short and tall man
Essays & Short Stories

Leveling The Playing Field

According to some invisible measuring stick, I’m short. I’m certainly a midget in my own mind. Can I stop my height from holding me back?

There’s no better word to describe me than “average.”

I rank somewhere in the vast gray area between “forgettable” and “exceptional.”  I was not the valedictorian, but also not the chalksucker. Not the first guy picked when choosing teams in gym class, but never second-to-last in line next to the kid with the clubfoot. Some subjects in school came easily, while I struggled with sine, cosine, and a screaming tangent when trigonometry turned math into an exercise in fucking ridiculous. Even my appearance is average, generally the guy definition of “cute”—which is a big step up from the female “cute” that means “fat with a great sense of humor.”

Only in height do I fall below average. I stand a husky five foot six. I can appear close to five seven in a thick-heeled pair of dress shoes or work boots. According to some invisible measuring stick that was agreed upon by society generations before I was born, I’m short. I’m certainly a midget in my own mind.

I’ve always been self-conscious about my height. It affects my life. It makes me a little more apprehensive in groups, a little less aggressive at work, and a little more timid with the opposite sex. It may not be obvious to the naked eye. It’s a subconscious tic developed during school dances spent staring at girls’ necks and always being the first to know someone ripped ass in a crowded elevator.

A study by the University of Michigan last year refutes my personal conclusions on the subject. A study of 712 sixth-grade boys and girls of varying heights found that shorter kids do just as well in “exclusion, social support, popularity, victimization, depressive symptoms, optimism, or behavioral problems.” But I’m not sure sixth graders make for the best study subjects. I was the Yao Ming of my sixth-grade class. Unfortunately, I stayed that same height until my junior year of high school, while everyone else popped up faster than my joyknob rubbing against silk sheets.

While a sawed-off stature might not have an effect on preteens, according to an Australian study published in The Economic Record, “Taller men are able to earn more money than their shorter counterparts simply because taller people are perceived to be more intelligent and powerful in the workplace.”

These studies got the hamster on the wheel in my head running off a Red Bull buzz. Is my height still holding me back in my mid-thirties? Is that the reason I haven’t gotten a better job or been open to more opportunities to succeed? And if that is the case, what can I really do about it? Plastic surgery can reshape an ugly snout, make mosquito-bite-size tits into porn-star-caliber funbags, and even suck a life of cheeseburgers out of a fat, will powerless bastard. Yet there’s no outpatient surgery for the vertically challenged.

The internet, for the first time in my adult life, provided little guidance until I noticed the ads popping up in the “sponsored links” section of Google. All those queries about how to medically enhance my stature brought about a whole new way of attacking the problem. Maybe I wasn’t what needed to change after all. I checked the mailbox three times a day, despite knowing that the mail came at the same time every afternoon. Nothing but bills, holiday cards, and Christmas gifts I’d purchased for everyone else. Then, finally, I tore my package open like Ralphie ripping into the envelope to get to his long-awaited Little Orphan Annie decoder. The contents were the key to solving all my problems: The heightening inserts for my shoes had arrived.

I first wore them to work. It didn’t change how I acted in meetings or interacted with coworkers. No one thought I was any more intelligent or powerful. Or, if they did, they were too busy staring me up and down, wondering what was so different, to make a comment. At the grocery store, a fine young woman asked me to grab something off the top shelf for her. I politely obliged and she smiled and walked away. Tall me was just as timid with women, or maybe I was put off by her cart full of disposable diapers and baby food. The one-inch inserts were having little effect. Time to kick this experiment up a notch.

The two-inch inserts brought an immediate change: I was down to only two wearable pairs of shoes. Adding inches to one’s feet isn’t easy when the shoe is a certain size. Still, no reaction from my coworkers, although I’m not sure what I was expecting. Maybe “Hey, Chris, you look different. Have you grown?” No mention of a raise from the boss.

The weeks passed and my confidence actually sank lower than before. My life was the same. Is it possible it hasn’t been my height holding me back all these years, but the fact that my approach to life is to be, well, average? Do I use my height as an excuse, a crutch, a scapegoat for never standing out in a crowd, never climbing the corporate ladder or scoring the hottest women? Instead of popping in performance enhancing heels for the company holiday party, I went au naturel, going out of my way to talk in large crowds, engage management, and act bigger than life. Results varied. At least I’m not blaming my height. In this instance, I’ll blame Scotch.

Even though I had decided at the onset of my experiment that adding three inches to my frame would be too obvious, I wanted to take those inserts for a test drive. I saved them for a special occasion: the family Christmas party. I figured if anyone would notice or comment on the fact that I was suddenly pushing five nine, it would be the people who freak out if I comb my hair differently. I promised myself, and my abused toes, that this would be the final time. I paired the inserts with the only boots that could house a three-inch heel plus my swollen feet.

Finally, someone noticed a difference in the way I carried myself in public: My cousin asked me why I was limping.

Originally published in Penthouse Magazine, June 2011.


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