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Garghibition

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The pill didn’t make one taller. That wasn’t the issue. It wasn’t a case of medical science tampering with God’s design, or biological engineering in an effort to transform the human race into a different, better species — a taller one. No, all the oblong, indigo “Gargantuanx” did, miracle of miracles, was create the illusion in the mind of the consumer that he was taller. That’s all.

The pill didn’t take immediate effect. For about 10 minutes you felt nothing. Then you were taller. That is, you believed you were. The drug convinced its user, whatever his height, that he was three inches taller. It was a new technology, and its power was limited, if perfect in its simplicity and specificity. Three inches was all it added. Gargantuanx could not alter the physical world — boxes of pasta on supermarket shelves which were out of reach before taking the pill did not get any closer after a dose. But under its influence, one was certain that the shelf of pasta was three inches higher than it had been, so the illusion that one was three inches taller was intact. Other people remained the same height, of course. Gargantuanx was not sophisticated enough to create visual illusions, and shrink everyone to make the user seem taller by comparison. So it did the next best thing. It convinced the user that everyone else had also grown three inches. Insurance companies refused to cover the new drug, and retailers charged ten dollars a pill to those willing to pay anything for a couple of hours of believing, despite all evidence to the contrary, that one was three inches taller.

Gargantuanx aggressively suspended disbelief. If a basketball rim seemed no closer to a consumer of the pill, he had to believe it wasn’t regulation height — “off by three inches,” he would say. When a tape measure was brought out and the hoop was measured from the ground up, to demonstrate that it was indeed the proper 10 feet high, the Gargantuanxer had no choice but to believe that the tape measure was incorrect. Errors in production were made all the time — why should tape measure manufacturers be exempt? They were busy trying to meet deadlines, and it was certainly reasonable, if disappointing, that a few of their tape measures might be missing an inch or three. If it were pointed out that without exception all the numbers were there on the tape measure, the Gargantuanxer suspected that the size of each inch on the device was mistaken, so that an indicated total of 10 feet was in actuality 10 feet and 3 inches. It didn’t help to bring 20 tape measures, or 50, or 1,000. If shown a million the Gargantuanxer would give no ground. He was forced to believe in a massive conspiracy among manufacturers of tape measures — and anyone who defended them — to convince people that they were three inches shorter than in fact they were.

What was unsettling to those not lured by Gargantuanx’s promise of three inches and the accompanying boost in self-esteem was that taking the drug was a voluntary act. This wasn’t a science fiction movie or a clever book about alien or government control. People chose the pill, and consumed it, with full knowledge of its effects. They wanted to be taller. Failing that, they wanted to think they were taller. Whatever their motives, they knew going in that the pill would create the illusion of additional height. The implications of a drug so powerful it could fool those who knew it was going to fool them worried lawmakers and concerned citizens. What would be next? A pill to make one think he was a spy or assassin for another country? Clearly, legislation was required.

Short people were divided. Speaking to the panel investigating Gargantuanx, the President of the Undersized Persons Society (Ups) made a passionate plea for a permanent and unequivocal ban on “this bane to the existence of undersized persons.” For years undersized persons had been fighting for equality. They had only recently won a major court battle, resulting in a federal mandate requiring shoe retailers to carry larger supplies of women’s sizes 4 and 5 and men’s size 6. Plans were already underway to sue the Motion Picture Academy for the under-representation of undersized persons as leading men and women in American film, and the theater owners were on the list too, for deliberately designing audience seats so that anyone under the height of five feet six inches would be unable to see the screen when an overheighted person sat in the row in front of them. With all the progress made by undersized persons in this country, it was embarrassing, no, humiliating, that the government allowed this pill to be sold as a legitimate medication. Was the government implying that undersizeness was an ailment that required a cure?

After a quick sidebar discussion with her public relations advisor, the presiding senator assured the President of Ups that, of course, undersizeness was not an ailment, and she would personally sponsor legislation to ban Gargantuanx forever from this land of purple mountains majesty. This created an uproar. Other short people demanded to be heard. If they wanted to be deluded into thinking they were three inches taller, what business was this of the government, or anyone else? Gargantuanx was a victimless drug, if ever there was one. The proposed legislation was the subject of serious discussion on television and at water coolers around the nation. Small people, pretty much every man under five-foot-eight and woman under five-foot-five, couldn’t come to an agreement — Gargantuanx was too popular, and the inflated sense of non-earned pride it provided was too tempting. Tall people, even those of average height who dabbled in Gargantuanx, by and large stayed out of the debate. Short, that is, undersized people dominated the discussion with a passion all out of proportion to their own dimensions.

That the nation was divided was indisputable. But Ups had powerful friends and deep pockets, and the legislation passed by a considerable margin, making it a felony — a federal offense — to even possess Gargantuanx on American soil. Ups claimed a victory for all undersizekind, but many people were distraught at the news. Not only was this an assault on the principle of self-determination and individual freedom, but also many of them wanted desperately to be able to think they were taller. A black market developed overnight. The people wanted their Gargantuanx and they were willing to pay for it. Pills went for twenty dollars, sometimes thirty, apiece. Rival dealers used intimidation and even murder to corner the local market. It wasn’t long before gangs had infiltrated the schools, hooking kids, who were the only ones after all who didn’t need the drug, since greater height was to them still attainable. But it nonetheless became fashionable to get hopped up on double and triple doses of Garg and go to the mall, where innocent clerks struggled in vain to convince strung-out shoppers that the jeans they were trying on were just too long and that the label was not mistaken.

The violence associated with the illegality and lack of regulation of Gargantuanx led some to call for decriminalization, but the Ups lobby would not give in. Instead they declared a war on Garg, and local governments set up task forces to sweep the malls and raid the schools. If there were kids out there trying to be taller by any but the means provided by nature, they were going to suffer the consequences. Lockers were searched, athletes were banned, bus drivers were randomly tested, short parents were turned in by their short children, the very fabric of our society began to unravel. The corruption and terrorism of Al Capone’s Chicago paled next to the nationwide frenzy caused by Garghibition.

Finally, even the zealots from Ups had to relent. If they couldn’t squash Gargantuanx outright, then they would control it. Garg was legalized, and regulated, and taxed. Strict guidelines were developed for its production and distribution and the government banned forever any changes to its formula, to prevent an escalation in offending the sensibilities of certain influential short people. They had, they thought, won a limited victory.

But I’m a short person as well — I hate the undersize euphemism — and I’ve been in my lab for nine straight weeks now. After four failed tests of my new pill, Tremendocyclin, I finally have success. Oh, sweet bliss of greater height. I am five inches taller than I was just a moment ago. And nothing you say or do will convince me otherwise.

 — — —

“Garghibition” was first published in Liberty in 1999.

Scott Stein is editor of When Falls the Coliseum and author of the novels Lost and Mean Martin Manning. His short comedic fiction, book reviews, and essays have been published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Oxford University Press Humor Reader, The G.W. Review, Liberty, National Review, PopMatters.com, Art Times, and Reason. He is a professor of English at Drexel University. Scott tweets @sstein. His author site is scottsteinonline.com.

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