen-ager, it's a big complex," she said. "I got used to seeing people see me and then take a second look."
But standards are changing, club members said. The old taboo about women not dating men shorter than themselves is eroding. "You don't get ridiculed any more if you do it," said Prince.
"All of those rules have been thrown out," Brady said.
Still, you want somebody who fits, Prince said. "My friend Pauline says she's tired of looking guys straight in the eyes," she said. "I'm tired of looking down at them. At least you know the men here are attracted to tall ladies."
By evening's end, no one had made that all-important love connection. At least, not that anyone else could tell. "A lot of people come, then you won't see them for awhile and you hear they're dating," said Brady. "That happens a lot."
Of course, those kinds of things don't always work out. "Sometimes they come back in six months and say they've split up," she said. "Or else you never see them again, because they're afraid they'll see the guy at one of our functions."
But there's also the occasional jackpot. "I brought a longtime friend to one of our parties," said Brady, "and introduced him to the hostess. A few months later, I asked her if she wanted to have another party. She said, 'I can't, because Jim and I are getting married.' "
'Give It a Chance'
The churlish Bob had left early, apparently in search of a more petite partner, but Rob was sticking it out. By 10, he was dispiritedly counting his blessings. "You got to give it a chance," he said. "It's not a bad way to spend an afternoon, even if you don't score."
Pat McGookin, who says she has been to every disco between San Diego and San Francisco in the 17 years since she got her divorce, takes a more philosophical view. Don't get hung up on the search, she suggested. "My theory is: if you go someplace and you're having a good time," she said, "other people will want to share that good time."
"Life is like a piano," Marita Pinkel added brightly. "It's how you play it that makes a difference."