you are NOT getting those shoes

 This year I got $100 cash for Christmas.  I usually get gift cards to a few select stores that I frequent, but not often cash, so 100 bucks…pure freedom, right?  I decided to finally make good on my threats to buy a few new pair of shoes, and on Monday I trekked over to the Bellevue Nordstroms to check out some TOMS. 

For those not familiars, TOMS Shoes is a company that makes simple, comfortable shoes, and for every pair sold, a pair is donated to a child in need.  They call it the “One For One” movement, and it seems like the company has exploded in the last several years.  Every twenty something I know seems to have a pair, and they’ve gone from the simple Argentinian alpargata design that they started with to wedges, boots, and a wedding collection. 

Here, watch this:

So in summary, TOMS is a great company that takes American consumerism and uses it for good.

And they sell shoes at Nordstroms.

So anyway, I shot over to downtown Bellevue on Monday after my Seattle Humane Society shift.  This meant that I was wandering around in my uniform, smelly vaguely of dog and puppy treats, and covered in hair and fur.  No big deal, though, because it’s Monday night, so surely the mall won’t be crowded, right?

Oh, it’s the Monday after Christmas?  I forgot.

The place was packed, and by the time I trekked to the shoe department I was starting to doubt my decision to leave the house at all.  Women were all over the place, tossing boots in the air and bustling about with four and five bags tucked under their arms.  I quickly found a display of TOMS, though, and was promised that someone would be by to help me shortly. 

“Shortly” might be an overstatement, because it probably took ten minutes for a salesperson to free up.  I stood by my shoes, waiting for help, refusing to move should I lose my place in line.  As I loitered by the table, a young adult, probably early twenties, approached the table with her mother.  I think the first thing I noticed where their coordinated black velour sweatsuits.  The girl picked up a pair of TOMS and said, “Look, mom, I need a pair of these, too.”  They’d obviously already done a bit of shopping, judging from the pile of bags in their hands.

“Oh, no, you are NOT getting those shoes,” said the mom.  My eyebrows went up, but I continued to stare straight ahead, not acknowledging that I could hear their conversation.

“Mom, why not?  I need a pair of flats for when I go to the bar.  I’m not wearing heels,” said daughter. 

“Uh, because their ugly, that’s why.  You can’t wear those to a bar,” retorted mom.  I continued to stand, now a bit awkwardly, wondering if they realized that I was, in fact, hoping to purchase a pair of these atrocities.  They had continued back and forth for a minute or two when a salesperson finally approached.

“Did you need a size?  What can I get for you?”

“I need these red TOMS in an 11,” I said, resisting the urge to look at the mother daughter duo.

The clerk walked away, and mom immediately burst out laughing.

“Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I did that,” she laughed.  “Here I am trashing these shoes, and you want to buy a pair.” 

Well, duh, I thought, that’s why I’m standing here, but I just smiled and assured her it was okay.  Daughter, though, immediately saw an ally.

“These are great, right?  I mean, I can totally wear these to a club, with jeans and a cute shirt, they’d be perfect, right?”

“Yeah, that would look great.  They’re super comfortable…” I trailed off, but mom picked up.

“How old are you?” she asked, putting her hand on my arm.

“I’m thirty,” I muttered.  I hadn’t said the number out loud since my birthday in October. 

“Well, I’m older than that,” she proclaimed, obviously refusing to share her true age, even though she’d just asked the same of a complete stranger.  “I can’t wear those, right?”

“Well, I don’t know, I guess that’s up to you…” again, trailing off.

“But mom, I’m not you,” daughter pipped up. 

“No, you’re not.  See, if it were me I’d be looking at a pair of shoes like THAT.”  She pointed to a pair of tan boots with three-inch heels that probably would have hit her mid-thigh.  Me, about mid-kneecap.  “I was wearing a pair of those when I picked up James.”

Who is James?!

“Well, mom, that’s not what I want.”  Daughter looked at me again for support.

“You know, for every pair  of shoes that’s purchased, they donate a pair to a kid in need.”  It’s probably safe to assume they hadn’t picked up that tidbit, right?

Right.

“Oh, really?  Well, I guess that’s nice,” said mom, clearly still not a fan.

It struck me in that moment that these two, like many other shoppers, had no idea that they were potentially changing the lives of children in other countries by purchasing a pair of these shoes.  In some countries, a pair of shoes means that a child will be able to go to school, will be safe from a number of life-threatening parasites and illnesses, if nothing else will get a small measure of self-esteem from being a little more clothed than they were before. 

But also, TOMS are great for clubbing.

Strange.

“Well, I guess it’s up to you,” mom finally conceded.  They wandered a little bit, and by then the clerk had returned with my size.  I tried them on and got ready to leave.  Daughter made eye contact as I turned around.

“Good luck,” I smiled, and started to fight my way back through the flying boots and crush of bags.

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