Sometimes, I just don’t know whose side to take. Especially when strangers are involved. But especially when the strangers are ‘sharing’. Like this morning, for instance.
My wife and I are in Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey/Nebraska this weekend for a wedding. I planned to wear a black suit to the ceremony. Which was fine, except that my black shoes were still back in my house near Boston, probably walking on all the furniture and eating everything we left in the fridge. You know what they say: ‘When the shoehorn’s away, the wingtips will play’. Something like that.
My brown shoes, which clash more or less completely with the black suit, were here with us. So the missus gave me an option — we venture out in the morning to buy a pair of shoes, or we buy a brown suit. My choice.
(My suggestion of rubbing charcoal or coffee grounds or gunpowder onto my brown shoes to blacken them up was immediately and summarily rejected. Now I just have to hope that she doesn’t open the shoebox and notice that I’d already gotten started on one before I mentioned the idea.
And pray she doesn’t ask for French roast in the morning.)
“I’ve got a newborn at home; he’s got a drinking problem.”
So, we set off in search of black shoes. I’m no fan of shoe shopping, but browsing for a suit is a special slice of searing hell that I save for special occasions. I’m sincerely hoping that my next suit purchase will be made posthumously, when they need something to wrap around me in the casket. And if I can wriggle it into my will to bury me in Syracuse orange, then I won’t even need that one. Either that, or it’s going to be one hell of an ugly suit. That’s okay. I don’t want to be caught dead in a suit, anyway.
Back to the stranger, and my conversational predicament.
We found a shoe store, picked out a suitable pair (she picked; I ‘helped’ — naturally), and took them to the register. There were two girls at the counter, one in her early thirties, maybe, and the other a few years younger. There was a short line of people waiting to check out, so the girls were both working — but also carrying on a conversation as they rung up, packaged, bagged, and receipted.
I couldn’t hear much until we got closer, but eventually picked up that the older girl’s shift was over soon (or already), and her replacement hadn’t arrived yet. She seemed a bit agitated about it — and the other girl was agreeing with her at every turn. Egging her on, in other words. As Older Girl worked herself into a nice foamy lather, my wife and I approached the counter to pay. Older Girl was putting away shoeboxes under the counter and yapping to her friend:
‘I don’t know, but if Gary’s not here in five minutes, I’m seriously just walking out. This is ridiculous. I’ve got a newborn at home; he’s got a drinking problem.‘
At this point, she popped up from under the counter, presumably ready to help us since she was looking directly at me. At the same time, she finished the thought she was expressing:
‘… How is that fair?‘
It wasn’t entirely clear who she was talking to. I mean, she was looking at me. Was that impatient furrowed look on her face because I hadn’t handed my shoes over yet? Because she wanted to get the hell out of there already? Or was she waiting for me to answer the question? Proddingly, but not-so-helpfully, she cocked her head a few inches to the side and said, again to me:
Again, did she want the shoes or the answer? I didn’t know. And I was afraid to pick the wrong one. So I gave her both. I handed over the shoes and a credit card and said:
‘Hey, Gary works in a shoe store. I’m sure he’s just putting off the nightmare for as long as possible.‘
Silence. Gaping stare from Older Girl. Also from Other Girl. And probably, though I didn’t dare look around, from my wife. Apparently, now I’m not supposed to answer questions people look directly at me and ask. That goes against everything my father, my teachers and every law enforcement officer I’ve come into contact with have told me. Or screamed at me, for that matter. I tried some damage control:
‘Anyway, I guess it’s fair, as long as he gets here soon. Unless he’s out drinking in the parking lot now. Or it’s his baby, too.‘
Well, that didn’t help. Geez, given the tirade she went off on then, you’d think I was the alcoholic coworker late for my shift. I can see why Gary drinks, if he has to spend shifts working with that crazy girl. Must be ‘mommy hormones’ or something.
At any rate, we eventually got checked out — by Other Girl, after Older Girl wrapped up her grousing and stormed out the front door, kicking over displays and leaving piles of shoeboxes in her wake. I hope Gary really wasn’t boozing it up in the parking lot; if she found him there, she might have strangled him with a pair of loafer laces.
We made our way back to the hotel — I with my new shoes, and my wife with that look still on her face. And I knew what I had to do. We couldn’t just let the experience hang there; something had to be said about it. I felt in some small way partly responsible, probably, so I figured I should be the one to chime in. I cleared my throat, and by way of apology, sort of, I said:
‘Gee. I guess we should have gotten the suit instead, huh?‘
It’s probably good my loafers don’t have any shoelaces. But I’m sleeping with one eye open tonight, just in case she finds any lying around.Permalink | 7 Comments