The other day my husband and I were out shopping for shoes for him. Now, this is a very rare situation, because 1. he never goes shopping, especially not for himself 2. we never go shopping together! Who has time for that sort of thing other than newlyweds and the elderly?
So by now you’ve probably worked out that we were on vacation, which we sort of were, if you call a whirlwind, less-than-24-hours trip to New Jersey for my nephew’s bar mitzvah a vacation (I don’t), and which is why the two of us were wandering around the shopping plaza just like two newlyweds (or like the elderly – you pick).
We walked into the men’s shoe store and I could immediately tell this was going to be a “rambleworthy” experience. I mean, you start to develop a scent for this stuff when you need to write a ramble every few weeks. Firstly, who knew there were so many kinds of black tie shoes?? And also, the salesman could have literally been a character from TV, right down to his fast-talking, fast-moving, New York-accented vibe.
My husband started off by saying he wanted the exact same pair of Rockport-style shoes that he was already wearing – a sentiment that did not surprise me in the least. The guy looked at the shoes and proclaimed his diagnosis: “Those aren’t Rockports. They’re Florsheims.”
“OK, Florsheims, then. I’m usually a 12. I’ll try them on.”
“You don’t have to try them on, it’s exactly the same shoe. You know the drill, it starts out tight, then it gets looser. But okay, I’ll humor you and you can try them on. I’ll be right back.”
He went to get the shoes, leaving us cracking up in the showroom, whereupon the discussion between me and husband turned to the most important question of all: what shall be done with the old shoes?
Since my husband and I are approaching our thirtieth anniversary, I already knew what he wanted to do — bring home the shoes, which, may I say, were so old he couldn’t even remember how long ago he’d bought them, and also had actual holes, because, as he said, “this way I’ll have a great pair of shoes to knock around with in the rain.”
I won’t go so far as to say that my husband has a hoarding problem, because he periodically does get rid of (some) stuff, with my loving encouragement (!). But I will say that he has a hard time saying goodbye to his beloved, old, ripped, stuff, and sometimes this means I have to take matters into my own hands, and sometimes this means throwing things away when he’s not home (probably one reason he doesn’t like to travel without me).
I sweetly indicated that the old shoes were to be discarded right there and then, which he took in very good spirits, in the same vein it was offered.
When the salesman got back, my husband tried on the shoes and (surprise!) liked them. The guy said, “So what are we doing with the old pair? Do you want to wear the new ones out?” My husband jokingly shared that he wanted to bring the old one home, but that I wouldn’t allow it.
The guy looked my husband in the eye and deadpanned, “Oh, I know why. Because you probably already have eight pairs at home just like it,” which was, of course, true.
That was it. We both cracked up out loud. I said, “You really know your business! Let me ask you, how long have you been doing this?”
“Thirty-one years, five locations,” he was proud to report.
That’s a long time to do anything, but it occurred to me that anything that you’re going to do for thirty-one years, you’re going to eventually get good at. This guy was such a pro. He knew his customer, he knew his shoes, he was like a shoe psychologist. And I gotta say it made me think.
In thirty-one years, I will be turning eighty years old. What do I want to be really good at by the time I turn eighty? Because that is the thing I should be practicing every single day until I get there. Is it being kind to others? Is it being helpful to others in my chosen profession? Is it studying Torah? Is it plugging in to the power of Shabbat? Is it making the world a better place in some demonstrable way?
What is it for you?
Whatever it is, lets you and me start today. Do something, anything, every day for thirty-one years, and I guarantee you: you, too, will become a pro. You may even be able to sniff out a Rockport from a Florsheim a mile away.
Looking back over 31 years (and counting) of marriage, and as one who owns exactly one current and no old pairs of shoes (plus two pairs of sandals), I loved this essay!
One current… wow, you’re an even bigger minimalist than me! Impressed!