The Long Walk in Search Of Shoe Satisfaction

Normally I don't notice the details of generation gaps. I wear jeans and T-shirts, just as I did when I was a teenager. My hair isn't cut much differently. I'm wearing the same silver jewelry I wore in my 20s, and I play the same music my daughters do. The great divide, however, is shoes.

I never used to really think much about shoes. Ever since I swore off high heels, I've had a fairly functional, basic shoe wardrobe: Nikes for running, thongs for the beach, Birkenstocks and sneakers for around the house, flats and very low heels for work and dressing up. Recently I discovered an addition to this basic collection: shoes so comfortable you could walk to the ends of the earth in them. They're made out of suede with little elastic things on the side. My daughters have declared these shoes, along with my dress-up shoes, eyesores. Lately they seem to be personally offended by my shoe collection. They themselves wear shoes that look like the ones my father used to wear to the office. Or sometimes they wear gigantic Mary Janes or misshapen, nightmare versions of sneakers.

For Christmas, one daughter gave me a pair of shoes that look like chopped-off boots. They look serious, like office shoes. My friend loves them and, for reasons I don't understand, finds them attractive. So I keep them. And encouraged by this reaction, I buy a similar style by my favorite shoemaker. They're made out of black suede, elastic on the sides, with cork soles.

My family rolls their eyes collectively and groans when I appear in these shoes for the first time.

Finally I decide to go shoe shopping with the daughter who wears the gigantic Mary Janes. I'm tired of my family laughing at my feet. I'll buy something we all like, just to shut them up and get them to stop rolling their eyes. I pick out a pair of Italian slip-ons made out of caramel-colored leather. I am assured that these shoes will become soft and comfortable with wear. (The above words should send off warning alarms and flashing red lights in all shoe stores.)

I pay more for the Italian shoes, which in truth are rather like bedroom slippers, than I have ever paid for shoes in my whole life. The price is obscene, but I want just one pair of shoes that I like and my daughters don't ridicule. I envision marching through time in these shoes. They will go with everything - jeans, shorts, long skirts.

And they may yet, once they get soft and supple, which has not happened, and will only happen if they're worn all the time. But who wants to wear shoes all the time that are stiff and uncomfortable? It's the Catch-22 of shoes.

SO I buy another pair of shoes that are called river sandals by the sales clerk. Presumably you can walk into rivers wearing these rubber waterproof shoes. They're comfortable and practical. My boyfriend says they're the ugliest shoes on earth, and when was the last time I went walking in a river? But my daughters love them, and one questions me: Where did I get them? Are they comfortable? What size are they? She's leaving for Italy in a few days and wants to find a pair for herself. So I give her the river shoes. Besides, I like the idea of my shoes walking all over Rome and Florence.

I'm beginning to understand Imelda Marcos. It's the reverse of not-the-destination-but-the-journey. When it comes to shoes, it is the destination: finding that one pair of shoes that will free you from ever thinking about shoes again. And I'm still looking.

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