New shoes

Whoo. That was a heck of a thing.

I don’t shop much. When I do shop, I tend to come away with the barest of essentials, which usually do not include things like clothes. Until about last month, I had worn the same threadbare shoes for the last five years. Yes, five years. A little superglue here, a few stitches there, and a ton of black shoe polish went a long way toward keeping those babies looking fresh. I realized that I actually had to get rid of them when someone pointed out that they were mostly just a shoe-shaped glob of glue, stitching and goopy shoe polish that rubbed off and left fecal-looking streaks on absolutely everything, particularly the nice clean floors at work.

Learning that I have been rude is one of the few things that will prompt me to immediate action, and to action I sprang. In the name of efficiency, I proceeded to a big box, a jungle of depressing fabric, appliances and synthetics whose name I will not mention. The people who worked there seemed uninterested in my problem. I wear a size 7 men’s shoe, preferably a solid color and nothing weird. My life is weird enough, thanks. I don’t need funky shoes.

But every damn shoebox I pulled off this place’s shelves was missing its right member. I tried Converse, Dockers, Sketchers, and about five other brands that I’ve never even heard of. No rights. Eventually, I went to the sales associate to ask why.

“We don’t know,” she said. The effort it took her not to groan deepened the lines on her face until she looked ancient and exhausted. “It’s company policy. We’re not allowed to talk about it, but it’s been that way since 2009.” I asked her if her boss would have more information. Her eyes hardened immediately. I knew I’d made a mistake. She grabbed her name tag and pulled it forward so that I could read it without looking at her chest. The little square of blue and white plastic identified her as the store manager. That was a bit embarrassing, but what really gave me pause was that it also listed her blood type.

I decided to leave.

After a few hours wandering around looking for a way out, I chanced upon a golden thread, probably pulled off some high fashion cardigan or tunic by another wanderer. It was wrapped around the necks and wrists of blank-featured white mannequins and stretched between them like the cordon at some bizarre opening night ritual. I followed it. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong direction first and soon ended up staring at a door marked “Employees Only.” The thread was suspended between a stray nail in the wall and the crack between the closed door and the jamb. I didn’t feel like an employee and suspected I’d be recruited or something if I proceeded through, so I turned around and went back the other way. 

It took a long, long time to find the exit. I had to stop and rest several times. I think I slept once. It’s weird how details like that haze away when you’re in an environment where the lights never go off. I was exhausted in a wide, bloodshot way that eventually bordered on a kind of psychosis. Articles of clothing seemed to reach out for me as I passed. They seemed to whisper things about me that I’d never told anyone, things about my childhood altar serving in the Church and my family, who I left hundreds of miles away to move to this place, and all the time I’d wasted of my short life playing video games. You are an addict waiting to happen, hissed the blouses and the belts and the khakis. You are a latent gameoholic, alcoholic, shopaholic. Buy things. Consume until you die. It is your fate.

What kept me going was that I’d read about this somewhere before. Big box stores optimize their layouts to get people a little lost. That way, they need to spend more time looking at stuff. The longer they look, the more likely they’ll pick up extra things that they never intended to get. Knowing this, I managed to avoid buying anything, though if there was food, I’d gladly have spent a few dollars on it. Maybe that’s the next big retail innovation: hot dog stands among the groves of slacks and camisoles.

When I finally reached the end of the thread, I nearly cried. There was the exit. Daylight, even. My shoes were finally in pieces. It was three days later. My wife had left several dozen frantic messages on my phone, which all appeared the instant I passed through the grimy automatic glass doors. My first action was to run to her and tell her that she had been right all along about the big boxes, that I was finally free and would never leave her for life in a modern labyrinth. 

Then, I proceeded to a boutique booterie in downtown Salem, where I paid a pretty penny for a very nice pair of locally made, artisanal shoes. Well, actually, I paid seventy-five bucks. I guess that’s not so bad, right? I’m still not sure what shoes ordinarily cost, but compared to three days of your life, $75 is a pretty good deal. And at least the shoemaker provided both left and right shoes free of extra charge.

I guess I’ll be buying local from now on.