We’ve all seen the TV shows, watched the movie Pretty Woman, and heard the stories about Rodeo Drive in California. Sure, it’s a cliché “Woman love to shop” but not my Ann. Anyone that’s shopped with her on Black Friday knows her “No muss no fuss” style. She gets in and out of store after store with her list in one hand and cloths sizes in the other, a pencil at the ready to check it “off the list.” Her closet at home is a testament to 16 years of Catholic School education where black and blue is a wardrobe description and not that of a prize fighter’s face in the 12th round of a championship bout.
You can’t be in Paris and not be aware of the fashion all around you. My stalwart Ann is crumbling under the barrage of images on every street corner and in every fashion house window. Like the sirens singing to Odysseus, they call her to their windows hoping to lure her to the sparsely filled shelves that scream expensive but exclusive. You brain tells you “That isn’t right for you” but your heart says “Go ahead you’ll never know unless you try, it might feel sooooo goooood.” I think I saw that same message in a “Don’t do drugs” advertisement, didn’t I?
Over the course of 4 weeks we walked by hundreds of shoe stores, block after block zig zagging as if trying to lose someone that was following us. We saw shoes that would make the fish in the Red Sea cry they were so colorful and shoes that looked like they were left over from a “fitting” for the gladiators at the Coliseum in Rome. The shoes came in every color and style one could imagine and Monet and Degas would have been proud of the beautiful pastels flowing in the windows like canvases of the impressionist paintings. It really is like walking around an outdoor museum.
Then, one late afternoon, with the sun dipping past it zenith, there they were, standing upright, a truncated toe cap with white outlined bows in exclusive, soft, matching leather and calling Ann’s name. She looked at them wantonly with guilt red betraying her desire on her face. You could hear the bad angel say “just this once.” There they sat, a pair of pink/coral high pumps, poetry on heels, and a Shakespeare love sonnet looking back at her through the window. As if a cruel joke by the gods, in the adjacent window is the exact model in traditional black and white. I stood at the magnificently clean glass window and watched the civil Irish war raging on Ann’s countenance. With each facial contortion a different question: “Are Coral/pink shoes really practical?” “Will I get much use from them?” “Aren’t the Black/White one’s equally pretty and more sensible?” “Who buys pink/coral color shoes anyway?” I listened closely and while she didn’t say it I swore I heard “What would my mother think?” eek from her subconscious. I say to myself, “I can’t wait to see the WWIII battle once she turns’em over and gets a load of the price!” I’m considering getting some stadium seating and selling popcorn.
I didn’t have a stop watch but I am pretty sure that a sun dial would have been more appropriate as I waited for the magical sound that the shop door makes when it opens. You know the one; it’s the sound that made Pavlov famous, where the wolves, I mean the inside sale people, respond to the bell like a steak just landed on the polished white tile floor. Deep inside as she walked towards the shoes on the acrylic shelf Ann prayed silently that they didn’t have her size which would spare her this whole experience and make it easier for her. When she picked them up off the shelf I swore I heard a celestial hymn ooze from the speakers as if to say “Buy these shoes” and you’ll walk with the angels. Where are those Victoria Secret wings when you need a pair?
The French sales woman was curt but professional, eyeballing our “American-ness” that is so plain to all the Europeans. She wasn’t quite sure if Ann was the dreaded “shoe kicker.” Was she going to “try them on” to FEEL like someone that warrants a shoe of this fine quality or is she a REAL player? Frankly it’s a jump ball, Ann could be either today! I felt like a resident in the operating room watching the professional sales rep dissect every conceivable barrier to a purchase. She’s a pro as she relates the story of the handcrafting and how the cows cried to give up this soft leather. As if we needed a sign the exclusivity is clear because these are the only 2 pair of shoes on display in the whole store, one in coral/pink and the other in the dreaded black/white. There are a limited number of outfits hanging from the silver racks and a couple of them could have been mistaken for colored dental floss. Does that tag say “1200 euros?” YIKES!!! As the sales woman figures out that Ann is “serious” she informs Ann that they make this shoe in a “quantity of 1 in each size.” I almost burst out laughing when she said “Once you buy this pair no one else in all of Paris will have your shoe.” Should I tell her we’re leaving for Italy tomorrow and I want the same promise for Italy, Germany, Denmark, Finland, England, and America or my money back?
I appreciate her sales effort and the fact that a pair of shoes can elicit such feelings in a woman and I am equally shocked that these shoes are turning Ann into Cinderella. Ann “hems and haws” not betraying the thousands of years of Irish DNA coursing through her veins and she feels the conflict of being reckless against the pull of common sense. It is like a playground battle tug-of-war going on in her mind and her eyes are giving away that fact that her “practical” side is losing. She looks up from the stiff black leather couch and she doesn’t have to utter the phrase, it is written on her face, “Should I?” Now for a husband this isn’t quite the equivalent challenge of responding to the question “Does this make me look fat?” but it is fraught with intrigue. If you say “go for it” too fast then you run the risk that you haven’t agonized quite long enough to appreciate the depth of such an important decision. If you say “No” you run the risk of stomping on the one chance for your wife to “buy pink/coral shoes in Paris” thus running the risk of disappointment and anger all the way through the rest of Europe’s 70+ days of travel. You search your mind and heart for just the right timing and the perfect turn of phrase. The clock is ticking, your heart rate is increasing and you think of 19 years of marriage where these rare moments pop up, looking for the kernel of experience that will allow you to say just the right thing. I look into her hazel eyes and say with the best voice I can muster, “Why the hell not!” I pause, hoping, a bit unsure if that was gonna do it and then a big smile from Ann and a quick “Yeah why the hell not!”
Ann floated out of the store, sent a few text messages and e-mails to “the girls” informing them of her new cocaine like shoe habit and then went to her first meeting in the next Church we saw; it started with the phrase, “Hi my name is Ann and I’m a shoe - aholic.” Hi Ann!