Working at a shoe store gives me the opportunity to help people solve their footwear related problems. That Tuesday I had just returned from lunch when a young dark haired woman entered the store. During our conversation I learned that the woman seated in front of me was searching for a comfortable pair of good supportive shoes she could wear when she and her new husband strolled hand in hand around Athens. Back in the stock room I hummed to myself as I pulled several pairs of shoes off the racks. From the look on the woman’s face when I returned it was clear that I had failed to deliver anything close to what she had in mind. The part of my brain that was supposed to be listening to her shut down after I heard her criticize the shoes I was holding. Slowly my finger rubbed across the aniline dyed leather. It didn't matter that they had been cut and stitched by hand nor did the American Podiatric Association logo sway the woman impatiently tapping her foot.
Back in the stock room I searched for the cork soled sandals my customer wanted to try. Our store carries what we refer to as primary colors which is to say we have a lot of brown, black and white. Angrily my customer asked if I could call one of our other locations but none of our stores would be carrying either lime or tangerine sandals because they aren't as versatile as the basic colors. After degrading me, the appalling selection of unfashionable footwear available at our store and trying on more than thirteen unlucky pairs of shoes the woman picked up her purse. In a final attempt to make my customer happy I had pulled a sassy pair of strappy sandals from the back. Her response was to inform me that several vertebrae in her neck had been fused together as if that was information I should have known. She did end up ordering a pair of sandals from our website but as she left the store I was confident she'd be back if the sandals didn't meet her vacation expectations.
Later that same night I was complaining to my sister about the crappy customers we had to deal with at the shoe store. Fully expecting my sister to support me I was kind of ticked when she sided with my customer. Why shouldn’t she get a cute pair of shoes if that’s what she really wanted? It shouldn’t matter to me what she bought because I was getting paid either way. What my sister said was true. Why was I so upset that someone bought a pair of shoes that I didn't think met their needs? It wasn't my job to make good decisions for other people it was my job to sell shoes. Education is something I take seriously. Shoes for that woman were out there. My store had them and I couldn't get her foolish feet into them. Frustrated with everyone I went to bed early that night.
The other day a well dressed middle aged man came in when I was working. Inside his bag was a lovely pair of lime green sandals. Store policy requires that we ask patrons why they're returning merchandise. This gentleman was returning the shoes because his wife could no longer wear them. During their recent trip to Greece she had slipped on some stairs heading down to the beach. Because the vertebrae in her neck had been fused together it didn't break the way a normal person's neck would. A part of my mind was back in anatomy class listening to my instructor explain that if you break cervical vertebrae three, four or five you will lose diaphragmatic function. For the rest of her life this man's wife would be hooked up to a ventilator. Silently I handed the man his credit card receipt thinking it was a shame his wife of three months no longer needed a comfortable pair of good supportive shoes.
Special thanks to Scaevola and someone else who shall remain anonymous.