Monday, May 18, 2009

The Longest Hour of Your Life

It is arguably the most dreaded social interaction in our society. The guy spots you checking out a couple pairs of kicks, and just by the way he walks over, you know he means business. "Can I help you with anything, sir?," the seemingly innocent gentleman asks. The only way this guy can help me is by staying out of my life...permanently. But he never does. They find out which shoe you're interested in. But they aren't going to retrieve a pair just yet. First they have to take a measure of your foot with that kamikaze-style device. The guy lays the metal thing down by your feet, and then proceeds to plop himself on the floor. It's always uncomfortable at this point, since you are now towering over this mook as he prepares the tool for his intricate procedure. With your commanding position of posture, you can't help but feel like some kind of King with your servants far below you tending to your every need.

You put your heel against the back of this thing, at which point the guy slides a few dials back and forth with the careful precision of a neurosurgeon, all to tell you that you are a size 12, just as you have been for the last zillion years. The guy is always such a punk when he's doing it too, saying things like, "Make sure your foot is all the way back...are you sure it's ALL the way back?" and "Stand up straight now, son." The problem is that sometimes it becomes a tough task to keep your balance with one hoof on solid ground and the other firmly entrenched in foot-measuring prison. This leads to the inevitable lean forward, come close to falling, but ultimately stay upright by holding onto the sales guy's shoulders. This is by far the most uncomfortable possible scenario in the whole shoe selection process. The shoulder grab can be construed by shoe-man as something that it's not. It could lead to a lawsuit, a potential discount, or a date for Saturday night. Bottom line...when that metal foot measure makes an appearance, nothing good is about to happen.

So now he's off to the mythical "back area" of the store to get the appropriate size of the shoe you requested. Only he aint just comin' back with that shoe. He's also got a couple of other boxes with shoes that "I thought you might like." Easy, big fella. If I wanted your opinion, I would beat it out of you. You'd think that at this point, you would be left alone with the shoes to see what works. No, sir. Shoe guy is back kneeling on the floor again, opening the box for you and offering to lace 'em up. I've never been sure why the shoes can't just be laced up already in the box. Once he's made this offer, you feel like you should accept. But then again, you feel extremely lazy sitting there with two fully functioning hands while this guy swoops the laces through the holes. In our defense as customers though, lacing up a sneaker is no small potatoes. The criss-cross action that is required certainly complicates things, and the holes that the laces have to fit through are the size of a grain of sand. Finally, the kicks are laced up all the way and homeboy hands you the shoe to try it on. But more problems await.

These are all supposed to be your size, but somehow the first one you try on does not fit at all. It's so tight around your foot that you are forced to scrunch up all your toes and endure extreme pain just to get it all the way in. You take it off to check the size on that little tag under the tongue. After searching through the various bizarre countries listed (just once I want a shoe that doesn't list UK on the inside) and their accompanying sizes and managing to decipher the tiny font, you see that it is indeed the right one (US 12) and should fit like a glove. You confusingly hand the shoe back to the salesman and tell him it's a no-go. He doesn't seem fazed, though. He proceeds to stuff his hand inside the shoe and reach in as if searching for some prize at the bottom of a box of Corn Pops. His well-traveled mitt emerges from the Nike grasping a large, balled-up portion of that day's newspaper. "Oh, how silly, you must have forgotten to take out the paper, sir!," he says with a huge laugh. Yeah, silly me. I was under the far-fetched impression that I would simply be able to try on a gym shoe without first searching for crumpled reading material in each and every crevice of the leather. Fit me for a friggin' straitjacket.

Now the shoe is back on your foot, sans paper, and feeling very cozy. You take a few steps with the shoe on to see how it feels. Everything seems good. You might even be ready to purchase. Not so fast. The guy wants to see you put the left one on too, and "run around a little bit." It's not enough for the shoes to fit perfectly and feel great all the way around. This power-hungry maniac has to always demand that you display your sprinting prowess in the minimal space provided. What is this guy looking for, here? It never even seems like he's actually paying attention to the shoe and whether it's staying on your foot. Instead, he's morphed into some type of amateur Olympic scout looking for the next phenom. "Pump those arms...get those knees up!!," the psychotic salesman yelps. At this point, you realize the shoe doesn't really feel that great, but you're willing to do whatever it takes to get out the door and breathe fresh air again. You tell the guy it's all good, and you are ready to pay.

So close to the finish line. Except there's always that one mind-bender of a question left in the guy's holster. He holds up the new shoes and asks, "You gonna wear these out?" You take a look outside and see that it's pouring, and you'd rather just wear the old ones until you got home to keep the new guys fresh and clean. Only you know that this isn't the answer Shoe Monster is looking for. If you tell him now to box up the new ones instead of wearing them out of the store, there is no telling what he would do to himself or the next customer that entered his reign of terror. This is similar to asking a waitress, "Which is better, the pancakes or the french toast?," then having her strongly recommend the pancakes, and you going the other way.

Even though you tell Shoe Guy that you're only wearing the old ones temporarily to keep from damaging the newbies, you know that he's worried sick that the change might never come. And it kills him.

But your heart glows.

He might have dominated the game and taken advantage of you on numerous occasions. But when all is said and done, you're walking out of there as a free man wearing the same pair of old beat-up Reeboks that you high-stepped in with 45 minutes ago. And you got a balloon.

Game, set, and match.

Gettin' shoes is never really a pleasant experience. Agree? Drop a comment here or kick me an e-mail at

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