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BODY WATCH : No Longer Hanging His Head in Shame : "A study suggests that senior citizens with larger head circumferences are less likely to develop . . . dementia than are persons with smaller heads." --Reuters

FIRST PERSON

September 13, 1994|STEVE HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At last! A medical study I don't find scary!

Lately all I've heard is that it's unhealthy for me to eat popcorn or Chinese food or hot dogs--by sad coincidence my three favorite foods in the world.

But now the scientists say I'm actually lucky to be lugging around a Size 8 noggin.

What a turnabout after all the years of uneasiness I felt as a juvenile. It's enough to make me shake my head--a somewhat cumbersome process, I admit.

Oh, sure, my top-heaviness may not be apparent to the naked eye. But, I grew up in the era when hats were sold by size. Self-conscious kid that I was, I felt acute embarrassment when wide-eyed clerks had to bring me adult sizes in baseball head wear.

Then there was the danger of a schoolboy enemy ripping off my chapeau and shouting to the world the shocking statistic.

So I took to buying undersized hats.

Even if I'd known about denial back then, I wouldn't have cared that it sat so precariously on my head.

As a result, playing right field on my Little League team could be a terrifying experience on a windy day. I might be absent from my station for long periods, during which I would be chasing my hat as it danced about on the grass. Fortunately, not many balls came to right field, which was the reason I was assigned to that remote region in the first place.

My only consolation was that another ballplayer, Willie Mays, was celebrated by the sports writers for constantly losing \o7 his\f7 cap.

In the 1960s, my parents detested Alabama Gov. George Wallace, but I had an additional reason for sympathizing with the public figures whom Wallace branded as "pointy-headed intellectuals." No size 8s there, I figured.

Later, when I started basic training as a National Guard enlistee, a supply sergeant said to me: "How come that hat doesn't fit you, boy? It's the biggest one we got. What's wrong with you? You got an e-lawn-gated head or something?"

Actually, circumference was the problem, but I didn't correct him. He no doubt considered it the latest ploy of that Vietnam era to secure a discharge from the armed forces, like a friend of mine who smoked cigarettes and drank coffee for 12 consecutive hours before his (failed) induction.

By my mid-20s or thereabouts, the era of adjustable-size caps dawned, along with the slogan:

"One size fits all."

My foot.

At this point I was beginning to lose my hair, making it imperative to find head covering from the sun.

Now, in my 40s, I've noticed my belly is getting bigger, a not-so-healthy sign, according to other scientific studies. So I've resumed swimming. The other day, I went to a sporting goods store and found that there was only one model of men's swim caps available.

"One size fits all," the clerk explained, as though to a child.

Donning it in my YMCA pool an hour later, I thought my eyes would pop out.

So, I went back to the store and told the clerk I had to buy a swimming cap for my wife.

"She's got a big hairdo," I added.

He nodded, although I could swear he briefly took in the contours of my skull before going back to the stockroom.

He returned with a truly cavernous model. It was pink and covered with yellow-and-blue lily pads.

"Great," I said and bought it.

No use being small-minded.

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