Because I am of British birth and don’t understand the concept of casual footwear, having to go and buy shoes, in my solemn opinion, is quite possibly the only thing worse than requiring extensive dental surgery.
When I recently found myself without a pair of runners for the first time since I was about 7 or 8, it was time to go forth and confront the dreaded shoe shopping experience.
My long suffering wife has long since stopped offering to go with me while I fumble around various sporting goods and big box stores looking for footwear of any sort. The poor woman is bewildered at my distaste for the process of purchasing shoes
There are two kinds of shoes; work shoes and “not work” shoes. For work shoes, the primary consideration is comfort and comfort generally comes in black or brown. I’ve been told grey exists but like white shoes, I can’t imagine it being acceptable to anyone other than a salesman in the tradition of Herb Tarlick of WKRP fame.
After colour, the toe shape is the next consideration. Overly pointy toes make you look like an Italian goombah in a 70’s detective flick. Too square a toe brings the original Puritans to mind. After settling on a nice comfortable, black pair of leather dress shoes for the office, it’s time to attempt to purchase a new pair “not work” shoes.
I’m sure it’s my advancing age, but the colours of men’s casual shoes seem to be approaching the plumage of Amazonian parrots. Lime Green, bright orange and Aqua Velva blue seem to be the norm.
The runners of old have been consigned to the bargain stores and largely seem to be equipped with Velcro straps rather than laces. While I’m sure Velcro straps are handy, it’s hard to shake the vision of my Dad, in his mid 60’s, zapping on a pair of nifty grey runners with two curled up straps to hold them on his feet. This is not a vision I hope to emulate myself, at least not for a few years yet.
At this point, the earnest and probably well-meaning young salesperson ambles over to see if I need any assistance. The ritual dance begins with a “can I help you find something, Sir”? “Sure” I answer “do you have any shoes that don’t look like something from a Broadway remake of the Wizard of Oz?”
A long moment of quiet silence occurs as the salesman begins to realize what he is up against. “Perhaps…something in um…black”?, I ask hopefully.
His eyes brighten and with a cheery voice he answers “well sure” he blurts out, proffering a pair of what I believe are referred to as skate shoes, “How about these?”
I crinkle my nose, take a deep breath and suggest politely that if I wanted flat soles, I’d wear plywood on my feet. “I need heels, and arch support please,” I say mildly. The poor lad then leads me over hopefully to the outdoor shoe collection.
“These are a great shoe,” he says, “Starts out at $325”. “Is that each?” I say half-jokingly? “Oh no, Sir, that’s for the pair,” he replies earnestly.
“Do you have anything uhhhhh, a bit cheaper”? I ask hopefully. I’m sure he wanted to say “not that I’d wear old man” but to his credit; only a slight mumble escaped his clenched teeth.
“I’ll look in the back” he said and quickly scuttled behind the curtain.
It’s at this point that I start sweating and fidgeting, which sadly, is something that I do with regularity when shopping.
When embarking on a long relationship with a sales clerk, sweating and shoe shopping is not something that go well together.
The agony intensifies as he brings out box after box in varying styles and sizes “too ugly, too expensive, too colourful, too hipster, too…”
About this time, the panic meter rises to DefCon4 level and I blurt out something sounding like “thankyouverymuchbutihavetogonow”,
And at that point, in a puddle of sweat, I rush from the store to my vehicle.
Driving home, I convince myself that I can coax one more summer from the lawn mowing shoes mouldering by the deck. My wife, bless her heart, rolls her eyes and shakes her head.
Perhaps one day, I’ll be put in a nice warm place where slippers are considered daily wear.
Now, a nice pair of inexpensive warm plaid slippers – there’s something a man can wrap his head around wearing.
Steve Smyth is a past director of the Terrace-Kitimat Airport Society and a current director of the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce.