Sunday, September 6, 2009

No-cost confidence

In my part-time job at a running store, I sell shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. Shoes to marathoners and half-marathoners. Shoes to people who have run for years; to those who are reviving their running program; to those who giggly tell me they are just starting out.

I sell shoes to teen-agers on track teams, and to those whose basketball coach tells them running will improve their game. I sell shoes to stiff-gaited or limping adults. They bring in printed-off sheets from their chiropractors or podiatrists, with listings of shoes recommended to alleviate the knee or foot or back pain.

Everyone comes in for a different reason. But all, in some way, share the same desire. Shoes, yes. But in another way and to different degrees, confidence.

So I oblige, because I really do believe in these people, most of whom I've never laid eyes on. I watch them walk and I choose the right shoes for their feet. I tell them why cotton is good for pillowcases but not for socks, and I listen to their stories.

I answer their questions. And I try to help them see that running, like life, is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other: Step by faltering, fun, exhausting, exhilarating step.

Saturday was especially busy. And while I know I waited on several adults, the kids are the ones I remember. Like the 8th-grader who was so silly and so adorable that I smile even now remembering how she made me laugh yesterday. She danced, and she jumped around in her new shoes. She nudged her mother because the shoes she liked best were, as her mother predicted, the expensive pair. She ran the circumference of the store and back again.

Another woman came in with her two sons. One was 10, a kid who took off running around the store once I'd laced his new shoes. His brother, several years older, didn't say one word. His mother explained that he plays basketball for Special Olympics.

I keep thinking about the teen-age boy who drove about 30 minutes to get to the store. He's a high-school senior, and needed shoes for cross-country. He has a pretty big foot, and needed shoes with the maximum amount of support.

There were really only two pairs that fit. The first was kind of clunky and, because of the support he needed, a bit heavy. The second pair was lighter, more sporty. He asked how much each was. I glanced too quickly at the boxes, and said each was $100.

He decided on the lighter pair. He was happy, because as a member of a track team, he'd get 15 percent off.

This is when I start feeling awful. When I rang up his shoes, turns out they were $115, not $100. When I told him, his face dropped for a split second. Maybe most people wouldn't have noticed. But I have a teen-age son, so am tuned into his expressions, however brief, however fleeting. And this kid's reminded me of Charlie's.

I wanted to dig around in my purse and give him money to make up the difference. But I couldn't. So I apologized (again), and he handed me his (not his mother's) debit card. I put his shoes in a bag; he thanked me and left.

I'm sure once he gets home, once he wears the shoes to practice, once he wears them in his first meet, he'll forget about the other pair. At least that is what I hope.

I'll also keep hoping he has a PR (personal record) in those shoes. And that maybe, tied into the laces, absorbed in the heel, deep within the supportive sole, he'll discover -- without being quite able to pinpoint its origin -- a bit more confidence than he remembers having.

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