Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cheap-Ass Shoes

I went to Google Images just now and started typing the phrase "cheap Walmart..." and wasn't surprised when the number-one auto-complete suggestion was "cheap Walmart shoes." I'm wearing a pair right now. My spare pair at home is a pair of CWSes. The pair I just threw away yesterday, when I bought the new pair I am now wearing, were also CWSes. Three different styles, three different prices, but all tantalizingly within the price-point I can actually manage these days. And they're complete rubbish.

I'm not surprised at this. Not at all. I've been buying this rubbishy footwear for years. The shoes' cheapness is offset by the oftenness with which I have to replace them. But every time I scrape together enough cash to invest in shoes of a higher quality and more durable construction, some other more urgent demand arises, and I have to settle for either the $13 running shoes with the velcro closures, or the $20 slip-on ones, or maybe (if I'm really flush) the $24 loafers with a glossy finish. Oh, la la!

And then I have to do it again in about six weeks, feeling like a fool, but unable to break out of the cycle of foolishness.

Like I said, this cycle has been going on for years. But just lately - within, say, the last three months - it has gone into overdrive. Walmart, purveyor of the cheapest of all cheap-ass shoes, has taken its cheap-ass-shoe game to a new level. The superstore chain is now selling shoes that look similar to its cheap-ass-shoe lines of yesteryear, but that are made of noticeably inferior materials.

The soles, in particular, are unprecedentedly non-wear-resistant. They wear out so ridiculously fast that you can practically feel the hope being crushed out of them as they take your weight for the first time. Their tread wears away when you use coarse language in their presence. To puncture their soles, you need only make a pointed observation. After any long fit of standing or walking in them, you are liable to think you would have gotten more arch support in your bare feet. The sensation you get when walking on gravel, sand, or dirt takes you back to your childhood, when you had a potty emergency in the middle of the night and had to stumble blindly through a nursery strewn with Legos while wearing footie pajamas. Bits of dirt, sand, and rock somehow work their way into the interior of the shoes even when there are not yet any visible holes in their soles - which is to say, sometime during the month when you purchased them. At times, while walking across a thick-pile carpet, their well-cushioned insoles convey to you a minute knowledge of the irregularities in the texture of the underlying carpet glue. A stroll down the street in these shoes puts you on familiar terms with the temperature, composition, and condition of the pavement under you - something perhaps of great use to a conscientious taxpayer.

This past Friday, after spending the usual hour or two of my work day with my feet up on the desk, facing the open doorway through which everyone in my office could see the bottom of my shoes from where they sat or walked by,
I realized that my shoes had reached the level of decrepitude made famous by 1952 Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson in this Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo by William Gallagher. When I realized it, I felt presidential. I felt historically significant. I felt like I was going to lose all the skin off the ball of my foot as I dashed across the hot tarmac of the Walmart parking lot, only to take another dose of the same medicine.

I'm discouraged by this sudden plunge in quality, from merely horrible shoes to downright insultingly bad footwear. They're so delicate, you're afraid to look at them wrong. Hold a brand-new shoe in your hands, and the oils in your skin are liable to burn right through them. There is no inner-sole on the market that can cushion your feet enough to remove the impression that the latest in shoe soles are providing no support or protection whatever. Walmart should make sure it has a no-backsies policy for shoes the customer puts on in the store and wears to the check-out counter; they'll be second-hand by the time they get there, and no second foot will ever want them.

I don't mean to make Walmart's cheap-ass shoes a hissing and a byword. I wouldn't be seen anywhere without them. Or to be more precise, I can't afford to be seen anywhere without them. I just can't help noticing this example of what happens when the value of money goes down but the amount of it you're making doesn't change. You can't even get decent shit anymore.

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