shoes #1: welcome to the cult

I said I wouldn't become my mother, and that you would never find a rack of shoes in my closet and another set underneath my bed and another set of lesser-used shoes underneath the guest bed. I still say that. I think it's true; knowing a potential pitfall exists can sometimes help you avoid it.However, I skirted one pitfall only to discover another: the cult of Nordstrom. I get it, oh, I get it.

It was the damn makeup, see.

Back in September 2003, I wrote about my unexpected discovery of the goodness of Birkenstock, otherwise known as shoes that actually fit (the entry 'hippie sandal-wearing freaks'). Since then, my momentary $50 splurge on off-white Birks has proven to be one of the wisest $50 expenditures in my adult life. I knew I had unusual feet, but I figured I just wasn't trying hard enough to find shoes that worked for me.

Then I took a recommendation from a tech staffer and went to Perimeter Mall for a MAC makeup consultation (June 2004, 'A red for everybody'). The easiest way to get to the store required me to—you guessed it—walk through Nordstrom. Nice store, I thought. (I'd never been in one before; they aren't terribly common in the South.) Lots of shoes, and lots of women buying them. Maybe I should look into this, and hope that I didn't pick up the shoe-hoarding gene, after all.

I went home, did a little research, and discovered that Nordstrom had rabid fans. We're talking cult following, altar sacrifices, the giving of firstborn, etc. I was a little confused. True, it had looked nice, but it looked like a department store. I've seen lots of those.

So I thought, what the hell. I plotted going to Perimeter Mall on my next trip of Atlanta, which was coincidentally coming up Real Soon Now. I figured I'd hit up DSW (supposedly this massive shoe warehouse) and Nordstrom, and if I was lucky, I'd come home with a pair of shoes that fit.

Apparently I looked lost when I walked into the shoe department, because the next thing I knew I was sitting down in this uberplushy chair and some fellow with an enormous smile had set down my backpack and packages for me was taking my shoes off for me.

"Sevens?" He tsked at me. Do people actually tsk out loud any more? Apparently this guy did. "Your feet are far too small for a seven. Let's measure to find out." I was about to open my mouth to blurt out my size, but the next thing I knew I was being guided to stand up, and there was the cold metal of the measure against first one foot, then the other. "Yes, definitely not sevens, but I see why you wore them. You probably can't find shoes that fit."

Goodness, was he cooing at me? "So, uh, what size should I wear?"

"Your feet are different sizes. Technically, you're a five and a half wide, with a high instep. Your left foot," at which point he gestured to the toes in question, "is a little longer, almost a six but not quite, but is just a little wide. Your right foot is a little shorter, a true five-and-a-half, but definitely a wide." He tapped the littlest toe on my right foot. "This is where most of your shoes break, isn't it?"

I nodded, then asked the question: "So … do you have anything I can wear?"

"Of course. What were you looking for?"

I think my jaw actually fell open at this point. What did he mean, 'of course'? I'd been looking for shoes for nearly six months, and it was this easy all along? I managed to blurt out "a pair of simple, classically-styled loafers" before he nodded and headed to the back.

I resisted the urge to bellow "and bring me my peeled grapes and a blond slaveboy!" But not by much.

When he came back out, he had not one, but three boxes. He was dumbfounded when I slipped my feet into the first one and—I am somewhat ashamed to admit this—actually jumped up and down and squealed when I realized they fit. They really fit. As did the second pair, and the third.

I chose one, the mid-level shoe, and asked if I could wear it out of the store. He grinned, and tucked the beastly sevens into the box before pulling up a chair.

"Now, let me tell you a few things. We carry a lot of shoes here, but your size is on the fringes, even for us. You are always going to have trouble finding shoes that you can wear. You will be able to go up to a 6 wide, and sometimes a 6.5 wide, in some shoes, but given your foot width and instep, there are likely to be some styles of shoes that you just cannot wear."

I nodded—there seemed to be a lot of that going on in this conversation—and kept listening.

"The good news is that you have an opportunity that most people don't. Because your shoe size is so rare, you are likely to have much better luck in clearance racks than most people. Your size will either be the first sold, or the last. If it is the last, you stand a good chance of getting truly good shoes at extraordinary discounts if you're prepared to look periodically. You won't be able to go out the night before a party and find the perfect shoes, but if you're patient, in time you will find what you want."

I still wanted my slaveboy, dammit.

"I'll box these sevens up for you." He grinned.

On my way out, my Nordstrom shopping bag swung gaily from my fingertips, and I marveled at something: the sound of my footsteps. Good-quality shoes make an unmistakable, solid sound when walked in, a solid tap against the ground that most cheaply-made shoes just can't duplicate.

I sent text messages to friends celebrating my discovery, and wandered off to buy tea.

When I returned, even though I had already made my purchase, I thought, Why not. I went to the clearance rack, even though it was the 'designer' clearance rack, and started looking around. I chuckled at the frivolous shoes, marveled at the pretty ones, and then spotted it.

I picked it up, and realized I was in serious, serious trouble.

But that's for the next story.