The Shoemaker and the Ceiling Elves

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Buying shoes in the 20th century was nothing like the click-and-meet-up routines people do nowadays over on Facebook (for the love of Zuckerberg, please use Facebook Marketplace, don’t tag random people on pictures of discount Bangladeshi espadrilles).

It was as simple as going to a shoe store, say, Zenco Footstep, have your feet measured with decades-old foot-measuring boards made from iron, and then wait for the saleslady to do the old “size-seven-Tretorn-white-running-training-size-seven-size-seven” routine.  The in-store music was piped in from an eight-track cassette of varied songs, from 80s “Sussudio” to 90s Keempee de Leon songs.

As if summoned by the arcane chants made over inverted microphones dangling from the rafters, the shoe box magically falls from the hole: size seven Treton white running/training shoes, if you ordered them.

The shoe is fitted, tested, wrapped, and the discount Rambo sandals thrown in.  Like magic, so it seems.

Today it speaks of either technological backwardness or inventory efficiency, but nine-year-old me thought of things in terms of “The Shoemaker and the Elves.”  I thought that the shoe store ceiling was a workshop of elven shoemakers that made the Bandolinos, the Kaypees, and the Reeboks.

(Digression: Retailing in the Philippines is an intriguing sort; for all its apparent inefficiencies and weirdness, it works.  Take the chicken-wire mesh-covered windows of the sari-sari store, for example.  The entrepreneurial Filipino has figured a way to turn retail into retail, stopping short of selling the atomic structure of monosodium glutamate.  It’s meta-retailing, hyper-retailing, where toyo and mantika is sold by the spoonful, rice by takal or kilo… and while it does speak of poverty it also echoes ingenuity.  Like shoes magically falling from the sky… or a stockroom staffer manning a cramped space in the ceiling and gets paid by the hour to drop shoes to the waiting arms of salesladies.  End digression.)

I bought a couple of shoes over the holidays, and was rather disappointed at the lack of ceiling-holes in the department store.  The salesmen – apparently, men now man the men’s shoe departments – took a look at your shoe size, walked back to the stockroom, and came back with another shoe.  The left one, to be precise: the kind of modern, urban shoe-fitting that requires a bit of kandirit to get done and over with.

All this, while the engrossing-bordering-on-annoying hits of Jovit Baldivino (and the dance remixes) play in the background.  The shoe fits – or so I assume – and is paid for, with some promotional leaflet for China phones is stapled into the plastic bag.  The shoe box was even more disappointing when I opened it: those little packets of dessicant were gone, the shoes now made from “odor-free leather” that didn’t need those beads-in-a-bag things.  Darn… and back in the day you can still haggle for a pair of socks to be thrown in with a pair of Adidas.  Crappy, but it beats the heck out of a trip to Greenhills for a P500 pair of imitation shoes that last you a week.

It’s the beginning of a new decade of the new millennium, and I sometimes wonder where my generation lies between the angst of Gen X, the urgency of fin de siecle digital natives, and the emos and jejemons in our midst.  Yet the quirks of growing up somewhere in between the tide of Facebook and the slide of big-hair glam metal makes me think if our generation has something to remember the past by when we grow old enough for “during our time” stories…

I guess the ceiling elves that brought down my shoes when I was nine count.

* – Image sourced from here.

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