The first time I spent $100 on a pair of shoes, I instinctively wanted to breed them to make more. My second best option was shoe repair. Just as I wasn’t in the market for hundred-dollar shoes in the first place—thanks, girlfriend—I had no idea about shoe repair shops. Who fixes shoes?
I know now that people do this, and every once in awhile—when one or two of my shoes needs fixing—off I go again to Abe’s. I learned about Abe’s Shoe Repair by chance, as we do all good places; it was a shop next to a shop next to a major grocery store near where I used to live in Tempe, Arizona.
The entire intersection—Guadalupe and McClintock—holds part of my history in its hands. My first house is down the street, my first significant neighbor lived next to me, my favorite bookstore is there, and then I found Abe’s.
Abe himself was of small build, handsome in the face and strong. I didn’t know his last name, but from the stories he would tell me over the crossing of shoes over the counter, I gathered that he was from the Middle East. I was happy one day when he told me that his one daughter smoked, and he didn’t approve. I can still see the daughter pacing around their front grassy yard with a cigarette dangling from her fingers; I can imagine Abe peering out at her from behind the blinds in the house. He shook his head on that one.
He knew I was a teacher and he had big dreams for his sons; they would be in the shop once in awhile when I went in…very handsome boys.
But I had my life too. In a matter of three years, I sold my house, left my best neighbor, got married and divorced, then bought a new house, again not far from Abe’s. He kept fixing the shoes I kept bringing him—educating me in what could be salvaged, what couldn’t be, and what really should be thrown out. He taught me the difference between a great shoe and a regular shoe. I usually had great ones, well worth saving.
A day came when I clipped Abe’s obituary out of the local newspaper and sent it to my ex-best neighbor in Wisconsin. After the couldn’t-believe-its and thanks-for-letting-me-knows, it seemed like the very next shoe season—when my friend and I should’ve been shopping for Clarks—that she was dead too.
I walked for an hour and cried ten tears, but did not allow myself more than that. Nobody would have been proud of me then.
I still take my shoes to Abe’s, though Abe isn’t there anymore—it’s a new guy. I guess you’re probably not new after being five years in the same place, but he is still new to me. He drives a harder bargain than Abe did. I like that.
I took two pair of shoes in on Thursday last week, one pair that needed hope and the other just insoles. The new guy has another guy who helps him at the counter sometimes, so I plopped my shoes in front of him and asked, “Ya think these can be saved?”
The new guy to the new guy held up my raunchy pair and said, “Those are plastic heels. We can’t fix ‘em.”
I nodded my understanding, my best chin. “Um, can ya do anything to make ‘em look better?”
“We can’t fix plastic,” he said again. “Plastic is cheap, it just disintegrates…look: this is just falling apart.” He further picked apart my shoes.
“I understand that, sir,” I said. “But is there anything you guys can do to make them look nicer? Maybe so I can wear ‘em for another season?”
He dangled that pair of shoes by their straps for what seemed like a longer time than necessary, and again came down firmly on the side of No.
“Look,” I said, sidling up in my way. “I’ve been bringing my shoes here for fifteen years, and I understand that you guys don’t work miracles. I know these shoes are cheap. I’m just asking if you can do anything to make them look better.”
The man thought.
“We could shave down the heel and dye it,” he said.
“Thank you,” I said, so completely weary of shoe-bargaining. “I really appreciate it.” I don’t think I’ve ever left shoes behind with less of a sense of owning them.
My brother calls, because my brother always does. We start talking about death, because we always do. We talk about my mom—his mom—it seems like we have different moms, but she is one and the same. She’s just different people to us. We talk about Mom meddling from heaven.
“It’ll never be over,” I say. “She has special powers.”
“I know,” my brother says.
We hang up peaceably and agreeably, two shaggy dogs.