I went to the mall today to buy some shirts and shoes, which in America are integral parts of receiving customer service. I had no problem obtaining shirts, but the shoes were more challenging.
You see, I suffer from Acute Footwear Aphasia, the inability to explain what kind of shoes I am looking for. Whenever I ask the sales assistant for something, they look at me like I’m speaking Klingon. (Disclaimer: the Klingon word for shoe is ‘waq’.)
Let me explain. At the first store I entered, I looked around for a couple minutes, and upon not finding what I was looking for, I approached a young lady wearing a name tag. I said to her, “I don’t know if they even make them any more, but I’m looking for a pair of charcoal gray Hush Puppies.” (Disclaimer: I don’t care. They’re comfortable and I like them.) The sales clerk tilted her head and stared at me with that look that said, “Sir, why do you want to put fried cornmeal on your feet?” Instead of saying that, however, she said, “Let me check with my manager.” As she walked toward the counter, I followed behind her and said, cheerfully, “You’re going to consult the tribal elders, aren’t you?” She laughed and said, “I guess so. I’m new to the store.” It turned out she was 18 (although she looked 23), and this was her first job.
The manager was busy with another customer, and by this time I realized that they didn’t have what I wanted, but the grown-up in me could not let this poor benighted child continue to live in ignorance. So I said to her, “Come with me, I’ll show you what I’m looking for.” I went and found a pair of brushed suede sneakers, and a pair of dress oxfords, and said, “I want this shoe (the oxford) in this material (the brushed suede) in charcoal gray.” Her eyes lit up as she realized that I was asking for a wildebeest with Pegasus wings, in charcoal gray. “We don’t sell those, but you might try the department store next door.”
I thanked her and walked into the department store next door. The shoe department is right next to the mall entrance, so I walked past the women’s shoes until I got to the end of the shoe department. I then turned around and went up to the saleswoman and asked, “This might be a stupid question, but do you have a men’s shoe department?” She pointed and said, “Yes, it’s directly opposite from here, near the other entrance.” Happy that men’s shoe styles had not descended to the level of pumps and strappy sandals, and comforted in knowing that both store entrances were guarded by shoe departments, I set off for men’s shoes.
When I arrived at my destination, I came upon two shoe clerks, both young men in their 20’s. The older-looking of the two was attempting to explain to the younger (who later explained that English was not his first language) the concept of “diva”. The older lad was struggling for a definition that did not begin and end with the word “Cher”, a word which meant nothing to his co-worker. Being a natural born explainer, I took over the explanation of the diva archetype, and provided a string of examples (Mariah Carey, Celine Deon, Madonna in her heyday, Miley Cyrus if she lives that long) until I saw the light come on and he said, “Beyoncé?” (Disclaimer: “Beyoncé?” might be the word in his people’s tongue for “What the heck are you talking about, stranger?”)
Having brought enlightenment to yet another young person, I steered the conversation back to my quest. “I’m looking for a pair of charcoal gray Hush Puppies.” Immediately, the glow of enlightenment was extinguished from both men’s eyes, only to be replaced by a look that said, “Why do you want to put fried cornmeal on your feet, o Explainer of Divas?” I walked over to a shelf I had noticed on my way over, picked up a brushed suede loafer, and said, “This, with laces, in dark gray!” He relaxed a bit and explained that they didn’t carry anything like that, and had never heard the term Hush Puppies. (This is when he explained that English was a second language.)
I’d be fine if the problem was that I’m hopelessly dated and out of style. I am. I just find it sad that, even though the Hush Puppy Co. is still in business, apparently nobody under the age of 30 knows it. (Disclaimer: I will have to verify this on Monday with my two young co-workers, the one who has never seen Star Wars, and the one who didn’t know who Barney Fife is. I don’t think I like what I’m going to find.)