She's Gone.Each holiday season I’m blessed with a shadow that follows me even when there’s no light. This shadow’s scientific name is I-Want-To-Poke-Out-My-Own-Eyeballs-Itis. How do you know if you have The Itis? Symptoms present themselves as frequent forays into downward, spiraling staircases lined with gilded frames, each one shedding a golden glow on a 3-D image of each mistake you have ever made since and including the day you were born. Other symptoms include a black cloud resting like a cat across your shoulders who, on a constant loop, recites “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” You can remember studying this poem in English your junior year in high school, but the only thing you can actually recall is the intensity-in-ten-cities loneliness of it. This will make your jaw tighten, another symptom of The Itis. Another symptom of The Itis: You will slowly start to realize that your skin doesn’t fit you, so you will use binder clips to tighten up the loose skin that sags around you. At first you’ll try to binder clip the loose layers under your clothes, but this will be cumbersome, so you’ll end up binder clipping everything once you’re dressed. When you walk around town all binder clipped, people will think you’re either fashion forward or mentally ill. To relieve The Itis, I go to Heaven. Heaven is a secret lounge on Lower Michigan, suspiciously close to Billy Goat’s, which is accessed by placing your hand on a very specific spot on the Lower Mich wall and simultaneously reciting “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Upon running your fingerprint and voice waves through its high-tech fingerprint and voice wave recognition system, the door will open and voila! Shoe Wonderland.Maintain your composure. No one likes a dipshit in Shoe Wonderland. Remain centered.
The first thing you will notice is that The Black Keys are playing. Not a recording of The Black Keys, the actual humans that make up the band are playing songs, off to the right, under a willow tree. They will take requests. They will play “Freebird.” They won’t laugh at you when you ask.
And now you may have the wherewithal to look right in front of you, which is something you knew you couldn’t do when you first walked in because you have been taught that the bright lights of a dream manifested will burn your corneas into the middle of next week. You have become attached to your corneas, so you take your Shoe Wonderland reconnaissance mission seriously. But now, you can look.Before you is the manicured and tapered garden lawn of Versailles, but instead of long rectangles of cordoned-off foliage, there are long rectangles of cordoned-off shoes—shoes popping out of shrubs, hanging languorously off shoe trees, blossoming up from flower beds of shoe bulbs. Yes, Alert Power Love Reader, there is a God.
The peep toe leopard print three-inch wedge heel ankle boots are in the third shoe bed, hanging from the second shoe tree. I march right over, pluck the right shoe, kick off my boring shoe, and pop the wedge on my foot. Five binder clips pop off my shoulders. These leopard print ankle boots are not functional shoes, so I won’t be able to wear them for shows with my polka band, Functional Shoes (playing nightly at the VFW on Route 80).
And then, from the back of the garden, I hear a rockin screech a la Robert Plant and suddenly the sun turns into a disco ball, the trees that line either side of the shoe beds start swinging their hips and snapping their branches like fingers. At the far end of the garden, the shrubbery opens and a blast of red and blue and yellow lights explodes out, rages up to the sun, then falls back on the garden in dandelion-like flakes, which, when resting on the ground, occasionally pop with a spark of light whenever the disco ball sun rotates on them. Here comes the smoke. Then: “Kashmir”—the song, Led Zeppelin—blasting out of the clouds, which are now Bose speakers.“Kashmir” is playing because the last live performance I saw was Peter Pan at Lookingglass, which is a theatre with many consonants. Captain Hook raged out on stage, though I think he thought he was in Neverland, not Lookingglass, and he was wearing a killer ass coat and don’t think I didn’t consider coat robbing him, but that’s rude, especially since he was trying to convey a sense of superiority and coat robbing a one-handed pirate who’s trying to convey superiority is not the best way to establish a relationship. Trust me on this, Alert Power Love Reader, I speak from experience. Out of the smoke comes this 100-person army rockin the choreography from Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” video and, um, shit, I kinda don’t want to deal with an army of well-choreographed Janet Jacksons. I just wanna try on nonfunctional shoes. I readjust a few binder clips at my knees.Behind the army of Janet Jacksons, on a carriage pulled by six white horses, I can see The Manicurist. I know this because there’s a sign, in neon, floating over her head that says, “The Manicurist.” There’s a neon arrow pointing down, in case you get confused. I kinda always wish “confused” was really “cornfused.” It just feels righter to me. Maybe that’s the Midwest talking.While the white carriage takes its time rolling over to me, I wonder if Girl Talk ever mashed up “Kashmir” and “Rhythm Nation.” I think I should pass this idea along because that dude takes my calls.
It’s possible the beats don’t match, though. I consider this because the army of Janet Jacksons coming at me seems to be moving all herky-jerky, like they’re just now emerging from a mirage and have that watery veneer over them. Their sharp movements—knees, elbows, heads—are a millisecond off beat, giving them the dance equivalent of off-track lip synching. The chariot pulls alongside me and I say to The Manicurist, “More percussion. That’s the solution to everything.” I nod at the hundreds of Janet Jacksons, now standing still in at-attention formation across the grass.“Preaching to the choir, sweetheart,” The Manicurist sings over to me while waving a beautifully adorned hand at the Janet Jackson army. Her nails are long and Kermit the Frog green. She is rocking the green. She has curly black hair. She is wearing a killer ass coat. She is the exact opposite of Captain Hook.
This cornfuses me for a minute, until I realize that The Black Keys have been covering “Kashmir” for the last twelve minutes and it SOUNDS AWESOME. These guys should make a record. The Manicurist descends from her carriage with the help of her four horsemen, dressed in white, no death scythes anywhere to be seen. The Manicurist points at my toes, two of which are sticking out of the peep toe of the three-inch wedge heel ankle boot that is currently engulfing my right foot. “Oh. No. Nonononono,” she says. The marching band, which I’m only just now noticing because it’s lined up behind the white carriage, plays the drum sequence from Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” The Black Keys play the final notes of “Kashmir,” then all music goes silent. Everyone turns to look at my toes.OK. The thing is, in this moment, my toes are a pale pink, which I thought would give me a clean look, but I’m so pale I’m purple, so really the pale pink just makes me look dead, which is apparently disconcerting for others.
“That is not working for you,” The Manicurist says to me. Everyone—the marching band, the four horsemen, the six white horses, the hundred-person Janet Jackson army—nods their heads in perfect Bob Fosse unison. I say, “But I was thinking that it—” “You were thinking you could shoe horn something that doesn’t work into something that does work, right? Rhetorical question. Save your breath. The age-old fight—square peg, round hole,” The Manicurist says.
She struts over to me, looking me up and down. She walks slowly around me, like she’s looking for something. “It’s time to make a change. You need something that works for you. That color is ugly.” Five more binder clips pop off me, from where I don’t know because I have about a million of these suckers clipped all over me. “Ah ha, but it’s the ugly I know,” I tell her. This is an insightful comment, I think, and I’m sure I will surprise her with my overwhelming enlightenmentness. “But there’s Beautiful in the world, so let’s go for that,” she says. She pulls from her sequined fanny pack a bottle of nail polish remover and a cotton ball. I take a step back. “Um. But this is the ugly I know,” I tell her. What is she, nuts? You can’t just walk up to someone and change their nail polish color. Not on their toes. Not in Shoe Wonderland. “Yes,” she says still walking towards me, “but there’s Beautiful out there.” “Well, I know, I hear you, but this is—” “I ARRIVED ON A CHARIOT THAT EMERGED FROM SMOKE WHILE “KASHMIR” BLASTED FROM CLOUD SPEAKERS. SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME.”She had a point. Anyone who can make an entrance like that, more than likely has inside information on proper toe nail polish. Not everyone can pull off a “Kashmir” entrance. “OK,” I said, “but no funny stuff. I define ‘funny stuff’ as Barbie pink and Kermit the Frog green.” “Where do you stand on eggplant?” She asks. “The color or the vegetable?” “The vegetable.” “Um, well, grilled it’s good, but sometimes—” “OK, we’ll also have to work on sarcasm recognition. I don’t give a shit about your tastes in vegetables. Your toe nail color is eggplant. To work, then.”With that, I am suddenly engulfed in a whirl of smoke and lights and music. There is a foot massage and top coat involved. I hear a version of the Stones’ “Monkey Man” played with mostly strings and piano. When it all clears out, my toes are perfectly polished, I’m wearing fashionable shoes that go with my outfit and are also walkable, and I feel like my skin fits me. There is a mountain of binder clips stacked next to me. I look me up and down. “Nice job,” I say to The Manicurist. “Change is absolutely frightening, absolutely necessary,” The Manicurist says to me. “Poetical,” I reply. “Yeah,” she says, “I’m sponsored by Halliburton. That’s their tagline for 2011. Expect bombs.” She turns and climbs back into her chariot. I expect a big to-do exit, what with the Janet Jackson army, the white horses, the horsemen, the marching band. But instead, they all just disappear, like disintegrating condensation on the bathroom mirror.When I’m left alone in Shoe Wonderland, I look down at my feet. I’m wearing blue suede YSL pumps. They are four inches tall. They have stiletto heels. I hold my breath and as I do, I grow huge, taller than the trees, taller than the taller trees, taller than the clouds, until I am so tall, I’m taller than the whole world that Shoe Wonderland exists in, so I step out of it and stand in the galaxy. The planet of Shoe Wonderland is like a balloon, resting half deflated at my foot. I look out into the rest of the galaxy. There’s a planet to the left that looks just perfect for me. I look down. With my right foot, I aim my stiletto at the balloon, then pop it quickly and efficiently with the graceful point of my heel. There is something in the air that I can’t quite put my finger on; it smells like fresh flowers, now it’s like the forest immediately after a summer rain. I start walking towards that planet to the left that looks just perfect for me. Now I recognize that smell in the air.
It smells like hope.