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The Shoehog’s Fluevblog

When I was in my early twenties, I lived in a cabin outside of Boulder, Colorado, with some friends. One of my roommates loved animals and was the owner of a wolf — technically 15/16 wolf — and a ferret. Also noteworthy was the personality of the animal owner, a woman who was eternally willing to run Lady Macbeth’s lines in the shadowed corners of her poorly lit personal drama. That was a memorable stage of my life.

It was also when I decided to learn to bake bread. There I was, at 8000 feet of elevation, trying to befriend yeast. A few inedible, brick-hard loaves resulted from hours of labor, and I allowed that I was not cut out to be a bread baker.

Other people had figured it out. It was not that the task was impossible. It was just that I needed someone’s example and expertise if I ever hoped to pull anything out of the oven besides a steel-toed boot covered with a dusting of flour.

****

Earlier in life, in my tween or early teen years, our church arranged to have a bus transport people interested in cross-country skiing to some trails an hour distant. United by love for Jesus, respect for the liturgy, a sense of Christian community, and a belief that strapping sticks to the feet qualified as a good time, a busload of parishioners made the trip.

My sister and I were on the bus that day, hoping to learn about this thing called skiing. When the bus arrived at the trailhead, the outdoor enthusiasts hopped off, clipped into their equipment, and skied towards the tree line. My sister and I, having never experienced cross-country skis before, were left gaping at their retreating forms, leaning wobbily on our poles, with no idea what to do or how to move our bodies. For 20 minutes, we attempted to slide, glide, hoist, propel, and grapple our way up the small berm at the edge of the parking lot so that we could get to the system of trails.

Eventually, young, frustrated, and having learned an important lesson about being part of a Christian community, we gave up. It took us 10 minutes to figure out how to remove the skis from our feet, but once we did, we skulked back to the bus and sat there, moping, for the rest of the afternoon until everyone returned — glowing and exhilarated from their time under God’s Big Sky.

With the assistance and direction of someone who understood cross-country skiing, that afternoon would have played out very differently for us — which, in turn, could have changed a lot of significant things for me, a big girl who didn’t think sports were for her.

****

When I was 24, I was driving the 10 hours from Billings, Montana, to Moscow, Idaho — something people in the West call “a quick jaunt” — when, just as I was cresting Lookout Pass, a red light came to life on my dashboard. A red light on the dashboard has the ability to change the rhythm of my heartbeat. It can make me whisper, my voice both a challenge and a comfort, “Hey, Car, don’t you understand that you are supposed to give and give and give and never ask anything in return?”

By myself, with little money, needing to be in Moscow the next morning for the start of assistantship training for graduate school, I felt panicky. It was 4 PM on a Sunday. In addition to the red light on the dashboard, which I would blithely ignore as long as possible, I also was noticing a lessening of power in the engine. I would push on the gas, and it wouldn’t respond with oomph. That, I could not ignore.

If ever there was a moment for me to turn down “Steady On” by Shawn Colvin and replace her dulcet tones with a string of forcefully gnashed expletives, this was it.

Mentally gaming out the options, I decided to pull off at the next exit and see if any service stations happened to be open. I pulled into the first gas station I spotted; inside was the poster version of an Idaho woman who worked behind a gas station counter, from her appliquéd sweatshirt to the crispness of her bangs. Quickly, I filled her in on my situation.

“Oh, honey,” she commiserated, “this is a fine kettle of fish. Everything’s closed around here on Sundays, so you might need to grab a motel for the night and see if you can’t get it fixed tomorrow.”

No tears actually hit my cheeks. However, my woebegone puppy dog eyes penetrated the teddy bear appliqué, and her heart was moved. “Garsh, let me just see if we can’t do something for you,” she said, looking over her shoulder towards a back room. Surprising me, she called out “Jango! Come out here and see if you can help this woman. She’s in a pinch.”

Emerging from the back room was a 110-pound man, at least 4 pounds of which was facial hair. His entire vibe communicated: I ate the mushrooms at a Creedence Clearwater Revival concert. This was definitely someone who had set a burning cigarette or two onto the edge of the open hood of a car while he fiddled around with the engine. This was definitely someone for whom a red light on the dashboard was whoa, dude, nothing to get riled about.

After the sweatshirt woman explained my circumstances to Jango, he said he’d be happy to take a look and see if there was anything he could do to restore some pep to my Honda. Popping the hood, lighting a cigarette, setting it on the edge of the car, he dove in.

A few minutes later, he stood in front of me, dragging deeply on his Marlboro. “Your alternator’s gone out. Once that light came on your dashboard, your battery stopped charging, so in not too long, your car won’t drive anymore at all until the alternator is running again.”

I stood silently, my mouth moving like a beta fish nibbling crumbs from the surface of the aquarium water.

Continuing, Jango offered, “I could probably jerry-rig something for you today that might get you over to Moscow, but you’ll want to get a real fix as soon as possible.”

Then he dove back under the hood, cigarette dangling from two fingers this time, an empty Mountain Dew can serving as ashtray. While he tinkered with the engine, appliqué lady and I chatted — our talk ranging from car repairs to gas station customers to the concept of graduate school — and in no time at all, Jango popped up, stretched his back, and jumped into the driver’s seat. Turning the key, he started the car; leaving it idling, he looked under the hood and then at me. “We’ll just let this run for a bit,” he said, “and get your battery charged up. It’ll keep charging as you’re driving, too. But definitely, once you’re settled in Moscow, you need to take this into a real garage. See, the thing I did to your car? It’s not something that any licensed place could ever do. It’s just a temporary patch that I fashioned out of supplies at hand.”

What was Jango’s fix? He had taken the tab from the top of the Mountain Dew can and attached it to the alternator by way of grease magic and a sprinkling of dandruff, thus creating some sort of essential connection that was beyond my Jane Austen-reading ken. Suddenly, Mr. Darcy didn’t seem like such a hero after all — because hell if that cravat-wearing fop had it in him to cement the doohickey onto the whatserfuzzit and make a thing go.

As I drove away from the gas station, I considered Jango’s skill versus my ineptitude. Before I would be able to do any sort of car repair, much less an ad hoc one I jimmied on the spot, I would need years of training, classes, and shots of Everclear. For me to ever learn what he knew, I would require extended guidance.

****

At this point, if your eyes are rolling around in your head, your palms are itching to slap me, and you’re barking at your screen, “Jocelyn, I thought this was a post about shoes,” then good.

Here’s the thing: this is a story about shoe shopping, but it is a story about so much more. That’s why I had to relate those other vignettes first; that’s why you had to submit to an extended preamble.

Sure, I recently gamboled through a supremely wonderful afternoon of shopping at a store where the shoes are whimsical, funky, exquisitely made, and expensive. I recently pirouetted through a couple hours of giddy joy in a Fluevog storefront, hours during which my stomach jumped with excitement, and my hands petted all the leather in a fifteen-foot radius.

Fluevog blurb

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During those shopping hours, there was a much bigger story at play — the next installment in a lifetime of comprehending how much I don’t know and how much I would like to know — of understanding that I can either sulk on the bus nibbling on a loaf of Wonder Bread, or I can tune into the aspirational examples that surround me and try to figure some things out.

As I tried on a pair after pair of delicious shoes in the Fluevog store, I wasn’t mastering yeast, and I wasn’t learning how to ski, and I wasn’t tinkering with an alternator.

Rather, as the recipient of thoughtful gifts, I was absorbing the nuances of generosity.

I was in that store because I have a best friend, a confederate since age 18, who, knowing I had both a surgery and a birthday coming up, did some considering. She thought about who I am, what makes me happy, what she had seen me squeal about, and how she might apply her observations to gently play a role in bringing me joy.

I was in that store because I have a husband, my boon companion for 17 years, who, to celebrate my birthday, did some considering. He thought about what spills out of my closet, what makes me dance for no reason, what gets me talking so that I have to wipe spittle off my lips when I’m done, and how he might apply his observations to gently play a role in bringing me joy.

Without those examples of thoughtful gift giving, I would never have been in that store having the time of my life. I would never have stood surrounded by chic displays of shoes, feeling understood and embraced and loved. Without those examples, I would never have learned an essential lesson of gifting: a good present is not simply about getting something for someone (“It was on sale!” “I hope she’ll like it!” “I didn’t need it anymore!” “Who doesn’t need curtains?” “It’s a noble cause!” “Well, I know he likes games, so…”).

Nope. An excellent gift is an affirmation, a connection, a heart-moving message that assures, “I see you.”

Currently, I am okay as a gift giver, but I’m not great. I have a lot of room to improve, to learn how to think through who the recipient really is, to challenge myself to explore what would bring someone else pleasure and not just what would “do the job.”

For sure, as I tried on multiple pairs, I was straight up loving the shoes. However, underneath all the lacing and prancing and admiring, I was storing away a memory: this is what it feels like to be given the perfect gift.

For me, the perfect gift was tactile, active, and spread out over stages. I had to get in there, try some things on, weigh some choices.

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For me, the perfect gift required mulling and culling and ahhhing.

Eventually, I narrowed it down to three pairs.

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At that point, I needed an assist. My friend Kirsten had driven me to the store, served as photographer, and been my metaphorical hand holder as we spun around in circles, giggling and getting dizzy.

She was sitting on the floor, grinning at me, wholly enjoying the afternoon. Torn, I said to her, “I think the two-tone ones with the steampunk heel feel like ‘me,’ and I did send you a picture of them during the faculty meeting yesterday when I was bored. So they feel right. But I really love the aqua ones and the paisley ones with the cool ‘hoof’ heel.”

Kirsten wisely pointed out that I wear a lot of black and grey, so the paisley shoes would work into that nicely.

“Okay, then,” I told her, “it’s either the two-tone ones or the paisley ones…”

Her face breaking in half with a smile, Kirsten said, “Oh, no, pal. You’re getting them both.”

I stared at her, silently, my mouth moving like a beta fish nibbling crumbs from the surface of the aquarium water.

“Yea, you’re getting two pairs. I’m buying you a pair, too. Consider it a down payment on editing Virginia’s next translated novel,” she joked.

As is my way, I burst into tears.

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This day, which had already been the perfect gift from two people who consistently demonstrate how to live generously, had just become bigger. The lesson I was learning widened. In her willingness to run with a moment, make dreams possible, and turn great into glorious, Kirsten was teaching me, too.

In a state of shock, vaguely in need of a nap or a shot of Everclear, I headed to the counter to check out. I handed over my gift certificates. Kirsten handed over her credit card.

When we walked out of the store, my heart was full of joy.

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No doubt, the shoes had me over the moon.

But more than the shoes. It was the people. The gifts that they are in my life. The example they set for me.

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At the end of it all, what I really hope is this:

if I am fortunate enough to keep learning lessons for decades to come, maybe one day I’ll bake some bread or fix an alternator wearing these:

Fluevog

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Categories
Days

Dear Diary, Thirty-Three Years Later

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Dear Diary:

Me again. Hey, so I visited one of your predecessors a few weeks back, and, boy, did that totally bitchin’ trip back to the early 1980s reaffirm my love for Rush’s lead singer Geddy Lee; since then, my Spotify’s been cranking “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” ’til a thin trickle of blood dribbles from my ear and down my freckled cheek.

That glance back in time also reminded me how no one, back in 1982, really knew Barry Manilow was gay–but now, 33 years later, Barry’s gotten married! To a guy named Garry! So they are Barry and Garry! And that hurts me a lot! Because imagine if my husband’s name were Hocelyn! And we only found out about Barry and Garry’s union because Chrissy Snow from Three’s Company talked about it on a gossip show! As it turns out, Barry met Garry a couple of years after I saw him in concert, so I’m thinking I still had a shot with Barry when he performed at The Metra in Billings, if only I hadn’t been seventy-eleven rows back and toting boobs! Clearly, it was only after something deeply internal in Barry realized “no Jocelyn for me” that he felt free to embrace the Garry!

Basically, Diary, you remind me that things change while remaining the same and that I’ve evolved over the years so as not to be, as Geddy would put it, “ill equipped to act, with insufficient tact.” He also told me to “put aside the alienation and get on with the fascination”–wise words!–and so if you’re not doing that yet, Dear Diary, I recommend you get on with it. The fascination, I mean.

Anyhow, I’m so glad you’re here, in the present with me, now; I have lots to report because a few weeks ago it was Saturday, and nothing big happened.

I’d been down in Minneapolis for a couple of nights to participate in the annual “delegate assembly” for the faculty union. I KNOW: I still can’t believe I’m a member of a union, either. Unions were so profoundly not a part of my upbringing that I am floored every time I remember I’m a worker who enjoys benefits and protections thanks to collective bargaining. Here’s an interesting development in recent years, Diary: unions are under attack by certain conservatives, such as the google-eyed hand-puppet who governs Wisconsin, dismantling unions within their states and opting, instead, for something called Right to Work. I won’t go into the details of Right to Work here, lest they get your pages in a flap, but here’s one tidbit to give you a taste of the issue: corporations love Right to Work states, and workers in Right to Work states make approximately 10% less than in union states. So, you know, I was at a union meeting, mostly because the union covers the cost of my hotel room, and there are a lot of episodes of Chopped that need me to watch them, but also because I savor the spectacle of parliamentary procedure in action (this year’s highlight: it took an hour to defeat a motion to issue a thank-you to a retiring administrator, after which the registered parliamentarian overseeing the discussion began pulling out her eyebrow hairs, one by one, with terrifying deliberateness).

On the Saturday in question, I got up at 8:30 a.m., having listened to drunken colleagues splash red wine on the carpet outside my room until 2 a.m. That’s the suck of getting stationed next door to the Governor’s Lounge (aka “social suite”) for a couple of nights at a work conference. I didn’t actually mind staying up that late, to tell you true, because it afforded me an hour’s obsessive watching of the hypnotic Lifetime network program called Bring It. Diary, this reality show follows groups of “hip-hop majorettes” as they train with over-the-top coaches and compete against rival troupes. That night in my hotel room, by the time the Dancing Dolls got to the final Stand Battle against the Divas, I was wishing my beloved Geddy could pop in to the gym to advise the girls and coaches that “glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity.” Sadly, his lesson would be lost on thirteen-year-olds who throw eyeball shade at competitors while doing the splits between two chairs.

At any rate, despite a short night’s sleep, once I woke up that Saturday morning I had more than enough energy to grab the remote and turn on HGTV, salivating at the thought of houses being flipped. I had to settle, though, because Love It or List It was on. Before I could pour a cup of water into the coffee machine, I was embroiled in the quandary of a couple whose lovely view and rotting deck left them craving a better view and a sounder deck. By the time I was wincing at the powdered creamer drifting into my crappy coffee, I was ready to have Geddy call the couple and blast their self-absorption with a quick “How can you be worried about your deck when ‘the hypocrites are slandering the sacred halls of truth’?”

It wasn’t even 9 a.m., and already I’d watched people with too much money bitch about their lot and had a mental visit from Geddy Lee. Oh, Diary, it was shaping up to be an amazing day.

Slamming my coffee, I headed down to the fitness center to rollick on a treadmill with a television attached to it. Racking up some miles, I did an interval workout, bumping up the speed during the commercials since few things make me want to run like my butt’s on fire more than an ad for hemorrhoid cream. After some satisfying sweating, I hopped off the treadmill with a flourish–always the key to a successful dismount. As I moved to the weights, a kind 70-year-old man perched on a bike observed, “You certainly were exercising vigorously!” Thanking him, I noted, “I have a friend named Geddy who might have described me thusly, ‘Daughter of a demon-lover/Empress of the hidden face/Priestess of the pagan mother/Ancient queen of inner space.'”

Hoisting a twenty-pound weight towards the ceiling, I added, “But he’s one for words, that Geddy. You can just call me Ancient queen of inner space for short. ‘K?”

All too soon, Diary, I fluttered my fingers adieu at my bike pal, coyly patted my butt like it was burning, and returned to my room for a shower before checking out. When I opened the door, I noticed the message light flashing on the room’s telephone. It was good news: my friend Kirsten’s phone charger, which she had left behind when she checked out the day before, was in the possession of the front desk, so I needed to stop by on my way out and grab it for her.

Oh, Kirsten, Kirsten, Kirsten. Tsk, tsk. Don’t forget your stuff at the hotel, Silly! Where’s your head, Goose?

Just before noon, I zipped my bag shut, stroked the television’s face fondly, and headed out, in the process leaving my phone charger and brand-new tablet on the desk next to a take-out menu.

Never fear, Protective Diary, I had a carefree nine hours before I realized they’d been left behind, and once I did, it only took repeated phone calls and ten days before they made their way to Duluth.

My mind wasn’t on chargers and tablets, you see, for I was aiming my car towards the second-largest mall in the state. Why head straight home when I could stop and gape at suburbanites while eating teriyaki chicken and noodles so offensive that the chef would literally have lost his face if he’d served it it in Japan? Also, I was needing a new racerback sports bra and figured a good pawing of the clearance at Athleta and Macy’s might yield a bargain.

You know what I learned from my pawing, Diary? Good sports bras sell at regular price, so I just need to pony up and pay top dollar. Also, did you know that there’s a “trainer’s discount” at Athleta? And that if we tore out one of your pages and wrote “Jocelyn is a trainer” on it with very firm print, we could maybe score a slightly cheaper bra? I learned about this discount when I was stuck in the check-out line behind a tiny wall of muscle topped by a blonde pixie cut. This woman had told everyone waiting for the fitting room about how she’d just been to Florida to watch some baseball, and then she told a worker near the skorts about how she’d just gotten back from Florida where she’d gone to watch some baseball, and after that she told the cashier about how she’d just gotten back from Florida where baseball had been watched. It was a damn relief when she finally shut up about her glamorous baseball trip to Florida long enough to tell the cashier that she’s a trainer and would like to use her discount. However, she couldn’t find her official trainer card to prove it, and she sure as hell didn’t have a diary page upon which to forge one (fitness trainers ain’t ‘zactly littrit types), all of which made me hope the cashier would issue a “trainer’s challenge” to this sack of skin bulging with guns and tell her, “I’ll let you have the discount if you drop and bang out thirty plyo burpees with push-ups while I blare a Pitbull song.”

Alas.

Challenge un-issued, the cashier simply looked up the woman’s name in the computer system and gave her the discount. Just as I was pouting “Stupid technology takes away all the fun,” I heard Geddy’s voice, a whisper in the ear of my mind, singing to me of the beauties of modernity: “Invisible airwaves crackle with life/Bright antennae bristle with the energy/Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength/Bearing a gift beyond price.” Powerless in the face of his argument, I took out my phone and tapped out some emotional feedback on timeless wavelength: a text to my husband, telling him I’d be home for dinner.

In thrall to the blonde bit of cut buffness packed into spendy leggings, I followed the baseball-watching trainer out of the store and into Macy’s, whereupon she promptly disappeared, like the panty panel of a leotard up Jane Fonda’s cooch.

Sweet Diary? Macy’s on a Saturday afternoon during end-of-season clearance is nuuuuuuuuuts. Rather than browsing the clearance, I mostly wanted to take pictures of the heaps of intermingled, chaotic blouses, jeans, sweaters, blazers, t-shirts, toddlers, purses, and dresses under the “80% Off” sign. Who could find anything of interest in that mess?

About two hundred women wearing bedazzled sweatshirts, pushing strollers, carrying three pounds of product in their hair and kids named Dakota on their hips. That’s who.

For a long time, I stood there, unmoving, surrounded by frenetic shoppers. Limply, I reached out for a few garments, realized they were Size XS and covered with rhinestones, and let my hand fall back to my hip. Grabbing my elbow, Geddy analogized, “You know how that rabbit feels, going under your speeding wheels, bright images flashing by, like windshields towards a fly, frozen in the fatal climb? That’s you right now, girlfriend. You’re the rabbit, and clearance is the wheels. We need to get you out of here.”

He steered me to the relative oasis of the “Wear to Work” section of the store, which is where Right to Work employees buy Anne Klein dresses, if they can afford them on their limited wages.

Looking around, I realized this part of the store was calm, organized, and shoppable. I also realized I was standing next to a rack of Calvin Klein dresses that were chanting my name. Or maybe my husband’s name, if it were Hocelyn. Either way, he wasn’t there, and I was. It was time to get my “try on” on.

I grabbed a Size 12 and headed in to the fitting room, a place where previous rampagers had left the detritus of their “No” clothing while wheeling out gleefully with arms full of “Yes, yes, yes!” Stepping over the mountains of fabric, I found a spot where I could shed my clothes and wrap myself in Calvin–the nearest thing to Barry Manilow’s arms I’ll ever experience, actually.

It started out terribly.

Yea, I got into the sheath dress.

After that came the despair.

Why? Why? Why had Calvin designed a dress so ridiculously sleek that I couldn’t get the zipper closed over my formerly burning buttocks? Why must the fitting room always hurt?

Sighing sadly while Geddy crooned words of comfort–“Some need to pray to the sun at high noon/Need to howl at the midwinter moon/Reborn and baptized in a moment of grace/We just need a break/From the headlong race”–I stripped off the dress and returned it to the hanger.

As I zipped it closed, readying it for a shopper built more like a trainer, I looked at the tag.

Diary.

In a moment of grace, I was reborn.

Diary.

It was a Size 6.

Diary.

I HAD VERY NEARLY GOTTEN MYSELF INTO A SIZE 6!!!!

Diary, dear, dear, Diary. I was having an amazing Saturday, indeed.

It was so good, in fact, that I didn’t need to buy anything at Macy’s after all. What I really needed to do was grab Geddy, strap his invisible presence into the rental car (long story; you’d be dead before I finished it) next to me, and hie off to the Trader Joe’s, a place so fabulous to this rube visiting the Big City that it almost felt like I’d gone to Florida to watch baseball.

At the Trader Joe’s, I stocked up on Australian licorice and bottles of limeade, tossing a random “speculoos” chocolate bar into the cart right at the end. As he scanned my purchases, the adorable cashier gave me directions to the nearest coffee shop, confessing that his addiction to the stuff ran so deep he had launched a recovery program consisting of a steady drip of tea. Geddy and I counseled him on how to break a habit and urged that he also try sparkling water as a replacement for caffeine, postulating that the textural satisfaction of bubbles might retrain his mouth. (That last sentence is Classic Geddy, inn’t?)

Outside, I packed the car with groceries and, gearing up for the drive home, ran over to the Starbucks next door. There, as she made my mocha, the worker joked about whole milk and three inches of whip cream to the point that I recommended she write a book of barista humor.

It would be a slim volume.

–Oh, dang. Diary? I have to go! Here I am, only part way through my amazing Saturday where nothing happened, and there’s so much more to tell, but I need to go scrub the pressure cooker (Hocelyn loves him some beans!).

Save me a page or two. I’ll be back later to fill you in on the rest of the day. Gad, we haven’t even gotten to the part where I listen to the classics station on the radio yet! Just hum these lyrics from “Tom Sawyer” a few times ’til I come back, to tide you over:

What you say about his company
Is what you say about society
Catch the mist, catch the myth
Catch the mystery, catch the drift

Don’t worry: I’ll leave Geddy with you for the humming. He hates pressure cookers.

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