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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001
I took a tip from Talleyho and sought new footwear.

I don’t know what everyone else wears to work. Quite honestly it’s none of my affair. But footwear for someone who spends the biggest part of his day in a vertical manner is no joke.

The work boots were sadly gone to seed, holes in both toes and one of the soles flapping. To get 2½ years out of a pair of work boots, one of two things must happen. Either you spend a significant amount of money and buy really good, American made, cow leather uppers with the best tire research on the sole that NASCAR can provide, or you don’t go to work and abuse them every day, like I do.

Which led, of course, to the pilgrimage to the Red Wing Shoe store that I make every 2 to 3 years. A little store it is, set in one of the myriad strip malls, which occupy 75% of the retail space currently listed in the local realtor’s guide. A pleasant place smelling of shoe leather and having stuff called Mink Oil in clever tins featuring a picture of a Canadian Mountie in a strapping red coat, and a mink, silhouetted on a snowbank somewhere in the Northwest Territories.

As change is inevitable, so goes the Red Wing store. I know the proprietor by sight, he is an engaging fellow who knows my schedule and every 3 years, he generally rolls out the red carpet for the coming of Outfoxed, and his delectable American Excess card. This sojourn was interrupted when I spotted, from a distance, the unfamiliar. A woman in the Red Wing store.

Now look. I’m the last one to discount the value of women in society, in business, in darn near anything. Some of my best friends are…well…

Proprietor kinda rolled his eyes when I cleared the door. He could’ve said not a word, gone to the back and fetched my size nine (yeah, and my fingers are short too) boots with the steel toes and the special chemical resistant sole, rung me up, took my dough and wished me well until next time. I’ve bought the exact same shoe at this store for years. But he did not stir from his perch on the shoe repair stool. Instead, Miss Alabama 1986 came rolling out.

Let me tell you. I am a collector of fine specimens of the female persuasion, and this one would have gone right to the top ten. What she was doing selling shoes in the Red Wing store at the strip mall is totally beyond my comprehension. This was the redhead that Vogue magazine couldn’t afford for the cover. From Alabama, and no where else.

“Why yayus, Mr. Outfawxed. We’uns can set you’all rhaaight up, now.” I swear, she said you’all instead of the more colloquial y’all. A voice with a morning butter knife full of spun honey, this one.

She took the foot size over my muted protest that my size 9 foot hadn’t changed in 20 years, and I was dubious of any growth spurt other than the alarming protrusion of the holding tank on my forefront.

There is a particular moment when watching, helplessly, as a woman in custom fitted slacks who is constructed with finer components than a Swiss watch walks South when you are standing to the North. The proprietor and I both gazed helplessly, victims of something that good shoes weren’t about to fix. When she disappeared into the mysterious sanctum of boxed shoes awaiting sale, he turned to me as a male, a brother, a look of pure panic in his eye.

“Jesus, the district manager turned her over to me for training yesterday. I haven’t gotten anything done since! Hey, you wanted the Hefty Man Boots with steel, right?”

Somewhat dazedly, I nodded.

“Lord, I’ve got to watch her. I mean…sometimes she…”

He was interrupted by the return of the Magnolia Princess. Smiling, swaying, with four shoeboxes piled up in her arms nearly reaching her perfect chin. The proprietor and I had both been raised right, and sprang to her assistance, which she laughingly elbowed away.

“Now you jest sit rhaaight thar, Mr. Outfawxed, and let me do the shooin’.”

It occurred to me that perhaps four boxes of shoes when one was required might have been a bit much. The proprietor and me were all set for another round of watching Miss Alabama do another lap to the stockroom. A little sitting on the fence rail as the thoroughbreds cantered by, sort of thing. In any event, I was about to be shoed, and not by just any farrier…

She fitted boot to foot, with just a little embarrassment on my part of how gamey my gray socks might have been. I don’t do this everyday. I really hadn’t even planned this trip, and the socks were just not quite up to a formal fitting by someone who should have been putting on runway shoes in Milan or Paris.

I felt the sidelong gaze of the proprietor as I tottered around in one boot. He had never even offered a chance to test drive new shoes once he and I established our routine some ten years ago.

“Now Mr. Outfawxed, doesn’t that just feel sensuous?” Okay, she didn’t say that. She might as well have, for the beaming pride she took in watching me trip over the shoe fitting apparatus.. The damn things felt just the same as they had on 3 prior purchases of the exact same shoe. Hell, I’d just stepped out of a pair not 2 minutes hence which felt pretty darn good, if just a little drafty from the toe vents.

She took the occasion of my numbed nod of acceptance to parade forth the balance of her treasures. She popped open another of the boxes from the back. Held up a pair of ghastly black and lime running shoes for my perusal.

“Mr. Outfawxed, my district managah jest put these on special. And Ah feel compelled to offah them to you as an aftah work shoe for those fine boots.”

In my lunacy, I actually considered them. But weakly declined, stuttering something about preferring white in my sneakers.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she reached for another of the boxes she had brought in.

“Why, I jest happen to have that very thang rhaaight heah…..”

Yes, it was a size nine. Realizing that I was a victim of a force greater that myself, I gave her the thumbs up and moved to conclude my business at Red Wing, before bankruptcy or foot apnea set in.

The proprietor watched, with glazed eyes, as she delicately whipped my credit card through the machine and offered a fine fountain pen for my use. Completely out of his league, he was suffering the plight of one who had been shown the way to sell to the most gruff of his clientele, and how to get another 50% out of him without trying all that hard, and I felt somehow grateful to her that I hadn’t been touched for an entire case of new socks.

Miss Alabama happily waved as I fled it terror, several hundred dollars lighter than when I had walked in. The proprietor gave me the secret male sign as I hit the door. A little hitching wave of his own.

Which translated, said “Next time pal, it’ll be back to normal. Pray for me, in my hour of despair.”

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