Translated from the Russian.
Not so long ago, in the town of Putzgrad, there lived a shy, lanky man named Arkady Schtupkin. He was forty years old and had worked twenty of those years as a clerical at the University, sorting and filing papers and entering figures. If asked, his co-workers would all have admitted that if they didn’t see Schtupkin sitting behind his desk or in the cafeteria eating a tuna sandwich every day they would soon forget him altogether. In fact, Schtupkin would hardly be worthy of even an author’s attention were it not for his strong feelings and tenacious thinking on a particular subject.
Over the course of his forty years Arkady Schtupkin had developed an intense dislike, one might even say hatred, of short people. This was not because they are repugnant, stubby little specimens of humanity—though this is quite true and anyone would be excused for despising short people on these grounds. Neither did this aversion of Schtupkin’s arise from a lifetime of dealing with the so-called “Napoleon Complex”—a very real and prevalent disorder whereby short people attempt to compensate for their lack of physical stature by dominating the world, or at least those unfortunate enough to live or work with them. (This being said, Schtupkin, who had always been unusually tall, endured a great deal of torture and belligerence throughout his life at the hands of people with the Napoleon Complex. As a child in Sunday school he was the de facto choice for “Goliath” on the playground, meaning time that should have been enjoyable was spent dodging hurled debris. By the age of twelve he was a head taller than his own father, who mocked Schtupkin in front of his siblings for taking up too much space, eating too much food, and being clumsy. Schtupkin was at his most content when he went unnoticed but teachers always called on him in class because his slightest movement drew their attention; later his employers regularly selected him for additional duties for the same reason, and even his wife admitted after they were married that she had first been drawn to him because of his height. It only made matters worse that schoolyard and barroom bullies could safely attack Schtupkin because they knew from experience that people over six feet tall are by nature passive and timid about fighting back. The authorities—both teachers and the police—were unsympathetic if he complained. “Why didn’t you just squash him like a insect? You could easily have trounced such a small person,” they always said, dragging their eyes over the length of him and shaking their heads.) No, none of this was the source of his animosity towards short people. He knew that this sort of behavior from others was to be expected and could not be changed. But what he could not resign himself to were the staggering number of delusional notions that short people held about what it was like to be tall.
This was the source of Schtupkin’s anger. He was tired of listening to ignorant, disgusting little runts tell him how wonderful it must be to be tall. It wasn’t enough that they had mercilessly and relentlessly singled him out for all sorts of mistreatment because of his height—he was also expected to sit by and listen while his tormentors praised the very source of his misery. Sometimes the comments were presumptuous (“it must be nice to be so tall”) other times envious (“I wish I was tall like you”), still other times awestruck (“Wow, how did you get to be so tall?”) but always they needled at Schtupkin, infuriating him.
“What do you know about being tall? What can you know about being six foot six? You have no experience! I have been your height—many years ago—but you have never been as tall as me!” He often spoke this way to people who said such things, surprising them with his intensity. Sometimes he would go on at such length that he worked himself into a fever, “You have no idea what you are talking about! Nice to be tall? Is it nice that I spend hours of every year taking things down from high shelves because people are too lazy or proud to get a footstool? Is it nice that I must wince at every new introduction, dreading the moment when each new acquaintance will ask if I play basketball? Would it be nice for you if I asked you to pick up things I have dropped because I do not feel like bending over? Would you like it if every time you met someone they asked if you were a jockey? Of course not! There is nothing nice about being tall. But tall people must endure your rudeness. And not only that, they must do so while being considerate of the fact that you are ‘sensitive about your height.’ If someone told you that a tall person was sensitive about his height and that you shouldn’t bring it up, you would think the idea ridiculous. This world is run by short people and designed by short people—and it’s no wonder! Short people are given every advantage! In school they are told to sit in the front row where they can see the board clearly and can learn properly, while tall people are stuffed into the back where we won’t obstruct anyone’s view. A short person can go through their day in comfort: never shoved into an airplane seat with no leg-room, never forced to stoop over a desk that is too low, never bent double over sinks or under showerheads, never forced to duck under chandeliers and ceiling fans. Every seat is a first-class seat for a short person. I can say this with certainty because I have been every height below 6’6 and I know that the perfect height is 5’8. Every chair was comfortable, every table the right height and for every shelf or cabinet door that was too high for me to reach, there were a million things that were exactly where I wanted them. Do you know why there are so few tall people left in France? Because they were all killed off during the First World War, that’s why. Sent to their deaths by short people like you, by little Napoleons. Being tall isn’t a blessing, it’s a disability. And yet you look at me and my disability and try to tell me how splendid it is? Would you approach someone in a wheelchair and say, ‘it must be wonderful to never need to find a seat’ or go up to a blind person and say, ‘how lucky you are to be able to develop your senses of hearing and smell’? It’s inconceivable. And yet when it comes to tall people you show no sensitivity at all. So don’t lecture me on something you know nothing about. There is nothing nice about being tall. It is torture for the body and the mind.”
Of course, it is true that Schtupkin never actually gave this speech. He spoke parts of it to various people over the years, occasionally adding embellishments when relating the conversations to his wife (who was herself quite tall). But most of it he spoke only to himself in the car during the long commute home, adding and reworking phrases and rehearsing his delivery with the hope that one day the perfect opportunity would come and he would be able to give vent to his feelings in one eloquent burst of righteous rage.