Of pearls & swines: The “American” dream
We had to “do” the shoes this afternoon. The shoes that come with the clothes and wares charitable [mostly white —protestant — republican] Americans donate to our store. Shoes for all seasons and purposes, some new, some old, some clean, some not so by various designers and/or makers. Shoes – the treatment of whom Larry said was a sign of “impertinence” on the part of our customers; who tried them, left them where they didn’t find them and then walked on and in between them [kicking them aside to make way for other, messy, ventures that got hold of their fancy]. Wrinkled and worn out shoes; looking as forlorn and self-conscious as a teenage girl shifting on her heels at a corner, in a dance hall whose merriment she’s unable to partake of for lack of a young man willing to ask her to dance. Waiting for a miracle – the other pair.
[On the other hand, I was impressed by Larry’s use of the word “impertinence”. I know he’s been to places and done things before he retired and resigned himself to the kind of life he has. Still, with the educational system this country has and with easily accessible substitutions like “rude” or “mean”, hearing a fellow Greeter/Cashier/Sales Person/cloth & wares putter-away also taker-down/organizer and occasional janitor use a heavy-weight expression like “impertinence” was like selling a ring for 3.99 only to find out that the set was of diamond after all. You never know what you can get in these places, as one customer would say to another. There maybe more to them than a shabby looking art-work turning out to be a Picasso.
Alas, that wasn’t all Larry said. He added they, i.e. the customers, must think it’s our job to “clean up after them” [or they wouldn’t have behaved in such an unsympathatic way to the various aching body parts we gotta involve to make an area look half as good as it does]. I found that pretty impressive too. Not because it’s rare or special in anyway. Or because I haven’t thought about it, and fumed over it, privately, every second of the eight hours a day I run between columns of clothes, wares and what have you [forming an emotional bond with people who come to their work place with guns, wondering what would happen if I slapped the grease out of her face: would I just lose my job or would i be sent back home? And would my mother forgive me? Would my cousins take comfort from the knowledge that I, too, was a failure now? And would my friends and ex-colleagues stop gloating over my apparent disgrace for years to come?]. Not because of any of that. Rather, because I was under the impression that it was our job, second only to the holy duty of taking their money and carrying their treasured crap to the car, to “clean up after them”. And their [demanding/pouting] kids. And their [lazy/uncultured] husbands. Noisy girlfriends, suspicious fathers [“yes, seniors, please?”, “did you give me my senior’s discount?”, “I thought you said you’d give me my discount”] and environmentally irresponsible plastic-bag-hoarding mothers.
The fact that somebody actually dared say it, dare imply that it wasn’t our job to clean up after them; (the very cleaning-up management wants us to do more of and fondly refers to as “[our] job security”); that was pretty impressive!!]
So we decided to “do” them this afternoon. “Let’s fix the shoes”, one of us said cheerfully; and then we started to. It took us more than two hours. Two hours of intense labor, of bending and stretching; of looking, looking, looking until your eyes narrowed in such a way they seem to be taking over the world. Two hours of searching for something that doesn’t just resemble it, can just pass for it, but was actually [from raw hide to pairs of dress or casual footwear] born and raised with it. Two hours of smell. Leather, sweat, rejection.
By the time the shoe-rack resembled the way it did last night and this morning, before the customers of our little thrift store flocked through the door — and at it — my noses have lost all sense of smell. And my throat has, somehow, gotten involved. It was itchy. Itchy and scratchy. My skull seems to fall forward, and then back, like a bottle full of fluid with just a fraction of a space to prowl about, with each movement I made.
“I gotta take my break”, I said, waking Larry up from his silent meditation. He looked up at me, his wandering eyes seeming unable to focus on a face, a feature — after rows and rows of dazzlingly colored shoes – none of them a Manolo Blahnik. “It is the best we can do, they are gonne mess it up anyway”.
“Awkey”, mumbled my aged colleague, in a voice one might have used to oblige the demands of a sadistic executioner. “I’ll..” he half raised his hand, to indicate a lone brown sandal he’s been contemplating on for some time.
He’d have probably not finished the statement had I waited to hear the end of it. But I didn’t. I hurried to the break-room and my 10 minute freedom. It may not be enough to analyze all of life’s paradoxes. How one woman’s charity can be another man’s burden. How tricky the job of finding partners to lonely shoes can be. How…
Sure would give my soar-feet a much-needed rest though.