By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, December 8, 1934
“How,” asked Jimmie Frise, “do little short men like you manage to do your Christmas shopping? How do you catch the attention of the salesgirls?”
“As a matter of fact, Jim,” I replied, “you have touched on a very sore spot. We small people don’t talk much about our size. It’s a sensitive subject. And I may say we all observe the approach of Christmas with a good deal of misgiving. It is strenuous enough pushing and shoving your way through the stores even if you are six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds. But when you are handicapped!”
“We ought to get the stores to advertise,” said Jim, ” ‘Small people do your Christmas shopping early.'”
“Better still,” I enthused, “let us ask the big stores to set aside a certain week, in the month before Christmas, as small people’s week. It would be a swell idea.”
“Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” said Jim, “would be ‘small folks’ days’ and the doormen at the entrances of the stores would respectfully stop all large people from coming in.”
“And Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays,” I finished, “would be large people’s week.”
“And the doormen,” reminded Jimmie, “would respectfully stop all small people from going in on those days, so as not to be a nuisance to the large people by getting tangled up in their feet all the time and stumbling over them.”
“Well, I hardly think that is a polite way of saying it, Jimmie,” I protested. “But the idea is a dandy. We ought to take it up with the big stores right away.”
“I’d hate to be short,” said Jim.
“It has its advantages,” I demurred. “For example, in sleeping car berths. And in wars. Small people are usually quicker than big people. They are handier around the house, too. A great big man must be terrible bother around a house, lumbering around and making everything creak and wearing out the furniture.”
“You take elevators,” I said. “I hate getting into a crowded elevator. It is the most undignifying thing in the world. For one thing, nobody makes room for a small man. Yet when a big man comes charging at crowded elevator, everybody moves over, with uneasy little smiles, like patting a big dog, and squeezes to make room for him. Sometimes, I try to get in an elevator first, to get a good place. But sure as fate, some great big man gets in after me, turns his back and pushes his large anatomy right into my face. If I wait, to escape that indignity, I have to wiggle and squash to try to get in at all.”
“I never noticed those things,” said Jim. “After this, I will try to stand edgeways to any little men in the elevator.”
“And street cars,” I continued. “One reason I have worked and toiled in this world to make money was to own a car so that I would never, never have to ride in street cars. The way they shove you aside as you try to get aboard. The way they push and shove you, once you are in. I have had tall men rest their evening papers on my hat. I have had tall girls rest their elbows on my shoulder. Too lazy to hold on to the strap or rail above them, these big people just sag in the crowd, and let their swaying and lurching be taken up by the lesser people. And, naturally, by the law of ultimate consumption, it is us smallest people who take up the slack.”
“You move me deeply,” said Jim. “I had no idea.”
“I don’t like sport,” I said, “because big men stand up in front of me at the crucial moments of the rugby or hockey game. I may say I never saw a goal scored in my life.”
“Mercy,” said Jim.
“Motor cars are all made for big men,” I declared. “Golf sticks, telephone booths, mirrors in hotel bathrooms, counters in lunch rooms, are all made for big men. There are stand-up restaurants in Toronto, over which just my head shows. I wouldn’t eat there for a thousand dollars. Seats everywhere, seats in street cars, hotels, church, are all made for big men, so that my feet dangle in the air. I don’t go to church. If I try to buy a ready-made coat, and have it shortened in the tail so that my feet show, the pockets are slung so low down I have to bend to reach them.”
“The advantages in this life,” said Jim, “are all on the side of the tall people.”
“Agreed,” I admitted bitterly. “A big man is showered with respect and honor wherever he goes. He gets waited on immediately in stores and restaurants. He has his path cleared for him wherever he goes. The world pays respect and honor to big men, no matter who or what they are. Whereas a little man has to conquer the world, like Napoleon, before he can win the world’s respect.”
“And not always then,” put in Jim. “But what are you going to do about Christmas? Why not just do your shopping early? You small people know your own difficulties. Why don’t you act on that knowledge?”
“Because I don’t think it is fair,” I stated. “Because I have my rights, just the same as any two hundred pounder. Because I have as much right to be waited on in a store as any policeman in captivity!”
“Why don’t you use stilts?” asked Jim. “Just make a pair of stilts that would lift you up to about seven feet tall. I bet you would have no trouble doing your Christmas shopping then.”
“Jim,” I gasped, “what a peach of an idea …”
The Secret of Success
“The only trouble would be carrying your parcels on stilts,” said Jim.
“I could have everything sent,” I said, “All I would do would be to carry my stilts until I got to the department where I wanted to buy something. Then up on my stilts, make my purchase and then dismount. I wouldn’t even have to pay money. Just have the stuff sent c.o.d.”
“You certainly could see what was on sale,” admitted Jim. “One of my troubles is seeing what is for sale.”
“I’m going to patent this idea,” I cried, “and then sell it to the big stores. They could have a department near the main entrance, the stilt department, where stilts would be hired out for a normal sum to all short people. They could then hobble about the store, making their purchases as easily as anybody.”
“That would lose you the whole advantage,” argued Jim. “The first thing you know, big people would get tired of being crowded out by little people on stilts and then they would begin using stilts, and where would you be? No, sir. Use the stilts yourself and see how it works. In this life grab every advantage you can think of. That’s the secret of success.”
Jim assisted me in making the stilts in my cellar. We used seven-foot lengths of what the timber dealers call two by two. Three feet from the ground we nailed on two cleats for my feet to rest on. When we got them done that far I mounted the stilts and wobbled around the cellar.
“Hooray,” cheered Jim. “They’re perfect. And you’re a natural born stiltsman.”
It was exciting. We then put some fancy trimmings on them, such as pieces of rubber from an old tire, on the bottoms, and we put linings of more rubber on the cleats so that my feet would not slip when I was “up.” as they say in the racing world. I gave them a nice coat of varnish and set them to dry.
“I’ll come shopping with you,” assured Jimmie, “in case you want any of your parcels carried.”
“You’re the sort of partner,” I thanked him heartily.
I went home early two afternoons and did some practice on the stilts. By taking several small boys along with me I pretended I was showing them the fun of stilts. And by letting all of them try the stilts I was able to work in a lot of showing-how, which gave me plenty of practice until I became, if I may say so, quite handy.
We chose Friday afternoon for the shopping day.
“Make it the most crowded time of all,” said Jim. “It will be a real test of your genius.”
When we arrived at the main entrance of the big store, I carrying the stilts and nobody paying any more attention to me than if it were an umbrella I was carrying. Jim drew me aside.
“Look,” he said, “are you really going ahead with this stunt?”
I was amazed.
“Because,” said Jimmie, “people will think you are nuts.”
“Jimmie,” I retorted, “during these three weeks everybody thinks everybody is nuts. This is Christmas month. Anything goes.”
“Well, I warn you,” he sighed.
But he came with me. We walked through the soaps and the magazines. We passed the purses. We drew near the jewelry, I carrying the stilts at what soldiers call the high-port.
Invention of the Ages
“What are you going to get first?” asked Jim.
“Three pair of silk stockings,” I said, “in a gift box.”
The stockings counter was just a midway. Just a veterans’ reunion. Just a fight. Women were three and four deep around the counters, they were wedged one in beside another and, standing on the floor, I could not see the top of even a tall salesgirl.
“Now, Jim,” said I, “let me show you something.”
Standing well back from the melee, I mounted the stilts. With the skill of an old hand I waddled forward toward the stockings counter. Now I could see right over the heads of four rows of ladies, and up into my face stared not one but eight or nine salesgirls. Their expressions were wide-eyed and delighted. In an instant that tired Friday afternoon look vanished. Life became interesting to them once more.
I waddled down the counter, looking at the piles of stockings with the prices set in cards above them. Three of the girls left their customers and followed me anxiously.
“How much are those with the frilly top?” I asked.
“Eighty-nine cents,” said all three girls.
“May I have three pairs, please? Send them c.o.d. and in a gift box,” said I giving them my address.
Forty or fifty indignant female customers were by now glaring angrily up at me. Up, I say, and I mean up. I now realize the feeling a tall man must have in a theatre line-up or in a crowded elevator. It is a swell feeling. I felt like thanking Heaven.
“Yes, sir,” said the girl who had got her book open first.
“Thank you,” said I dropping easily off the stilts and resting them on my shoulder like a skier.
Jimmie, who had been concealing himself behind a pillar, came out sheepishly.
“Well I never,” said he.
“Jim,” I cried, “it’s the invention of the ages. I never in my life shopped so quickly or was treated so politely. You can have no idea of the power, the authority, the ease it gives you to be standing looking down on everybody. Especially a mob of indignant women.”
“I imagined you’d be mobbed,” said Jim.
“Now for the toy department,” said I.
We went up the elevator to the toys. Such a pandemonium you never saw. Dolls were my first concern, so I mounted my stilts in the rear of the mob in front of the doll counter. Most of the crowd thought I was one of the clowns hired to wander about the toy floor, and they laughed merrily while I waded in and gave my order for a nice fat doll. It didn’t take one minute to complete the deal. Then I hopped down and rejoined Jim.
“Try it, Jim,” I begged him. “Get up on them and try them.”
“I can see all right,” replied he.
“Now for ladies’ gloves,” said I.
The congestion was terrific.
“You’ll come to grief here,” said Jim. “Better wait until early to-morrow morning and order your gloves from the ground level.”
“I know the color, the size and the price I want,” I retorted. “Just stand aside watch.”
I mounted. I moved through the crowd. Two or three ladies elbowed my legs as I passed them. But as usual the salesgirls, seeing me towering above the throng, greeted me with sudden bright and interested glances.
“So,” I thought to myself, “this is the eye the tall boys get, is it?”
Speaking in a deep voice that fitted my height, I ordered the kind of gloves I wanted, the girl held them up for me to see, and I was in the act of leaning slightly forward to look at the quality of the leather when one of those boys they hire only for the Christmas rush, shoving one of those large boxes on wheels which you never see except during the worst of the Christmas rush, came from behind and pushed the box between my stilts.
Naturally it was impossible to foresee such a contingency. Not knowing what was spreading the stilts, I dropped off backward and fell into the parcel wagon the boy was shoving. There were a number of parcels in the little wagon, but not enough to prevent me falling deep into it. The boy, being a new boy and anxious to hold his job, kept right on pushing through the crowd, while Jimmie, appearing beside the wagon, said to the boy:
“Go right ahead, boy, deliver him.”
And over by the south elevators, where the crowd was not so thick, Jim helped me out.
“Get my stilts,” I insisted. “I’m not through.”
“You’re through,” said Jim, handing the boy a quarter.
“Did you, by any chance,” I asked icily “pay that boy to upset me?”
“I would spend far more than a quarter for an old friend,” said Jim.
“You’re jealous,” I cried, “You’re just jealous, because I was higher than you. Now I see through it all: you tall people are just childishly jealous of anybody taller than you.”
“You looked like a sap,” said Jim.
“Because you have always been used to looking down on me from a height,” I said. “Jim, I think this is mighty small of you.”
“Let us stay the way the Lord made us,” said Jim. “The expression on your face, up there on those stilts, was ridiculous. You thought you were a duke or something.”
“Jim, I felt good,” I admitted.
“It takes years,” ended Jim, “to grow the way we are. A sudden change ruins us. If you keep your feet on the ground I’ll help you with your Christmas shopping. I’ll come along and lift you up so you can see what’s on the counters.”
“Very good,” said I. But the pavement seemed stiflingly close.
Editor’s Notes: Buying something c.o.d., meant “Cash on Delivery”. The store would sent the item to your home, and you would pay full price on receipt.