The shoe store
I was looking for a pair of shoes. Very specific. I’d bought them ten years earlier in the same store on West 72nd Street in New York City. They didn’t make that particular shoe any more, but I wanted something as close as I could get.
The woman who came to help me was maybe fifty, with curly, russet, Annie-like hair. And a kind, accessible look. You know, don’t you, when there is a bright soul inside. You can see it on their face. Undeniable. I told her what I wanted. The brand, size, color.
She came back with three boxes.
“I don’t have that size in the color you want, but I have these you can have a look at.”
They weren’t what I wanted. Well, ok, maybe I’ll try this one. But, no, too large. She didn’t push me, though. She was selling, but not hustling. It was all very human.
We got to talking. I’d been listening to the other salespeople—none under forty—bickering while she was in back getting my shoes. One salesperson said to another, “Stop saying that! You’re stressing me out!”
When my saleswoman returned, I said, “This sounds like a Yiddish theater group in here.”
“You have no idea,” she said.
I don’t know how the conversation veered, but she told me she’d been an actress.
“I was in the touring company of Cats for six years.” She broke out into an enormous smile. One of those smiles that lifts you out of your seat and shoots a dosage of optimism straight into your veins.
“Cats? Really? What role did you play?”
She didn’t answer directly but said, “I’m a singer. I love to sing!”
“Did you like being in Cats?”
“I loved it!”
Through the thirty-five years I lived in New York, I met many actors, many young men and women struggling to be actors. Only a few few made it. Most quit. It was too damn hard, too discouraging.
“Did you have any other roles?”
“Yes. My last show was Menopause. It was a musical.”
“They made a musical about menopause?”
Did they! I looked it up. It ran off-Broadway for four years. It’s toured all over the world—Croatia, Brazil, Malaysia, Finland. The Las Vegas show has been running for sixteen years. Typical songs, “Change, Change, Change” to the Aretha Franklin tune; “Puff, My God, I’m Draggin’” to the Peter, Paul and Mary song; “My Thighs,” after the Mary Wells hit.
I guess I missed something.
Now, we were beyond shoes. We were just talking. She told me about opening night at Menopause. The woman in charge of the show told her, just before she was about to go on, that everything she did was wrong.
“I was going to perform in front of all the critics! And she said this to me. And I hadn’t done everything wrong!”
Sometimes you want to kick someone in the groin. This was such a case. Opening night. When you’re fragile as a house of cards. What is it with people?
“I quit acting after that,” she said. “I couldn’t take the BS anymore. I love singing, though!”
She then wrote down the exact shoe model and name for me on a card, along with her name, Jackie.
“You might be able to find the shoe in another store. This way you won’t forget what it is.” Most likely guaranteeing not a sale. That high wattage smile again. I was basking in it, tanning in it, growing in it.
I had to go. Meet someone. I didn’t want to, though. I wanted to stay. What I really wanted was for her to sing, right then and there. I wanted to say, “Sing me something, Jackie! Sing me a song from Cats or even from Menopause. I want to be your audience. I want to be your biggest fan. I don’t want to leave your smile. Turn this shoe store into a musical theater.”
It’s so hard to be an actor.
“It was nice talking to you,” she said. I said the same.
I walked out of the store, feeling my step lighter, as if I were wearing a brand new pair of shoes.