Friday, September 01, 2006

Class Purchases

Another morning on my way to Goodwill to reconsider a pair of $2.38 Stride Rite shoes in Una’s current size. It’s after nine. Goodwill’s been open for fifteen minutes. I feel a surge of adrenaline flood through my body at the thought that some other shopper will have found those shoes during my delinquent, fifteen-minute lapse in punctuality. I imagine running through the store, one-year-old slung on my hip, barreling past other would-be purchasers of the used Stride Rite shoes. Will they be on the shelf? Will I find them if they are?

I pull my 2000 Toyota Sienna minivan into the Goodwill parking lot. It is full of shiny minivans and SUVs. This does not look like the fleet of the lower-class, and I consider whether the rest of the clientele this Thursday morning are self-employed or supported by the income of partners or spouses. I am both.

As I hurry to the shoe shelf at the back of the store, I’m overcome with the competitive impulse driving me. This morning it seems I compete with other middle class shoppers, people whose cars are better and shinier than mine, whose husbands or wives, I’m betting, have higher paying jobs than my husband does. I therefore feel deserving of scoring the soft leather Stride Rite shoes, with their doctor-approved arches and specially constructed soles to protect my little girl’s feet. I feel deserving for a second.

And then it occurs to me that I and my fellow shoppers for the day enjoy the privilege of shopping on a Thursday morning, when the vast majority of the working poor are at work. Maybe they get there by Saturday or Sunday, with kids in tow, and grab what they can (if the sizes are right, and even if they’re not . . .). But Stride Rite for the working poor? Even used Stride Rite? Definitely not—because “we’ll” have found them during the week, when we weren’t required to report to work.

The truth is that I can "afford" to buy the new 40$ shoes at the Stride Rite store, and I already afforded them in my budget this Fall. Now granted, I was practical and stuck to sneakers—no leather dress shoes. But my daughter’s feet are well cared for.
And now, in my "free" time, while the four year old is at preschool, I am able to go surfing the second hand shops, shops that are designed to benefit the lower classes, the working poor, students, and the unemployed. I am a middle-class mother padding my daughter’s shoes collection because I can. Not because I need to.

Is the solution for me to buy Stride Rite at the mall in the future? Not anymore, since we are downsizing. Full-priced Stride Rite shoes won’t be on our list of “needs” if we can find them cheaper somewhere else—namely the consignment stores. But today the idea of buying both (full-priced and Goodwill version) leaves a bad taste in my mouth for the excess that will result in my life, and for the deficit in the life of some other deserving working-mother’s daughter.

I arrive at the shoe shelf in Goodwill, my eyes scurrying over the rows until they land on their prize. I pick up the pair in one hand while balancing Evvy on my other hip. I fondle the shoes, review them, recheck the size.

The letter N follows the size designation. N for Narrow. The four-year old doesn’t wear a narrow.

I am relieved.

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