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Used Shoes

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I've been away from writing--having second thoughts about my abilities as a writer of anything more than magazine articles and press releases. And I've been occupied by a brief moment of heart-rending wrestling with an old friend who wanted a second go round. In the middle of something like that, sometimes it's difficult to remember the difference between what you want and what you want right now. That all this second hand shopping and second thoughts are actually the ends to a means and not the ends themselves. That is, find things of quality that no one else sees; turn it into something uniquely your own; sell dear. Still it's hard to let things go, even when you know you should.

I found a pair of Prada shoes at one of the higher end thrift stores yesterday--the kind of thrift store where wives of retired executives volunteer because it's clean and in a good location and because it benefits abused women--to whom, I suppose, many of these volunteers can relate without actually having to, you know, relate to them. There are more volunteers in the store sometimes than customers. They're perpetually straightening the tidy racks and talking about where they're going to meet for lunch. The prices are generally pretty high and even higher on what they label their "boutique" donations. If you mention that Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne aren't really "designer" clothing, they'll get a little huffy. They'll tell you 'well, it's still cheaper than retail,' and if that doesn't clinch the sale then they'll add with a caring shrug and open palms, 'it's for a good cause.'

And I'll always mutter, yes, but it's still used clothing.

Sometimes they'll have a sale on "boutique" items--always 'excluding gray and white tags,' meaning the upper end designers: Chanel, St. John, Gucci and the upper end of designer lines. (Can someone explain the cultish appeal of St. John knits???) The volunteers generally don't let anything slip through their bead the way a good Michael Kors skirt or Kate Spade bag will sometimes slip past the apathetic Goodwill staff or the St. Vincent volunteers.

But the Prada shoes had been worn. Often times, the items in the 'Gray and White Tag' section are so lightly worn or so virtually unworn that a girl can grant them these high, inflexible prices for one night of an anorexic frame tottering through thick wool carpet at a cocktail benefit. It's not difficult to picture staggering shop-a-holic women, post-shopping binge, groggily taking vast stacks of Blahnik shoes they'd bought in multiples and loud LaCroix blouses that seemed ironic and edgy at the time they'd handed over their American Express Black Card, but they'd just never found an equally loud and ironic occasion or the right point in their bulimic cycle to be worn. And so with the balm of a tax write-off to soothe their buyer's remorse, they haul in their guilt still fluttering with retail tags, or the drycleaner's hangers.

But the Prada shoes had obviously been around a block a few times. Not a nasty block with cheap whores and broken beer bottles and crumbling concrete--a nice block with boutiques and blue chip art galleries and sleek restaurants with lots of minimalist stainless and expensive whores, maybe--but they'd been around it at least twice. They were black canvas slingbacks with a 6 inch heel and a 1 inch platform sole. I admired the way they made my legs look about 3 miles long, enjoyed the way I towered over the omnipresent volunteer trying to look busy with the little shrine of St. John Knits.

I asked for a price on the shoes. I pointed out how worn they were. The volunteer took them to the back where the price volunteer sat enthroned. I waited. I scanned some racks of men's shirts There were about 8 or 9 tuxedo shirts--all size 48, as if some obese concert cellist had just lost an important gig and just said 'to Hell with it,' and gone into selling real estate. I stuck one leg into a pair of men's equestrian field boots that came to mid-thigh. The boots had been there for months--an over-specialized item, for an overly-special man who, in addition to having a horse, must also be well over 6 and a half feet tall. How often does a 6 and a half-foot giant stroll into this thrift store desperate for a discount pair of hunt boots? I thought. Had these women been drinking?

I flipped through a rack of cashmere trenches and castoff fur coats that follow their owners to Florida--with the hope that they'll do some winter shopping trip to Manhattan or Chicago, and end in hopeless donation. Overpriced. Finally, I stuck my head into the price maven's lair: her head was bent over the shoes, wiping the signs of wear from the soles with an oiled cloth.

"What are you asking for them?" I asked. I knew I sounded impatient, snotty.

"Well, you know these are PRADA shoes and..."

"I KNOW what they are. I can read." I rolled my eyes--it's an impatient habit; I'm not proud of it. "How much?"

30.00--but you know they're Gray and White tag, so..." She was still wiping.

"Yes, yes. Fine." I made a quick judgment; it was high, but not outrageous and I'd acted too uppity to back off just then. I was feeling reckless. "Fine. Quit the wiping. I'll take them." I hooked my fingers carelessly into the slingback straps and turned on my heel. "They may be Prada," I shot over my shoulder. "But in the end, they're still just used shoes."

I knew as the door closed behind me how they shook their heads at my bitchiness, their bony elbows resting on the counter, the line of customers just thrilled to find Talbot's 2006 clothes at barely 40% retail, or exclaiming that new, those shoes would cost at least $350.00! Maybe there was one other woman there that knew sometimes buying shoes for $350.00 isn't ever an option for some of us who still like good material, a good cut, a quality finish. That's why we watch and wait for other women to wear them, then tire of them and finally throw them away. Snatch them from the refuse for a second chance.

My friend and I had known each other in our early 20's--when bodies seem indestructible and breasts still have magical powers, and you claim to think it's all in fun, but you know that you're going to get an emotional ass kicking. Somewhere down the line, there's husbands and family and dog vomit and compromises and dull cars, so you go a little wild and hope for the best.

He was handsome and athletic. I was not. But I had big boobs and great legs and I could carve out the rest from an arrogant bitchiness and a shocking recklessness. My family was suspicious of him, told me he was out of my league, which of course, he was. Even I knew that. Handsome men occasionally fin
d themselves fascinated by a woman who is not beautiful. Intelligent, handsome men fall into that fascination legitimately--a little embarrassed and baffled by how their eyes and brains and penis refuse to agree on anything. Handsome men who wish to be taken for more intelligent than they are, work very hard to fall into love with an unbeautiful woman, hoping that other people will think he's deeper than he appears, and have a sort of reflected depth by the comparison. "Him and her? I don't see it. There must be something only he can see--why can't we all look below the skin? What is wrong with us??"

But all handsome men are a luxury to afford; and just so expensive to keep--not in terms of dollars and cents the way beautiful women must be kept in material luxuries, but in the effort to stay fascinating and the doubt that one can remain fascinating enough forever. Eventually, there comes a day when every girl just wants to eat macaroni and cheese and read Twilight novels.

I can't speak for him. I did not trust whatever he said anyway. His life read like fiction, a series of hilarious adventures of the kind that handsome men can charm their way through, circles they might not have access to without the looks. But even trading on the boobs and legs and that strange chemistry that people put too high a price on, I knew he was waaay out of my price range: orthodontically perfect, muscularly so self-sure and a bit selfish. And so, when he turned hard and cold the next autumn, there wasn't much I could do but write about him. The next spring of course, he married some beautiful woman and disappeared back into his fictional life and I into mine, and it didn't matte
r, except as a source of fiction.

I found him on Facebook, of all places, that second-hand window shopping ground for old college boyfriends and ex- cheerleading skanks that made your life miserable in high school. In a series of funny and sad messages, he filled me in on the backstory of the 18 years since he stalked out of my life. And I confess, I'm thoroughly enjoying the story.

Mid-life, there's evidence of wear and tear: a simmering anger under the laughing surface, a checkerboard of new scars and a few caps to replace those sugar-cube teeth knocked out in accidents and brawls. His price has come down a bit, but the quality structure is still intact: the impatient virility, the boyish, hungry heart, the lightning-quick sense of humor.

But I suspect his young girlfriend is starting to examine all of it--reassess her priorities the way we do when we cull through our closets at each period of weight loss or our career--pitching out the things that se
emed funny and colorful and ironic when we brought them home 10 years ago, but then never quite fit right, or never matched any of our shoes or simply don't portray the woman we think we are now.

Apparently, she hasn't decided on whether to get rid of him--
the aging thoroughbred going to auction: all scarred hide and torn ligaments, but still pawing the turf, tough and restless. He's obviously been around the block a few times, but then, she's barely 30 and can't have been around that much at all. But she's still undecided, fighting to make him fit somehow, maybe debating on having some alterations done, or something dyed to match.

Of course, I didn't really need the Prada shoes. I already have scads of black heels: kitten-hee
led Coach mules, black animal print pumps, Carole Little peep-toe platforms, Miu-Miu patent leather wedges, sparkly sandals, vintage Joan and David satin slippers, a frilly, girly pair of ribbony stillettoes, and cruel, suede Italian fetish shoes that I found in a pile of S&M leather at a garage sale in San Francisco. I don't usually pay that much for shoes--even Prada. I'll wear the shoes I usually do: the flip-flops and the Keene maryjanes or the new Adidas trainers that can keep up with my little boys and slip on when I run to the post office or teach my aerobics classes. But I loved those absurd, towering heels: impulsive, reckless love.

Doesn't mean I'll ever wear them. But I do love them.


  1. They are fabulous! I am glad that you had spite for the snooty old ladies at the thrift shop!


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