There was just me and two other guys sitting at the bar. They were sitting together. I ordered a draft beer. The bartender asked if I wanted a short or a tall. I got the full pint – the tall. The bartender slid me the beer. I took a long drink. I looked at the guy sitting closest to me and gave him a friendly nod.
He returned the nod along with a smile and introduced himself as Little Pete. Little Pete was slouched over his beer. He introduced his friend as Big Tom. Big Tom was sitting up straight, smoking and barely paying attention.
“Why they call you Little Pete?” I asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“No,” I said, taking another drink.
“Well, I’m short,” he said. “Maybe you can’t tell because I’m sitting.”
I looked down to see just the toes of Little Pete’s shoes scratching at the floor.
“Okay. So how tall are you?”
“Five-six,” Little Pete said.
“That’s not so short. 95% of men are somewhere between 5-4 and 6-4″,” I said. “I’m almost certain that’s right.”
Little Pete took a drink, so I followed.
Then Little Pete looked over to Big Tom. Big Tom continued to stare ahead and puff. He still seemed bored.
Little Pete turned back to me, asking how and why I knew so much about heights.
“I used to buy and sell pants,” I said. “I know which lengths sell and which ones don’t. There’s no money to be made once a pair of pants hits the clearance rack.”
I sat up straight to look over top of Little Pete. Big Tom still hadn’t taken a drink. He just smoked and stared straight ahead.
“How about you, Big Tom? Care to share your height?”
Annoyed, Big Tom said was 6-2 and a half.
“Then you’re pretty average too,” I said. “Like me. I’m 5-10. As average as can be.”
I took another hearty swig of my Old Style. I was already close to the bottom.
Little Pete turned to Big Tom. Big Tom stopped his smoking to pay attention for once. He bent over to listen to Little Pete. I could hear them mumbling. I imagined they were talking about me. I waited for Big Tom to look over at me, to finally get a glimpse of who they were talking about and who was the source of his pestering. But he didn’t.
They finished their mumbled conversation. Big Tom went back to sitting up straight, smoking and staring in front of him. Little Pete turned to me again.
“Where you getting those figures about height?”
“Used to have a chart somewhere in my office,” I said. “Men and women’s heights were plotted out. It forms a bell curve. It’s a normal distribution. One standard deviation is plus or minus three inches – if memory serves me right – with 5 feet and 10 inches being the mean.”
Little Pete looked at me dumbly. Big Tom still didn’t flinch.
“The mean. That means 5 feet, 10 inches is the average.”
Little Pete’s friendly demeanor had begun to turn from the time I started talking numbers. I thought maybe he just wasn’t much on math. I didn’t want to make him feel dumb. But now his demeanor was turning full defensive. I was starting to get it wasn’t all about the math.
“Well, you know, fella, the world just ain’t made for short people,” Little Pete said. “We get the short end of the stick. Women don’t like short guys. There’s a stigma to being short. Why else you think so many short men put lifts in their shoes?”
I’d already noticed Little Pete’s shoes barely touching the floor. I wondered if Little Pete had lifts in them. But lifts only work for height, not length, so in that regard they’d do Little Pete no good. And I wanted to say maybe the reason so many men bought lifts was because they believed there was a stigma. But I didn’t say that.
“Don’t worry, Pete. You’re not so short” I said. “So I wouldn’t sweat it. If you’re 5-6, you probably have a 30 inch inseam, give or take an inch. And we sold plenty of 30-inch inseams. It’s when the waist don’t match the inseam, then you have trouble. A 42-30 don’t sell. They don’t hardly even make ’em.”
I was still holding onto the idea that making Little Pete feel better about his perceived deficiency might be the way to make amends.
Then, in a squeaky little voice and without looking sideways, Big Tom decided to say his peace.
“Things ain’t made for tall people either. Desks. Cars. The world ain’t an easy place for a big fella to fit in either.”
I finally got it. Big Tom finally made things clear, so I polished off my beer.
“Yup. You’re right. Things aren’t easy, for sure,” I said.
Little Pete nodded. He looked up at Big Tom, who agreed too.
“Shoot, the world isn’t even easy for an average guy,” I said.
“How do you mean?” Little Pete asked.
“There’s nothing special about us. We gotta work twice as hard to get noticed.”
“Damn, that’s rough,” Little Pete said. “I never thought of that.”
I looked over top of Little Pete to see that Big Tom still agreed.
I sat there for a few more minutes, pretending to be glum. I tipped my glass one last time. There was nothing left but the suds.
Then Little Pete said to the bartender, “Jimmy, I’d like to buy this stranger his next beer. Seems like a helluva guy.”
I thanked Little Pete.
The bartender asked if I was ready for the next round – the one on Little Pete.
“Sure,” I said, and thanked Little Pete again.
“Another tall?” the bartender asked.
It was a little past 1 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten and the beer was feeling good.
“Yeah. Another pint,” I said.
Jimmy poured it. He replaced the empty mug with a fresh one. I told Litte Pete thanks one more time.
“So how’s the world going for you?” I asked the barkeep.
“Well, you know, I got these big ears,” Jimmy said.
I looked at Jimmy’s ears. Since he pointed them out, I noticed they might be a bit large, but not large enough that I’d noticed before. But the way Jimmy said it, I could tell they weren’t something he was proud of.
“Sorry about your luck,” I said, figuring I might at least turn his ears into a free beer as well.
“Pants was my thing,” I said. “Not earmuffs. But I get what you’re saying.”
I could have added that bigger ears are probably better for hearing. But, again, I didn’t. I knew the game.
Jimmy turned away to wipe the other end of the bar.
Little Pete leaned over and whispered, “It’s a shame about Jimmy’s ears, ain’t it?”
“Yeah. A real shame,” I said. “A cryin’ shame.”