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With relatively few little people spread across the country, many Americans see only a handful of dwarves in their lifetime.
Most of their exposure to little people comes through movies and television.
Many little people can tell you exactly how many folks like them are in their town, including the estimated 125 in the Bay Area. "Or follow you around." "You know what gets people to stop staring: Just wave at them," said Mike Delaney, 15, of Newport Beach (Orange County). Fourteen-year-old Zach Roloff of Oregon, who is 3 foot 10, plays basketball with average-size kids, "but they don't pass me the ball." But he gets plenty of touches at the convention's basketball tournament.
For many, this week is a social and emotional life preserver, their chance to attend workshops on everything from medical lectures on the 200 kinds of dwarfism to sexuality, and to compete in sports tournaments.
Still, as convention-goer Tricia Mason said, "I'm having trouble reaching the soap dish in the bathroom." The better news: For the next week, they're largely free of the isolation, taunts and stares many little people face every day. ' " said 11-year-old Alex Foos of Pleasanton, who's 3 foot 3.
The National Conference of Little People of America is ...You must have started out as a genius." Convention week is also one of the few times of the year that many little people will find plenty of romantic options. Privately, one mother of teenagers was fretting about the emotional intensity of a week where people go through multiple relationships. "Now don't get me wrong, it's not a Greek orgy or something," said Bradford, 47, a technical writer from Corvallis, Ore. For some, this is the place to meet your partner." "In many (towns), it's like finding a needle in a haystack," said the group's outgoing president, Matt Roloff, who was born and raised in San Francisco and met his wife at a Michigan gathering."Here, there are a lot more needles without any hay." But changing the attitudes of average-size people can be hard. The school-dance game, the bar game, the club game, you name it, I've been there with bells on.I've also recently gotten into the show "Lost" (late, I know) and I relate everything to survival now, so deal with it.Bill Bradford will even throw out some "average-sized" people jokes in his stand-up routine, much of it culled from actual experiences.Like the time the 6-foot guy asked the under-4-foot Bradford if he'd been born that short. "I started out 6 feet tall and kept getting shorter as I got older.And even though the 47-year-old organization's founder was the dwarf actor Billy Barty, popular culture hasn't offered the most nuanced portrayal of little people.From Mini-Me of the "Austin Powers" movies to professional wrestling, dwarves are usually either buffoonish, maniacal or pitiful." "I understand that (the show's producers') purpose is entertainment," said the technology salesman. "Uh, Dad, let's be clear that this was your idea and that I don't really want to advertise it," the teen deadpanned."But my purpose is sensitization." If viewers see Roloff's family arguing, laughing, and goofing around just like theirs, they may be a little more accepting. Soon, perhaps average-height Americans will see that little people's teenagers converse with their parents the same way theirs do.