350 pairs of shoes
She told me she had 350 pairs of shoes.
I believed her. The pair she was wearing looked brand new. Everything she was wearing looked brand new. (She would later disclose to me that when I first approached her at the bar of the Mason Street Grill she thought I was a credit card collector.)
She had been drinking. She was waiting for a friend who was 50 minutes late. I sat down next to her and we talked for the next hour. She told me she loved to shop.
She told me she was a retired school teacher and this was going to be her first fall not starting school in more than 30 years. She was sad by this fact. She never had children. She told me her students were her children.
She told me shopping depressed her these days. Too many back-to-school reminders.
She asked me about my children. She told me she never married, sale but she was once engaged to a man who owned a jewelry store for four months which was “four months too long.” She couldn’t break it off because she couldn’t bear to give back the diamond.
Her friend arrived. The friend told me that she had been married for 32 years, then left her husband and met another man. She lived with him for a few years but left him eight weeks ago. He had told her, three times, that he took “the test” and he was not gay.
“There isn’t a test!” we said.
This made her sad. She looked away. She asked me if I knew any men her age. (They were both in their sixties.)
They told me about a dating service. Not an online dating service, a walk-in service with phones and files. I did not know these still existed. But, apparently, they do and they charged the women $1,600 each to join the service only to set them up on a few dates with men who were not at all like what the women requested.
One put his briefcase on the bar and said his son made him sign up with the service. Another was very large and they had requested fit. One date said, “I hear you are a rock climber and well traveled.”
Neither of these things were true.
They told me they had recent run-ins with the law. One drank too much at a piano bar and was taken by police to the station. The other said she drove the wrong way on an entrance ramp and was pulled over by police but not issued a ticket.
I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the information. I was used to getting people to open up to me, not to completely spill their beans on my lap. But I liked it. I liked them. They were raw and sweet and sad and real.
I ordered a beer. I thought to myself, “I am afraid to grow old.”
I told them I needed to move on. They told me they needed to go, too – somewhere with more older, available men. I asked them, before they left, if I could take their photo.
“You can photograph our shoes.”