I wonder if I’m the only person in the world who heard about the 65% off 65% sale at Bloomingdale’s at my favorite literary mall, Walt Whitman in Huntington Station, Long Island. Because I swear, I was the only person shopping there. It was like my own personal sale at my own personal mall. I guess my competition had tanning booth conflicts. And of course, nowhere did I do more damage than the shoe department. I’m not normally so rash, but who can resist those sort of prices. We’re talking Stuart Weitzman, Tori Burch, Michael Kors, Cole Haan….
Naturally, being freshly endowed with a bevy of designer shoes and newly graduated from my previous Nine West wardrobe, I needed to give my shoes the proper start for treading the rough Manhattan sidewalks. As every good shoe owner knows, taps are a must.
Normally, I would just go to the Russian guy over in the Clark Street station. He’s cheap and doesn’t give me any problems. But I don’t really trust him with the new cache. Shoes do have a way of disappearing at his hole-in-the-wall shop, and I just can’t risk that with this once-in-a-lifetime loot. So I load up my newly acquired treasure and head to the very high-maintenance and much more expensive shoe guy on Montague Street. This shoe guy is very, very discriminating. First off, cash up front. And it’s not cheap. That’s if he’ll even accept you. One gets the feeling that at any point, if he takes a sudden dislike to you and your shoes, it’s gonna turn out like the soup guy on Seinfeld. “No Shoe For You!” But I also know that if he accepts my shoes, they will get only the best care. It’s kind of like getting your kid into a good New York City private school.
Tonight, such rejection wasn’t even an option, for the expensive shoe guy also keeps summer hours and closes promptly. I was five minutes too late, burdened as I was with two full Bloomingdale’s Brown Bags, plus a box of ankle booties tucked under one arm. No shoe for me.
I realized with anguish that I would not only have to hike two long blocks to the cheap shoe guy, who may not even be open, but that I would also have to trust him with my new shoes. By the time I arrived, it was almost seven, but he was still open, barely. He’s no diva, but I could see that he was not happy to see me arrive with my 10 pairs. He looked my first pair, a delicately pointed black Stuart Weitzman pump, with complete disdain. “How much this shoe?” he asked. “$300,” I said. His eyes widened. “Well, I mean originally,” I amended, fearing that my shoes would disappear into the black market, “I paid $50.”
He looked at the other nine pairs lined up and his eyes narrowed. “You European?” “No, not at all!” (I am about as far from a European as it’s possible to get—I’m Midwestern.) “Why?” I ask. “They buy, come here, buy lots of shoes.” “No, I just found a very good sale, but don’t tell my husband.” That last directive completely confused him. Did the cheap shoe guy have a wife? Did he care how many shoes she bought?
From there we moved onto the treatment for each shoe. Now the expensive shoe guy doesn’t get involved, unless it’s a matter of shoe-repair principle (at which point, get ready to burn some cash). But this guy had opinions. He wanted me to resole every shoe, insisting that the original, unprotected sole would wear down and I would also slip-slide dangerously around town. “I only wear these shoes once a month, at most,” I said. “I don’t need new soles.” But he would not back down, intuiting, no doubt, that I would sooner give in than have to carry these shoes back home. Finally we compromised on him resoling four pairs at $17/pair, adding taps to five at $6/pair and rejecting two entirely. And he insisted that I come back the next day, as he didn’t have room for all my shoes. I agreed and even had to pay in advance. So my question is, if my cheap shoe guy is turning diva and expensive on me, what does that mean for the high-maintenance shoe guy? It’s as if the whole shoe-repair world has gone out of balance, like when the frogs run out of gnats to eat and the whole eco-system upends.
As I packed up my rejected shoes to leave, the cheap shoe guy pulled out a plastic-wrapped bracelet from under the counter. “You like jewelry?,” he asked with a black-market leer.
Now I really do wonder if I’ll ever see my shoes again.