In which I buy a pair of shoes.
Any post in the last six or seven years with this title would have been much, much longer than you’d expect. This one continues that proud imaginary tradition.
You see, there are a number of ways in which it’s not easy being me. The having of feet is probably the worst of the lot. It starts here: Size 6, extra-wide, freakishly high arch located at the spot on the foot where you’d expect it to be for a size 7, matching high instep making it impossible to wear most styles or keep shoelaces tied, disproportionately sturdy ankles making it impossible to wear shoes that are cut high on the ankle (think 95% of athletic shoes). If that didn’t narrow my potential future shoes enough, consider: I’m vegan.
Picture a small cube with a half-circle cut out of the bottom. Or, as my mother-in-law points out, any photos you might have seen of the victims of foot-binding; the resemblance is plain.
I’ve had these feet all my life, so I was never really familiar with the concept of comfortable shoes. If I could cram my foot in them and they didn’t cause bleeding, they were mine, baby. To a sensible person, it would have been no great surprise when at age 28, during my then-daily Venice-to-Santa-Monica beach walk, I felt something in my arch go RRRRRIP!
I sat under the Pier for a few minutes, unable to put any weight on my left foot. I considered that I had left my apartment, a couple miles away, with nothing but a single key in my pocket. I considered, given the endless worst-case scenario in which I dwell, whether I was going to hobble up to a stranger all vulnerable and request a ride.
I started walking home.
It was bad.
I can’t remember when my right foot followed suit, but eventually I came to think of them as my Cinderella feet; I could be anywhere, pretty-princessing around and minding my own business, when BAM! I’m flat on my ass next to a goddamn pumpkin. They’ve been better and worse; there have been years when I’ve been unable to walk further than my front door to my car, years when I could pretty confidently go to Target, years where custom orthotics helped and years when they stopped helping and started hurting.
One thing was clear, though: I could no longer wear any old shoes I could cram my feet into.
This was a bigger problem than you’d think; the reason I did not wear properly sized shoes is that nobody made 6 extra-wide extra-depth shoes – especially not in the funky, fancy stores I frequented. When I finally forced myself to cross the threshold of “comfort shoe” emporiums, I found there was really nothing there for me either.
There was a lot of trial and error involved in discovering the one brand that, when I found the right style, actually fit well. But there were two problems. First, Kumfs, made in New Zealand, were available in the US in a very limited selection. Second, they were SO not vegan.
I got over the vegan part pretty quickly (although man, I’d be happy to find a non-cow alternative); it’s the difference between walking or not walking for me. I have to live in the world that exists. Now I’m 99% vegan.
The availability was tougher to deal with. I’d spend weeks and months driving to stores that carried the brand, ordering things online and returning them and waiting eighty years to get credited before I could try another pair. I just went almost a year without a pair of black shoes, as one example.
So Kumfs opened a store in the States, and that store was in: Fresno! In terms of the entire country, it was awfully close – but still, a few hundred miles, not on the way to or near anything, not a trip I would make for any reason except shoe shopping. Seemed ostentatious, like the actors who have their favorite pizza flown in internationally.
Well, like a scale version of that.
Finally a few weeks ago, I decided that it had to happen. We planned a family road trip. I found a hotel with an indoor pool, found out where the zoo was, scoped out the vegan food – how bad could it be for fewer than 24 hours?
Fast-forward to yesterday morning. We got a very late start, made later because I had accidentally left my car window open the previous night and some stuff got stolen (nothing major, but we had to clean up and make sure we had the essential papers). We packed up the car and got as far as a gas station two blocks away, where we discovered that the coolant we’d had topped off days earlier was now completely gone. No time to deal with that! Drive home, switch cars, set out again.
The drive itself was pleasant enough; we went straight to the shoe store, where they hauled out more than a dozen styles in my microsize. Bought one pair of super-comfortable, reasonably non-hideous black mary janes; ordered a pair of flats in a different color than I’d tried on, which will be here in 2 weeks; just barely passed on a pair of strappy high heels because with all the shoes I need for day-to-day wear, I can’t justify $200 on heels. This took about 20 minutes.
I was practically floating when I left; even with the 4-hour drive and the car trouble and the overnight stay, this was the simplest shoe transaction I’d had in years. I’d pretty much decided to come back when they get their spring styles in.
We went to Whole Foods, and things were still pretty good except that the boychild went all hyper and fragmented; he’d been in a car all day, probably nothing to worry about.
Then we got to the hotel! Yay! Couldn’t check in because our card didn’t go through! Wha’…? Turned out the bank was being super diligent and slapped a security hold on that puppy the minute I charged $360 300 miles from home. No big deal, except for an endless wait in the lobby with a 5-year-old who only wanted to know, “But you said we could go swimming! Why can’t we go swimming?”
Checked in, took the kid swimming. This would have been much more fun minus the presence of the only other people in the room, two little kids who somehow managed to take up all the usable space in the shallow end and the jacuzzi between them, and their dad, who was very into documenting the whole thing with his underwater camera and less into, like, civility. Later he decided to show the boys how he could bounce a rubber ball off the opposite wall – which he did, then it bounced again, off my face while I was swimming laps. Vacation! Yay!
Went back to the room, got the kid settled in for bedtime – and that’s when the vomiting started. More volume than you could imagine ever being contained in a 5-year-old boy. One bed pretty much drowned, a section of carpet taken out, the other bed hit by an auxiliary volley – let’s not even talk about the towels.
Me, I’m not feeling so good myself.
Any other time, we’d have stayed an extra day for everyone to recover – but our plans happened to bump up against the start of a Spectacular Storm, and the thought of navigating the mountains in a downpour with a sick kid was unenticing.
So we’re home now. Wes still isn’t keeping down much fluid, so he’s going to urgent care first thing. I know what’s wrong with me, and they can’t really help.
All that considered – that was still the simplest shoe purchase I’ve made in years.