Tools of the Trade.
Before becoming an ESL teacher I sold shoes – lots and lots of shoes. I sold clogs, sandals, sneakers, hemp, heels, mary janes, flats, slippers, slip-ons, boots, and everything in between. If you could put it on your feet I probably sold it. The shop I worked at was called The Woolly Mammoth, and it was perhaps the greatest work environment ever. A small, independent operation which first opened back in the 1970’s, our store was located right in the heart of Seattle’s eclectic University District. Basically the job was 85 percent hanging out and talking with coworkers, 10 percent selling shoes to middle-aged women, and 5 percent sneaking off and eating snacks in the back room. We made our own schedules more or less, chose our own music, had our favorite crazy reoccurring customers (The Bird Lady comes to mind), and we even had our own book that we wrote down funny anecdotes in, kinda like a blog before there were computers. What were those called again? Oh yeah, journals. I think I petitioned to rename the journal, “The Clog,” but I’m not sure how well that one went over.
As one might expect, after nearly 4 glorious working in the shoe game I became quite the footwear aficionado. Shoes, as I often liked to tell my customers, are your pedestal, your foundation. Shoes announce your entrance, signal your status, reflect your personality. Slip-ons? Always in a hurry. Clogs? Always on your feet. High heels? High pain threshold. Birkenstocks? Looking for the nearest hacky-sack convention. Furthermore, shoes are indicators of civility, a point illustrated by the fact that 7-11 will not serve you a shriveled up hot dog that’s been perpetually rolling around on a warming rack for the last 5 months if you are not wearing shoes. The same cannot be said for people who don’t wear belts.
In Korea, however, my shoe obsession has been forced to take a back seat. I really only wear one pair of shoes these days: my pair of trusty black leather Converse. At work I have to take my shoes off upon entering the door, and must spend the rest of the day in a pair of one-size-fits-all baby blue slippers. Same thing goes when entering a restaurant, house, or apartment. In fact, one of the first cultural missteps I made was rushing into my apartment on the first day with my shoes on. “Ahhh,” said my principle, as if I had just slapped her in the face or something. “You must take off your shoes. Korean style.” I took off my shoes, and have been ever since.
Part of me enjoys not stressing out about what shoes to wear or having to clean floors that get mucked up by muddy kicks. Another part, however, really misses showing off that perfect pair of sneakers, the ones with the perfect color scheme, and the perfect profile, and the perfect flair – not too much, not too little – just enough to get noticed. So with shoes on the back burner these days, there’s only one logical solution: I need to get cooler socks.