I am not a good shopper. I buy fast and intuitively. I don’t compare prices. I have no idea how much is too much to pay for a pair of black shoes, for example, yet I know right away what I like and what I don’t like.
The good news is I am the world’s fastest shopper. I can buy more in shorter time than anyone I know. Schnucks is, of course, my best arena but I am fast everywhere. The bad news is that I am sometimes undiscriminating.
I recently cleaned out my closest and discovered that I owned three pairs of the same black shoes. I liked them so much I bought them three times and didn’t realize it until I cleaned out my closest. This has become a big joke in my house.
Last week, I took one of those pairs of black shoes to the shoe repair man I frequent. I usually take my cowboy boots to him; I can tell he enjoys the boots I take to him, a secret shared pride in extremes. But this time I took him one of the three, a pair of nice, but rather plain, black shoes. Actually, I took two pairs of shoes, one black, one not. I would be ashamed to take even two pairs of the same black shoes to the shoe repair man, which is something like the shame one might feel in ordering a gallon of drinks from the bartender. Surely the bartender is not in the shame business. Neither is the shoe repair man, I imagine, but still, I would never take two pairs of the same black shoes to be repaired. This is my own sinister secret: I own three pairs of the same black shoes. Who would not appreciate that if not the shoe repair man?
I often wonder how the shoe repair man stays in business. I know he must pay a good rent for his little shop. I love his shop because it is old and dusty and full of beautiful obsolete machines; one in particular, a great, huge, beast of a machine from another era when shoes were not disposable. Surely such machines cannot be repaired. As a matter of fact, I asked him once about the machine. “Oh, I just use it now to hold the shoes while I fix them by hand. I don’t even turn it on.”
“Can it be repaired, the machine?”
“No,” he said, “the company that made this machine is long gone. It would cost me too much to haul it out of here so it stays.”
It is a beautiful machine. It reminds me of the obsolete cappuccino making machines made out of copper that I saw in Italy. Great beasts of machines designed to do something specific but simple, replaced nowadays by throw-aways.
The shoe repair shop also reminds me of my father’s shop, where he sold children’s clothes. He also had some beautiful machines in the back, one in particular that I worked, a machine that attached tickets to clothes, little paper price tags with straight pins stuck through to attach the paper squares to the clothes. The machine had an ejectable square mechanism that looked like a miniature type face in which you placed the numbers of the price plus whatever few letters of code or identification you wanted on the paper ticket. The pieces of the type face were kept in a drawer attached to the machine, beautiful miniature words and numbers and letters in elongated rectangular metal pieces that fit into the slots of the square metal type-face holder. I wish I had kept that machine when my Dad closed his store.
I did keep his old sewing machine. It’s a Singer on a great table and you worked it by working a large metal pedal underneath. I took off the sewing machine and kept the table. My father was good with that sewing machine; I’m pretty good on that table, and that will have to suffice for the generations.
When I went in to pick up my black shoes the other day, I was gazing at the beautiful shoe machine behind the counter and daydreaming. The shoes were perched on the counter between us and the shoe repair man was staring at me. I had been daydreaming; beautiful obsolescence, machines, my Dad’s store, the tickets.
“Oh, sorry, how much?”
He started to apologize for the price. It was a big job to repair my two pairs of shoes. He was making excuses for the fee.
I interrupted him. He ekes out a living among the sophisticated cappuccino stands, flower shops, cafes, cleaners, tratorrias, work-out gyms of this neighborhood and he is apologizing to me for charging me such-and-such to repair my black shoes.
“Hey,” I said to him in a moment of disclosure, a true confession, “I own three pairs of these shoes and I am grateful to pay whatever it takes to repair them.”
I had opened the door so I walked in. He smiled. No judgement.
“You know, I’ve been coming here a long time, and I don’t know your name,” I said to him. “What is your name, I mean, I’m sorry I don’t know your name. My father had a store, he knew everybody’s name, don’t you think I should know your name? I have three pairs of black shoes like this, exactly the same! Can you believe that?”
“A lot of people have the same shoes,” said the bartender, er, shoe repairman. “If you like them, what the heck. My name is Walter.”
“Thanks, Walter,” I said.
I felt so much better. I felt like I had honored my father, all my hard-working, face to face retail progenitors who scratched out their livings in small shops that sold relationships more than goods during the days when you bought things from people you knew, and the people who sold you those things made their living because they gave you service. Now I know no one, I don’t have the time for names or relationships that are not crucial to my life, and there is something awful about that.
I own three pairs of black shoes, they are exactly the same, and I am not ashamed.
I am celebrating obsolescence.
The world is cracked and my feet know it, even when my mind forgets.
I am honoring my feet, for remembering what my mind forgets, with every pair of black shoes.