The Agony of Da-Feet

Let’s get clear on something from the start: I’m a guy and I don’t like shopping. This is probably not news for most women married to one of us. Unless there’s manly things to buy (translation: necessary power tools or geek toys), shopping rates about as high as changing diapers on the guy’s guide-to-fun scale. We know it’s a necessary thing, but we don’t necessarily want any part of it. Guys subscribe to the go-get-leave theory of efficient shopping. Coupons? Wouldn’t be caught dead with them. Shopping list? Won’t happen. The fear of being caught by other guys with coupons and list in hand is, well, so upsetting I can’t begin to describe the terror.

So with great anticipation (not) last Saturday I took off in search of a new pair of hiking boots. The old Bass hikers had gone to that great trail in the sky, and the current weather begs to be outside. In Houston we have a guaranteed three-week nice-weather plan: three weeks in the spring, and again three weeks in the fall, and other than those twin three weeks, forget it.

Now you might think, since hikers are manly, that I’d enjoy shopping for them, and you’d be correct…except they are SHOES and if women are shopping obsessed about anything it’s shoes. So guys have years of torture imprinted in their psyche and thus unpleasantly associate shoes with shopping. Do you need proof? A real-life example: “Honey, do you like these pumps?” “Yes, but you already have three pairs of the same style at home.” “Yes, but I don’t have one in bone.” I rest my case, your honor.

If I could simply walk in, pick a pair and leave, shoe shopping wouldn’t be so terrible. But I’m cursed with 8’30” feet, i.e., I can last about eight minutes, thirty seconds before I become incapable of telling whether shoes are a) comfortable, b) fit, or c) the best choice of what’s available. After that I’m shoe blind and can’t tell size from suede. I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s definitely a short attention span and a pair of uncooperative feet.

So off I went to the local outdoorsy outlet and actually found a style I liked rather quickly. They had just one pair in my size and I thought “I’m home free in under five minutes.” Wrong. Standing there looking down for a final shoe blessing, I wondered how I could have not noticed that I woke up this morning with my left foot oddly attached to my leg at an inwardly pointing angle. You’d think I would have picked up on something like that at least by breakfast, if not before. Staring I finally realized that my foot was fine, but the highly paid skilled worker located in some distant land had inadvertently, or perhaps in silent rebellion, glued the upper leathers askew on the soles. The result was a visually creative, but annoying, angled effect. I did try to rationalize living with such an artistic display of assembly-line bravado, but ultimately decided I would subconsciously try to slant my foot to match the angled left boot. A sickening feeling told me that if I rejected this pair of boots, the only ones in this style in this size in this store, I’d have to accept that fate worse than shopping: comparison shopping. My mind panic as I visualized countless trips criss-crossing that vastness we locals warmly refer to as “Houston” in search of proper hikers assembled by another hopefully not-so-rebellious, highly paid satisfied worker from the same far-off factory.

Since no other style worked, I had a two-horned dilemma on my hands: go on a comparison shopping adventure (assuming the law allows that much fun), or be content to wear my faithful sneakers while blazing trails in the local forests. Since the sneakers were next up for replacement (perhaps NEXT month’s trek for more pure, shopping satisfaction), I sighed, resigned to my fate and ambled reluctantly to the service counter with those words in mind that make most men panic: “Where are your other stores located?”

This story would end happily if I could say that I simply drove a few miles down the road and found another pair of correctly glued hikers…but the shopping gods are never that nice to guys. I’m sure it’s punishment for something we’ve done through the ages, but there’s so much on that list it’s hard to say why we’re destined to endure shopping hell at every opportunity. And besides, we’re talking Houston, not Rhode Island. In the same time it takes to drive across Houston you could visit two or three European countries. It’s the only place I know of where you check your gas gauge before striking off for a day of shopping, and even then you mentally note the gas stations along the way, just in case.

Success was finally mine, but not after three more stores and many hours of driving. When I finally found THAT style in THAT size without THAT problem, well…all I can say is veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). By then I would have bought the display shoe, security cable and all, I didn’t care anymore. And it was all I could do to restrain myself when at the checkout counter the sales clerk opened the box, examined the hikers, and said, “We have to make sure you bought the right shoes.” But she was young, had her whole life ahead of her, and even though (assuming I had a male judge) I would have gotten off with probation for throttling her on the spot as justified homicide on the basis of all I’d endured that day, I just smiled and took my new hikers to the car and home.

The next day I’d forgotten all about the ordeal as I laced up the hikers to head for the nearest trail and start the breaking-in process. Guys may not be able to endure shopping marathons and the associated tests of patience and fortitude as well as women can, but we’re blessed with that magical male forgetfulness gene, and thus can easily recover from the likes of extreme shoe shopping. Maybe next time I’ll try catalog shopping, where the joy of shoe shopping can be mine in the comfort of my home sans the thrill of travel…unless you count the trip to the post office to return the shoes, no doubt because that same creative, rebellious shoe worker is still happily employed.

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