Standing up for the vertically challenged

By Helena Rodriguez

“Down here!”
“Excuse me sir, but …”
“I … I … ouch! You stepped on my toe!”
“What? Not even an ‘Excuse me, ma’am?”
It’s like I’m not there at all.
If you’re vertically challenged like me, this is a typical day shopping. You know what I’m talking about. Being shoved around by people, many unaware they have brushed against you. I guess big people don’t feel it. But we do.
How about this one? You’re at the post office or standing at a checkout counter. You’re next in line. The clerk makes eye contact with the person right behind you, a tall person, and mutters, “Mah I elp ya?” That person behind you then attempts to go before you. You suddenly feel an urge to clear your throat, and rather loudly.
The clerk finally sees you and says rather apologetically, “I’m sorry. Were you next?”
“Nah, I’m just standing here waiting to see if I will grow some more so you will acknowledge my presence.” That’s what I want to say, but since I don’t want to come across as an angry short woman, I simply smile.
People who are vertically challenged have to have a big heart to put up with other people’s shortsightedness. Sometimes people can be short with you just because you’re short.
Does the name Randy Newman ring a bell? His 1978 hit, “Short People (Don’t Want No Short People)” hit No. 2 on the charts that year.
People who are extra large or have some kind of disability can empathize with short people. While most people are kind and poke innocent jokes about our height, or rather, lack of height, which I don’t mind, others can be downright rude.
“How come your soooo short?” People have asked me.
I find this exceptionally rude when people ask it as if there is something wrong with being short. I would never ask a person, “How come you’re so fat?” or “Why is your nose so big?”
Short people have a hard enough time without the ladder jokes. I cannot find high heels my size unless I go to a specialty shop. Why do they make high heels only for tall people? I shop in the little girls’ shoe section. My 13-year-old daughter passed me in shoe sizes three years ago and has already surpassed me in height. I am about 4 feet, 9 inches short.
At the grocery store, I asked strangers to get me things off the top shelf. I even got fired from a fast-food joint once because I wasn’t fast enough. Truth was, I couldn’t reach the hamburger buns on the top shelf. I should have just moved them.
When I worked as an education reporter for the Hobbs News-Sun, I was often mistaken for a student when I’d go into the schools. Once, a teacher asked to see my hall pass. I showed her my press pass and then she apologized.
Now that I have gotten this small matter off of my chest, I must confess, there are some perks to being short. I got into events at children’s rates well past 12 years old. As a child, I could squeeze into small places and hide easily and when I worked for the Abilene Reporter-News in Abilene, Texas, I just had to sink in my chair and nobody could see me in my cubicle.
They spoiled me a little in Abilene because I was short. The company was big on ergonomics — making sure us slaves, I mean workers, had the proper heights of desks and chairs and that our computer monitors were at eye level so we could do our jobs as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Where was ergonomics when I worked at that fast food joint?
Anyway, this ergonomics dude, whom I’m sure was paid a handsome salary, wisely noted my feet were dangling in the air, a typically phenomenon for us vertically challenged. Because he was a nice guy, or maybe because he thought I might someday sue the company for millions of dollars for allowing my toes to dangle in mid air, he got me a nice, comfortable footstool sort of cushioned thing to rest my feet on while I worked at my desk. I felt pampered.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be contacted at