A Very Tall Tale
By Michael Sokolove
From time to time people as if it bothers me that I'm bald,
and I can honestly say it does not. Oddly nobody ever asks how I feel about
being short, possibly because it is perceived that there is no remedy for
shortness, no equivalent of toupees or hair weaves, no Height Club for Men.
The fact is, I hate being short. I wasn't meant to be short.
I was on the tall side until about second grade, and by eighth grade I still
had hopes of overtaking "Big Irv," my uncle and the family giant at
That, to my horror, was when I stopped growing. Twenty-five
years later, I'm a shade under five-foot six. And bitter. I hate squeezing into
an elevator with tall people. I hate having to recite my pathetic inseam when
mail-ordering panes. (Sometimes, in deep denial, I overstate my length and
suffer the additional humiliation of having to ask a tailor to hack 28 inches
clown to 27½ inches.) The only close acquaintance I can look down on is
my older brother, Bob who's an inch shorter.
I blame shortness for detonating my basketball career (hey,
I was captain of my junior-high team), and I honestly believe that if God had
granted me just another footis that so much to ask? you'd know me
from my Nike commercials. In my dreams I play above the rim and get whistled
frequently for goaltending.
So you can imagine how I felt when I saw the magazine ad
that said MEN: BE TALI.ER! I could have padded shoes"Elevators" with
hidden "innermolds." I was skeptical sure. Wouldn't you feel like a fool
walking around all day in foot falsies?
Yet this company was selling shoes, maybe to men I knew,
maybe even to famous men. Maybe everybody was wearing the damn things, and I
was the last short sucker still playing it straight. I had to grasp the
opportunity to correct an injustice.
The catalogue from Richlee Shoe Co., makers of Elevators,
drops through the mail slot within days of my call. I lock myself in the
bathroom and eagerly paw through it.
I am utterly amazed at the breadth of choices. They have
golf shoes. Cowboy boots. Insulated boots. Boat shoes. Wingtips and classic
oxfords for the successful short guy; the black wingtips are pictured with
The Wall Street Journal on the floor next to them. Loafers. Sneakers
called Sport Lites. There's even a pair of space shoes called Chukka Boot Lites
that short astronauts might wear.
I call and order the boat shoes and the Sport Lites.
The delivery man pulls up one sunny Saturday with two boxes.
I go into the bathroom and rip them open. That docksider is a smartlooking
shoe, two-tone brown leather and blue suede, with the exclusive 1 1/8-inch
I put the shoes on and take a couple of uncertain steps,
sort of pitching forward. First impression: they make me sick to my stomach. So
I take out the exclusive innermold and investigate its properties. It looks
like a miniature version of a ski jumper's ramp.
I lace the shoes back up and go tilt at my wife. I'm
bothered by unsteadiness, but what really bugs me is, I'm still not tall
enough. If I'm five-foot-six and these shoes are giving me more than an inch,
why am I not taller than my five-foot-seven-inch wife? She says I look a little
thinner. In my heart I know she's lying.
At work I feel self-conscious. I stand next to people I used
to be shorter than. I'm still shorter.
I decide to call the shoe company for guidance. I tell the
receptionist I am a writer with two new pairs of Elevators, and that I will be
writing a story about my experience. Soon I am talking to company president Bob
I start off with some general questions, like what is the
average height of Richlee's customers? Martin says most of them range from
five-foot-seven to five-foot-11, although a six-foot-five-inch fellow once
walked out of the Richlee showroom with a pair. "A lot of people buy the shoes
because they want to be taller than their wives," he says. "That's probably the
most common reason." That sixfoot-five-inch guy must have had a really tall
But I want names. I've had it in my mind that Ross Perot
wears Elevators, and I'd like that confirmed.
"Many famous people wear our shoes," says Martin. "A lot of
Hollywood agents buy them for their clients. We see our shoes in the movies
quite frequently. We've also had Senators and Congressmen purchase them."
Names? "We don't give out names," he says. "Some people are
I press him. There must be one famous customer who wouldn't
mind having his name used.
Martin relents. "All right," he says. "Ferdinand Marcos used
to buy a lot from us. He'd order a dozen at a time. And he always wanted a
deal." I feel better now, knowing I'm walking in the footsteps of a cheapskate
Having dispensed with the softball questions, I tell Martin,
flat out, that I'm not happy with the product. His Elevators have not taken me
Martin has heard this whine before. "We've found," he says
smoothly, "that the customer wants the height, but he doesn't want it to be
obvious or uncomfortable. From the standpoint of being subtle and comfortable,
an inch and an eighth is what works."
It doesn't work for me, so I cart my Elevators to a
Loudly I explain my situation to the man behind the counter.
"These shoes don't make me tall enough."
There are four businessmen sitting against a wall getting
their wingtips shined. One of them peeks at me over his Wall Street
Journal. They all look at me as if I'm a lunatic.
The man behind the counter pulls the innermold out of one
shoe and holds it aloft. "Already have lift in shoes!" he observes in broken
English. "Already making you bigger."
When I tell the man I want more lift, he reaches into a
drawer and pulls out a crude thing that looks like a thin piece of plywood. Do
I want one of these in each shoe?
No, I reply. Hammer two of them in. And layer the exclusive
innermold over them.
The guy behind the shoe-repair counter has carried out my
instructions with great expertise. I feel like a really big guy now.
For starters I am taller than my wife. I soon develop the
creepy habit of loitering next to herbeing taller.
My wife doesn't like what the shoes do to my posture. The
ski jumper's ramp is very high now, and I walk as if I'm wearing pumps. It
follows that my back and knees ache most of the time. Doctoring the Elevators
was orthopedically not a sound idea.
I wear the shoes to work and notice that there are
five-foot-eight-inch people everywhere. I like looking at them eye to eye, but
not one of them seems to notice.
I go to a party. Fifty people I know well are eating,
drinking, talking. Not one of them stops by and says, "Mike, you're looking
really tall this evening."
I call my best friend, a guy I've known since I was 12. I
figure he knows how tall I'm supposed to be. I tell him he's gotta take a short
walk with me. He says okay, and as we walk, I look him in the eye and ask,
"Notice anything different?"
He ponders. His eyes fall on my two-tone docksiders. He
shrugs and says, "You're wearing funny shoes."
So, after two weeks, I'm done with the shoes. Nothing
exciting happened in them because I kept thinking about how tall I was. It took
me a while to figure out where to unload them. Then it came to me: my
Sure, Bob has everythinga big fancy house, a pool,
more than one luxury car, hair. He's even been to a baseball fantasy camp. But
he's not as tall as I am, poor guy.
The shoes are in the mail.