The Red Wing Shoe Store

7 Feb

Did I ever tell you the story about the shoes?

Like all good evenings, it started with a glass of gin.

Rather, it began with several glasses of gin.  And one can of Lienies, shotgunned to prove a year-long quest for championing bragging rights.

I like to think it was a Saturday night, but since in those college years every night opened itself up to unbounded zest and possibility, it very well could have been a Thursday or Friday. Or, really, a Wednesday, Monday or Tuesday.  It definitely wasn’t a Sunday, though.  In fact, I think it was a Thursday.

After rambling chats and a few slamming of drinks in my apartment up the street, my partner, my buddies and I moved the gathering down to the bar a few blocks away.   It was that perfect late summer-heat, the kind that leaves small beads of perspiration on your back and pushes you to laugh just a little bit harder and love the swoon of liquor just one moment grander.

Together around the table, the five of us drank and argued and  toasted to the complete perfection of the evening. My poor partner, bless his heart, finished his drink, smiled, and with the pushing-in of his chair, bid us all a good night; while some of us could sleep off the evening in the morning, he had to face an early shift that was already all too near. We saw him off and with a sloppy kiss I wished him well. He smiled, patted my head, kissed me on the nose, and promised I’d be safe and Not Be Stupid and call if I needed anything.

We wandered over and got a burrito, of course, and devoured them on the corner.  We stopped into our favorite place, saved for last, and finished the evening with found friends and too much loud music.   Since we’d spent our last dollars and were now regretting the burritos that sat poorly on top of gallons of booze, it was decided It Was Time To Go.

I still remember the exact feel of peeling out into the cooling evening, the heat of the cramped bar behind me and the street lights buzzing on the crowded streets. Everyone in town, it seemed, couldn’t get enough of the Indian summer. With hugs and slaps and promises to meet up for breakfast, we separated ways and I turned back home.

And that’s when I saw him.

He looked familiar, though he was tucked a little into the corner between buildings, shadows covering a bit of his face.  When I walked a little further down, I recognized him as one of the high-school kids I worked with at the waterpark that summer, The Worst Job I’ve Ever Had In My Life, Ever.

I turned back to gaze a little harder, not to catch eyes and say hello but because around his neck hung three pairs of laced work boots, a pair of unlaced ones on his feet and another in his hands.  Despite mild tipsiness, I was fairly certain this was Extraordinary.

“Liv!” he shouted. “Hey! Come on! We’re taking the shoes!”

I blinked a few times and laughed in surprise, then stopped.  Through his spurts and general blubberiness, he managed to explain that he had been walking past when he noticed the doors to the Red Wing Shoe Store had been left open.

“And,” he continued, “no one can even see inside. I’m waiting here til a friend of mine gets back and we’re going for more.”

He was right: you couldn’t see anything.  With the spacing of lamp posts and the angle of the door, anyone could have been going in and out  all evening. Which, it seemed, was the plan.

I stammered a bit, raised a finger, opened my mouth to respond — and bolted.

Blame it on being the middle child, a bossy rule-follower, a former 5th grade Safety Patrol Captain; chalk it up to being a goody-two-shoes, an acts-tough-but-tries-hard-in-school attitude, a desire to Do The Right Thing; call me a snitch and a narc and a tattle-tale but my immediate and full reaction pushed me to Get Some Cops.

Full of stamina, a lifetime of following the rules, and one too many gimlets, I rushed down the street, scanning for the cops that always stood watch on the college town street but of course were no where in sight.  I reached into my pocket to pull out my cell phone, realizing I could easily call for back up on this mission that had suddenly consumed every inch of me and needed – nay, demanded! – my full and undivided attention.

You see, it was just too much.

Not only was he stealing, but from the Red Wing Shoe Store. The shoe store! Quite possibly the smallest and most adorable store ever. I walked past the shop every day to class, the small frame of the elderly owner hunched in back, shuffling papers and stacking boxes –  the quintessential owner of a small, family owned business. It was really quite a depressingly perfect place.

And he was stealing! He was breaking the law!  I hardly knew him aside from his name and the fact that we did, in fact, share an employer but I’d yet to see him actually turn up for a shift, and any loyalty I’d felt towards him vanished the moment he laughed at the misery of that poor old man.

I felt injustice! I felt violated! I felt several ales cursing through my veins!

When I finally managed to pull my phone from my pocket, it was, of course, dead.

I looked around, panicked. There were dozens of people out but at that moment I knew there was only one thing to do.

Three minutes later, out of breath and even more jacked up, I burst through my sleeping partner’s front door having run the seven blocks to his house at world record pace.  Switching on all the lights, I swung open his bedroom door to find him rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Wha -” he started.

“SHOES!” I shouted. “Give… me… your… PHONE. 9-1-1!” I stammered between breaths.

I rushed his nightstand for his phone and ran into his blocked arm.

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Calm down. What are you doing?” He tried to pull some clarity, which is fair, given that the last time he saw me I was leading a brigade of fellow lushes on a quest for Mexican, but I was having none of it.


With Wonder Woman strength, I pulled the phone from his hands and dialed 9-1-1.

Still out of breath and trying to shush a confused partner from ruining what had now amounted in my mind to a Threat to National Security, I spoke to the kindly dispatcher.

“The shoes!” I continued, picking up with her where I’d left off.

“Ma’am,” she said, “you’re going to have to calm down and be more specific. I am here to help you.”

“Okay,” I said, taking deep breaths. The room was a little swimmy, my heart was racing, I felt a tugging need to toss up some cookies,  but this was it.

Finally, in one long breath, I blurted out the entire story, including the summer heat and the waterpark and the fact that right now, they were stealing his shoes and It Needed To Be Stopped.

She paused. She asked me if I was okay, if anyone was hurt, and if I could repeat again what was happening and where.

“Lady,” I said. “The shoes.” I heard her talking to someone in the background.

“Ma’am,” she came back. “We just got another call about a break in at a shoe store downtown and are sending officers over. Is this what you are trying to tell me?”

“YES!” I shouted. We had done it! We had saved the country.

“Is there also something happening with the burritos? I didn’t understand that part,” she said.

I told her that they were just simply delicious, thanked her for her help, and hung up the phone.

With an unwarranted smugness, I gave my partner back his phone, smiled at our bravery, told him not to worry, I’d fixed it all, and promptly passed out on the couch.




In this crazy Year of Gladness, I am infinitely pleased to stumble across this video today from my beautiful city and the Red Wing Shoe, Co.  During this week of long trips away from site, weird hospital visits, missing home and everything stable, I loved seeing familiar sights and thinking of ridiculous days with beautiful people and the craziness of life that makes things all worth it.


Press close, bare-bosomed Night! Press close, magnetic,
nourishing Night!
Night of south winds!  Night of the large, few stars!
Still, nodding Night!  Mad, naked, Summer Night!
~Walt Whitman


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