Black, laceless, size fourteen

Every once in a while I’ll find myself in a shoe store. I have a size fourteen foot, so it’s unlikely that they’ll have anything past thirteen. But sometimes there’s going to be something, and maybe it’s not a fourteen, maybe it’s a thirteen but I’ll try it on anyway. And it looks great, I feel like I’m doing a normal thing, buying shoes at a shoe store, I’ll do like a whole series of laps around the showroom just to make sure I’m not tricking myself into thinking that these things are going to work out when they shouldn’t. And I’ll do it, I’ll buy them.

And it always turns out that, despite my in-store laps, I had tricked myself. Because whatever pace I was maintaining on that soft shoe store carpet, now that I’m outside, man, these things are way too tight. It’s the kind of discomfort that only starts to manifest like an hour, two hours after continuous wear.

One time I bought this pair of black shoes for a job at a new restaurant. I needed a very specific style, laceless, black, some sort of adhesive grip on the bottom. I don’t know, it was all a lot of very exact rules for buying these shoes. And I had like a week to make it happen. And so I went online, I found the shoes, they showed up maybe five days later, but they were too big, like way too big. These things said fourteen but they felt like a seventeen.

And so now I only had three days left. I placed another online order, but I wasn’t sure they were going to get here in time. And they didn’t, so I wound up at the shoe store again, tricking myself into buying those thirteens. Don’t worry, I told myself, you’ve got this. These are going to work out fine.

But that slow pain that starts after an hour or two, it was crippling after three or four. By the time I got out four hours after that, my toes were practically purple. Thankfully, while I was at work, that second online order arrived at my house, and so I didn’t even bother to try to them on, I thought, well, I’m definitely never wearing the thirteens ever again, and I don’t have anything else, so they have to work, they simply must fit.

The shoe store lady kind of put up a fight when I went to return the thirteens. “Did you wear them?” and I should’ve just said no, like, what is this lady, the shoe judge? No, just accept the return, thank you very much, you have a nice day too. But for some reason I was overly honest, “Well, yes, but just for one day.”

“One day?” she looked up at me, recoiling the handheld barcode scanner that she was just about to use to zap the purchase clean from my credit card. “What do you mean one day?” and usually I’m much more confrontational, like usually I would’ve been like, “What do you care? Just zap it, what are you, personally invested in this pair of shoes?” But I was so defeated, my feet still swollen from the day before, I think I might of started to weep, a soft weeping, but still, I was like, “Come on, please, they hurt so badly, I can’t …” and she kind of deflated, like I could tell she was looking forward to that confrontation, but this, I had to have been weeping, it was a pity zap, she thought I was pathetic.

And I got to work, my second day on the job, and these shoes, the second online delivery, they said thirteen, and these actually felt like a thirteen. I couldn’t understand it. The fourteens felt like seventeens, but the thirteens a strict thirteen? There was no winning here. It was another painful night. I thought about how I was going to go forward. I thought, am I going to have to find a new job? Why is it this hard to find a pair of shoes?

At the end of the shift, peeling those thirteens off, the rush of blood to my deprived extremities, I said, screw this, I don’t care. No way am I going through another night. I returned everything, all of the boxes, take it all back, I give up. I went into the back of my closet and reached for my trusty pair of blacks, laced up, a little scuffed on the edges, soles so smooth I could slide across the floor with little more than a brisk two-step.

And you know what? Nobody said anything. That stupid rule book that they gave me when I was hired, what a joke. Someone must have written it up years ago and that was the last time it was ever seriously consulted. One time I was on the floor and one of my managers even stopped me, he was like, “Hey Rob, your shoe lace is untied.” I was like, “Hey thanks a lot boss, good eye man,” and he gave me one of these winks, a really mild thumbs-up, like keep up the good work Rob, nice shoes buddy.

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