As a result of comments made on Laurence’s blog, it is incumbent on me to share a first draft of some description. This makes me really uncomfortable. But anyway. My prompt (from Fliss) was the word ‘shoes’.
My name is Jed Nunson. I am a shoe salesman. I am a good shoe salesman. I have certificates and order books to prove it. I have sold shoes in half a dozen towns in this county, and I must have measured the feet of half the State.
I was taught the trade by my grandfather. He ran a small shoe shop, specialising in shoes for the working man. He charged more than Mellville’s, but he had a smooth manner and a loyal customer base. My mother and I moved in with him when father left to join the navy. It was only later I found out he had simply plain left – run away – not so much as taken a spare pair of laces.
Times were tough. Mother took to working in the shop, and I would help out with deliveries and general errand-running. My grandfather had a shoe-related tale for every lesson in life. I’d catch him drinking from a hipflask and he’d laugh at me and tell me he was polishing his tongue. You could always tell when he was closing a sale with the incomers working in the big new buildings in the town centre. He’d say ‘shoes maketh the man’, and smile and slap the other fellow on the back. He wasn’t always so polite afterwards, when they couldn’t make their payments on their hundred dollar shoes. I understand now.
He always made sure I had the best polished and fancily laced shoes at school. I guess he figured I was an advertisement or something for the shop. Other kids used to laugh at me, with my mirror-shine shoes and patchwork clothes. But I understood. Or I thought I did.
When I was old enough my grandfather gave me a book. It was about walking a mile in another man’s shoes. I took him at his word and traded my shoes with a boy from the other side of the tracks. My mother gave me a hell of a beating that day. But my grandfather understood. And he made me wear them shoes for a month until my feet bled.
I remember seeing my first pair of sneakers. Nate Edwards came in the store one dusty Saturday afternoon looking for some church shoes for his little Jimmy. Nate was wearing some Converse Hi-Tops. I’d only seen them on the TV before. My grandfather was horrified. He’d fitted Nate for black Oxfords ever since the man could walk – thirty years of one-pair-a-year custom going up in canvas and rubber.
That evening grandfather shouted and threw mother’s food all over the kitchen. He kept saying the world was coming to an end. ‘Grown men wearing children’s shoes’. And in a sense he was right. A bible salesman once tried to explain that you can’t spread the word of God in anything but Italian leather. I didn’t buy the bible, but he was right about the shoes.
I guess that’s when things started to go wrong. Less customers meant less shoes sold meant less shoes repaired meant less laces sold. Boxes of boot polish and little brush sets started piling up in the back room. And the place started to smell more of the whisky that grandfather kept under the counter. Mellville’s diversified, my grandfather didn’t.
I guess mother should have left then. Could have left then. She was still young enough to learn another trade. But she was still hoping one day my father would return and pick up the shoes he’d left at the end of the bed. And she liked mending things. When the work started drying up, she kinda disappeared into herself a little more.
I moved out on my 21st birthday. I took a job in another town up the highway in a Mellville’s franchise outlet. My first day was tough. My co-workers found my ways stuffy and threw shoe-horns at me when I told the customers they were wrong to but athletic footwear over american formal wear. But I learnt. And by the end of the month I was outselling the rest of the team combined.
That was 20 years ago now. I’ve sold a lot of shoes. Some good. Most of them bad. My grandfather passed on, and mother’s now in a home. I go to visit her and usually find her sewing. She’s not so unhappy. In grandfather’s will he left me his silver plated polishing set, which I keep in the car and use for impressing the important clients. They like the personal touch. Even if they’re only buying shoes.
I guess I’ll keep selling shoes till I die now. It’s in my blood. But people don’t respect you any more. They don’t care for craft or comfort. I wonder about this country. But most of all I wonder about their shoes.
Oh dang and blast it, you’ve now gone and made it incumbent on me to pass comment on your work. The shoe is on the other foot.
Well. I liked it. I felt like I was seeing the world from inside Jed’s head and there were things about the world that I/Jed never quite *got*; the depths behind things, the reasons why people do stuff. Jed’s kind of made it in life maybe in spite of who he is, maybe because of who he is.
It’s a neat arc from beginning to end. The narrative description is light yet more than enough to conjure up scenes from Jed’s childhood, my imagination filling in the gaps. I could almost smell those well-made shoes, that leathery gluey smell.
The reference to Converse Hi-tops dated the story perfectly, linking that pivotal moment in Jed’s and his grandfather’s life to the present day, 20 years later. In fact, the ‘present’ could be 10 years ago if the Hi-tops Nate wore were brand new. Heh, I get kind of hung up about period detail like that. Anyone know what London filling stations looked like in 1968? Specifically, did they have canopies overhead? I really really need to know…
What didn’t I quite get? What was the book Jed’s grandfather gave him? Should I twig that, or is it just something to carry the phrase about walking a mile?
Finally: tagged with ‘bears’? What?
Double finally: if that is a first draft then gawd knows where you’re going to polish it. Unless it’s just the prologue to the novel of Jed’s life. Which I, for one, would read.
Thanks for reading. Feels very, very weird. Whic h is exactly how it’s meant to feel, but hey….
Confession – the hi-tops thing just happened ‘in the moment’. Probably dates me more than Jed.
The quote is from ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ – to walk a mile in another man’s shoes. I think it’s Atticus who says this to Scout. I’m not a great rememember of things, so may have got this wrong (and one of my pet hates in corporate life is people who spend their speeches quoting others).
The tag. Well. I spend most of my working life evangelising tags and the semantic web. It’s strangely cathartic to attach arbitrary tags to things. I would have created a new tag for this instance, but I didn’t have time to think about it post-modernly.
(Rememberer and post-modernly in one comment. The OED would be proud.)
Ah, Harper Lee. Yes, I do remember now. It’s probably just me who didn’t twig.
So does this mean I need to write more? Or are you ready to have a butchers at The Novel? Or a bit of it, at least?
Having said that, I would like to see more of your stuff. There is more, isn’t there? Please don’t tell me this is it, that you are now a dried-out husk devoid of all creativity…