Women lie about their age; men lie about their height. Any man who is 5-foot-11 says he’s 6 feet. There is no such height as 5-11 unless the man is 5-10.
I’m 5-foot-10 — or at least I was — so I naturally said 5-foot-11. I especially liked saying 5-11 because people thought I was being honest. They thought, here’s a guy who could say he’s 6 feet but he tells us the truth.
I know you don’t believe that all men lie about their height but it’s true. Unless you’re over 6 feet you automatically add an inch. Guys who are under 5-8 sometimes add two inches.
I buy suits and sport jackets at Paul Stuart, where they have four lengths: “long” for over 6 feet, “semi-long” for 5-10 to 6 feet, “regular” for about 5-6 to 5-9, and “short” for under 5-6. Nobody wears a short, or at least nobody I’d care to be introduced to. I’ve always worn semi-long, an announcement to the world that I’m taller than average and a considerable boost to my faltering male ego.
The other day the strangest thing happened. I tried on a jacket — semi-long of course — and it seemed a trifle long. Well, who cares? There’s no way I’m wearing a regular like all the average guys. The salesman, who has a good eye for these things, said, “You know, it seems just a bit long. I think you would look better in a regular.” I don’t think he understood how close he was to having his life insurance policy pay off.
“I’ve been wearing semi-long for decades,” I said.
The salesman, apparently detecting a serious psychological disorder, retreated. “Of course, but they are cutting the jackets a little differently this year.”
It was obvious that he was right and so I had a problem. I could buy a semi-long, catering to my ego, but the jacket would not look exactly right. Or, I could purchase the proper length and have to live with becoming a regular. No man can handle a problem like this.
Women will understand this dilemma. A woman who has been a size 8 all her life is psychologically incapable of trying on a size 10. Forget about whether she’s gained 10 pounds; she’s struggling into a size 8 even if the stitches are cracking. Don’t ask me why this is true. I’m not responsible for the world’s neuroses.
So there I was in a regular that looked just right, while the salesman took away the semi-long along with my entire sense of confidence and virility. And indeed, I knew what had happened; I had shrunk.
As men and women age they get shorter; ask any doctor. A man who was 5-10 (telling everybody 5-11) shrinks to 5-9, maybe 5-81/2 when he reaches 65. He doesn’t exactly notice this because all his friends have also lost an inch, so relatively speaking he’s the same height. There is no announcement that he is now 5-9 and he lives happily ever after.
Unless he goes to Paul Stuart and buys a suit.
Leonard S. Bernstein is the author of "The Man Who Wanted to Buy a Heart," a collection of stories published this year by the University of New Orleans Press. He runs Candlesticks, a children's wear company, and lives in Westbury and Amagansett.