I have been trying to finish a writing project and haven’t been able to post anything lately. Found this story to read at my friend Adolfo’s 60th birthday a few weeks back – set in 1982.
Adolfo was as beautiful and well-groomed as all the gay boys who hung out with drag queens at the Pyramid bar on Avenue A, but he stood out, because he noticed me. We became friends.
Adolfo was European, you could tell by the way he smoked a cigarette. We talked about books and movies – he loved Woody Allen and J.D. Salinger. We ate cheap food at Dojo and saw double bills for three dollars at St. Marks Cinema.
Maybe because he was Italian, Adolfo appreciated fine things more than your average twenty-two year old. One August day, I asked him if he’d take the train uptown with me. Saks Fifth Avenue were having their annual summer clearance, and my mother had entrusted me with her Saks charge to buy something on sale.
“Why this is marvelous!” Adolfo said. “Let us go up there and see if you can find a nice something. After all, your unemployment will run out soon, and then you must look for a job, right?”
We took the Lexington Avenue IRT to 51st Street and walked west, sticking to the shadows to stay out of the sun. I was shiny with sweat by the time we pushed through the revolving door onto the ground floor of Saks. Adolfo was cool and impeccable as usual. The fifties housedress I felt cute in around the East Village suddenly seemed dowdy, and my white Adidas looked grey on the polished tile floor. As beautiful women swooped down on us waving fragrance cards, I wondered what kind of life you had to lead to look like that.
On our way up the escalators to the sales, we passed the shoe department. “Let’s look, just for fun,” I said. And then I saw them: the perfect shoes.
They were wingtips of softest burnished brown leather that seemed to glow from within. I picked one up and balanced it on my palm. Even the inside of the shoe was beautiful, magenta kidskin.
“Ralph Lauren,” Adolfo said admiringly. “These shoes are wonderful!” I checked the price discreetly hidden on the sole: $250. “Oh, I can’t even think about it,” I said. “My parents would kill me. Besides,” I thought about it for a moment, “don’t they look kind of like men’s shoes you’d find in a thrift shop?”
Adolfo shook his head. “Not at all! They are most definitely the shoes for you.”
“But I didn’t really come here for shoes. Just a y’know, shirt or something. On sale.” I kept rubbing the leather of the shoe, the softness hypnotizing me, like it could take any worry away and make life a fashion magazine-perfect dream. A salesman who looked like a Calvin Klein model came over. He admired Adolfo’s shirt and offered to find the shoes in my size.
“Oh, I couldn’t -“ I said. But ten minutes later, after resolutely walking away from the shoe floor, then turning around and heading back while Adolfo cheered me on, I left the store with the shoes individually encased in purple flannel sacks, swaddled in hot pink tissue, nestled in a deep green box with gold logo and cradled in a smart black and white Saks shopping bag.
“Maybe my parents won’t even notice when the bill comes,” I fantasized. “Or if they do, they’ll understand that I need these shoes, so I can find a good job.” Adolfo nodded encouragingly.
The next day, a letter came from the New York State Department of Labor saying my unemployment benefits had been extended for another six weeks. “I’ll be working by the time the bill shows up at my parents’ house, and then I can pay them back,” I thought.
I didn’t know I would start playing in a band and that music would be the most regular job I’d ever have.
I didn’t know just how mad my parents could get about a pair of shoes, or how long it would take to pay them back a little bit at a time.
Someone complimented me on the shoes and asked if I’d found them at the Salvation Army on Fourth Avenue.
I don’t know where the shoes went.
Pro-rated, not per wear but per year ,as a story that reminds me of being young and impulsive and hoping shoes could change my life; a memory of Saks and their sales, and my mother who loved the Saks sales; and my dear friend Adolfo, who always believed I deserved the best – the shoes cost seven dollars a year.
I think they were worth it.