Unrealistic expectations and cheap shoes are responsible for a lot of misery. I know. I’ve dealt with both.

I bought my first pair of high heels at a thrift shop when I was 15. My first set of unrealistic dreams arrived at precisely the same time.

It was 1972, and platform shoes, patchwork suede boots and patent leather loafers were all the rage. But the 1940s fashions were also having a comeback. Since my only income was a regular baby-sitting job that paid 50 cents an hour, I became an early and adept Salvation Army shopper.

The navy blue heels I bought could have been worn by the Andrews Sisters when they sang “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in 1941. But they also could have been worn by Bette Midler singing the same song when it became a hit on the B-side of her cover of “Delta Dawn.”

I was ready to boogie, to prance, to dance. Only, because the $1.50 shoes were at least a size too small, I could barely move in them. All of a sudden, I became quiet and dainty in my movements. It wasn’t a personality transformation, like where the tomboy shakes out her ponytail and becomes all feminine. I was silent and self-contained because I was in misery and in pain, but too proud to confess it.

And that’s when a cute boy asked me out.

He thought he was asking out a demure little creature. I tried to become one. The romance didn’t last long; personality, like murder, will out.

Small scars from both experiences have lasted until today.

But at least I learned that those who refuse to acknowledge the deleterious effects of inappropriate footwear and impracticable hopes remain in a condition of chronic, yet avoidable, distress.

Some of my brighter friends learned these lessons earlier. Former colleague Patricia Juliana Smith learned from her mother, “who had lived through periods of terrible poverty and thus was inclined to pinch pennies (and who) told me to allow myself to pay full price for two things: shoes and perfume. Cheap shoes and cheap perfume do a woman no good.”

J. Barrett Wolf, a friend from high school who accompanied me on those thrift shop outings, draws his footwear wisdom from author Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s character Samuel Vines has a ” ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness” that goes as follows: “A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

Vines concludes that the rich stay rich because, in the long run, they spend less money.

Cheap shoes, even if they’re pretty, and dreams that confine you, even if they’re fashionable, will wear you out, wear you down and make you miserable if they aren’t a good fit. In other words, if the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.

It’s hard, when we’re given images of life on Easy Street, to imagine walking a mile in the shoes of those who live in an apparently glittering world where stepping comfortably and gracefully is the norm. But much of the world is roughshod, and it’s better to toughen up than to kid yourself into believing you’re protected, supported and on solid ground even when you’re not.

I wear flat shoes with sturdy insoles these days. They’re expensive, but they aren’t glamorous and dazzling. My ambitions are much the same: realistic, sensible and grounded. They might not make me seem alluring but they keep a smile on my face and, with care, they’ll last for years.


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