I make the mistake of going to the post office at lunch. The post office at Ogilvy department store. I don't recall there being a post office at Ogilvy, but seeing as there isn't in fact a post office around the corner where I thought there was one, and seeing as I need to mail a package, and skeptical as I am of the word of my coworker on this matter, I have little time and no better option to try.
The problem with the post office outlet at Ogilvy is that its customers are primarily Ogilvy clientele. They are snooty, long-winded, and with some complex gripe or concern, perhaps justifiable but ultimately boiling down to the point that they deserve satisfaction, that they deserve better, that they are somehow deserving.
So I face a long line of select people, a rare breed (but not so rare as I'd thought) who know this outlet exists and believe it exists solely for them.
The really big problem with the post office at Ogilvy is that it's at Ogilvy. Fourth floor. One must traverse pretty much the whole of the first floor to reach an elevator or escalator. Past the cosmetics counters and all those lovely (expensive) hats and pretty (expensive) scarves and Burberry goods and Hugo Boss shoes (expensive and expensive).
I try for the elevator first but don't hold out much hope. Inexplicably, in all my shopping expeditions at Ogilvy I have the sense that I am completely alone, that I am privileged to be their only customer, but the elevator is always full and always going down, likely for the panini sandwiches, or possibly the toilets. As I expect, there is a crowd waiting; four young, polished, name-tagged women, but their number is in essence doubled, as each grasps a naked mannequin by the waist.
The escalator then. An ascent through temptation. I resist; I have post office business. But once completed, I lose my bearings a little; the wide aisle is temporarily aswirl with more women gripping mannequins. The way down, something breaks loose inside me, opening up a little hell.
I pause between escalator flights. There are shoes everywhere. Lovely, lovely shoes.
I note that many of them bear labels I've never heard of, at prices I shouldn't consider reasonable.
I dart about aimlessly and awkwardly. I tuck one foot behind the other As if a professional might be so easily thrown off! to not notice that my shoes — the ones currently on my feet — are, well, cheap. I am less ostrich, head in the sand, than flamingo — no! more drab, more common: seagull — pulling its leg up into a belly of feathers; less to hide — my embarrassment or my shoes — than to distract from, with odd behaviour.
I've yet to determine my philosophy of shoes: better to have a couple pairs of good, solid, well-constructed, expensive shoes (and here I assume also comfortable) or cheap pairs aplenty aspiring to the latest trend (along with a healthy supply of bandaids)? (I remember one impulsive summer of shoes, cheap plastic in primary colours, feet to match.) I generally compromise, on all elements, and this leaves me unsatisfied.
In Ogilvy I stand on 20 dollars' worth of rope fiber, 3 inches of it, some black canvas running over my toes, the whole contraption secured by ribbon round my ankles. Strangely, I love these shoes. Even as I stand in Ogilvy. I should not betray them.
I've spent most of the last few years behind my desk at home barefoot. When it got cold, I burrowed my feet into a puddle of blanket. When I came to Montreal 5 years ago, I had one good, solid (expensive) pair of shoes. I wore them into the ground. I got by in sneakers and an old pair of sandals while I searched for a replacement. I found them — the exact same shoes; I called out my size, put down my money, and went away with a skip in my step. It took a while for me to notice that they were tight. I wore them when I had to wear nice shoes, but my feet weren't very happy about it. It's taken me years to come to terms with the fact that the weight of pregnancy somewhat flattened my high arches, causing my shoesize to increase.
I got great shoes in Washington last fall. I was overjoyed at the prospect of working in an office, for giving me a reason to wear them. I wore them proudly for a couple weeks. Then suddenly it was summer. My fall styles would not do.
I spend most lunch hours shopping for shoes. Not buying them, mind — mostly looking, hoping, rarely coveting. Since starting this job, I've purchased: 1 pair sandals, Italian, solid, classic, but a little boring, but at 75% off, too good a deal to pass up; 1 pair pointy-toed slingbacks, in cognac, the sling being kind of swooshy, and very sexy, I think; 1 pair beribboned canvas-fiber things, cheap, as noted above.
I look for shoes everywhere now. I've come to recognize coworkers and fellow commuters not by their faces but by their footwear. I try to size up the workplace, both employees and the environment — better to wear $200 flip-flops (I hate flip-flops!) or discount store pumps? In the metro, I no longer try to make out what passengers are reading — I check out what's on their feet.
They are almost none of them perfect. I look for telltale signs — the bump of a blister, the hint of a limp. If only just a little less this, more that — less strappy, more pointed, not so high, less sparkle, more red.
I walk out of Ogilvy, tall on my cheap shoes (but I can wear them only so many hours a day), without having bought anything. I'm searching for the perfect shoe (Why is there not a shoe store called Cinderella?). A shoe that grounds you while letting you float above the world. I deserve a perfect shoe. Or two.