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The Sole of a Shopper

This week I shopped for three must-haves: a car, a computer, and a pair of sneakers.

Researching a new car was simple. A few websites have determined that the number of doors and the color are all one needs to take an educated stab at buying the second most expensive possession in anyone’s life. Budget is a distant third. I punched in my responses and out popped a few cars. I weeded out those that failed to meet my request that the passenger seat must be endowed with the same fancy adjustments as the driver’s, from lumbar support to climate control. After all, when my husband drives me around, I am relegated to the passenger seat. But it’s my car, where I should not be considered a second-class citizen.

Only two cars fit my criterion. At the first showroom, I sniffed the inside of the car for that delicious leather aroma, took out the car for a spin, signed a few papers, and became the official owner.

Finding a notebook computer was a more demanding task, requiring me to master new terminology such as RAM and Megahertz, and understand what the number of pixels on my screen meant. I got the hang of it as I perused through several catalogues and sorted the models that matched my budget. Then I called some online companies and got my deal—sight unseen, a free case included. The computer arrived in a box the next afternoon.

Buying sneakers, though, demoted me to the class of dimwits. “Do you cross-train?” the salesman standing in front of a wall of sneakers asked me, and in the same breath produced a shoe whose top was crisscrossed by a straining pink mesh that reminded me of my late grandmother’s corset. 

Cross-train. I mulled over the new term until I remembered someone at the gym where I take Pilates (barefoot) mentioning a cross-training machine. “No,” I shook my head. “But I’m size eight, medium.” Surely, he’d appreciate an easy-to-fit customer.

Unimpressed by my helpfulness, he pulled down another pair. “Do you need the sneakers for jogging? Walking on the treadmill?” He pointed at an air-bubble, like that in a plumb-ruler, set in the back of the heel.

I thought of my nature walks—in the woods, by rivulets and on rocky inclines. How would I keep the air bubble centered? And if I did, how would I see it? “I just need sneakers.” I pointed to a white-and-blue pair that looked benign enough. “What about these?”

“Do you do aerobics or jazz?” He drew my attention to the fact that the sole of the sneaker was broader than the top part, which would add balance if I did aerobics, but might make a pivot in a jazz routine treacherous.

“Yes, I dance.”

He turned to a Lucite display, where like a trophy, stood a sneaker whose 2” bottom seemed to have been made from stalagmites and stalactites meeting halfway, leaving miniature caves. “Shock absorbers,” he said.

The caves seemed like a perfect refuge for pebbles and small cockroaches. “Too much sneaker,” I said.

He turned away from the display in obvious dismissal of that option for me; I was undeserving of that special marvel of human engineering.

Trying to save face I offered, “I have a high arch.”

His eyes searched the ceiling and his brows crinkled as he considered that new obstacle. Then his gaze traveled back to the selection on the wall, and he pulled down a sneaker. He flexed it lengthwise and widthwise, explaining the technology involved in designing an arch support. I was grateful that at the car showroom no one had suggested I crawl underneath the axis for an engineering lesson.

The salesman compared this Eighth-Wonder of shoe engineered against a more cushioned shoe, which would provide a better spring.

If I were jumping hoops, that is. In my compassion toward the salesman, I scoured my brain to give him something to work with. “I’m planning to ride a bike.” Well, I used to, and they say I’d never forget.

He handed me a single shoe with Day-Glo strips at the back and sides. Like a chef waiting to hear praise of his Banane Flambée, he watched me with eager eyes. Not knowing what to do with the shoe balanced in my hand—sniffing it as I did in the car seemed awkward—I weighed it in my palm. “It’s heavy,” I said.

He pointed at the strips. “Reflectors. Good for riding after dusk.”

“I need a pair that would be nothing special, you know, for everything.”

It was no use. I would have to throw my own lot with good faith. I yanked a shoe off the wall. It had no mesh, or bubbles, or caves, or glow-in-the-dark features. The heel did not extend out. The gentle-looking sole would allow some toe pointing. The stitching was a bit fancy, and purple-and-yellow combination was not my favorite color scheme, but this simple Neanderthal model, from times before shoe technology had become a university degree, seemed right. “What about these? How much?”

“Ninety-five dollars.”

I left the store sneakerless. At least I have a car and a computer.


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