The Civil Air Patrol and the trials of the Parisian Stilettos
My, how time flies. Just a few short months ago (that’s right, not weeks, but months) I had every intention of posting a weekly update of my progress on the third complete rewrite of my action-packed suspense novel Risk. As many of you have reminded me, I fell way short of my goal.
I’m tempted to bombard you with a litany of reasons why my attention was diverted elsewhere, but as everyone knows, excuses are like backsides–everybody has one and they all stink.
I’ll cut to the chase. The book is finished. I’ve research a dozen or so agents, drafted query letters and signed up for a series of literary conferences hoping to find an agent/publisher.
Needless to say, I’ve been busy. And with all unnecessary explanations aside, there’s one particular distraction I’d like to share.
The weather was unseasonably warm for a Sunday afternoon in February. Even the meteorologist on channel six seemed surprised as he stared at the monitor and pointed to the forecasted high of 84 degrees.
Sun-drenched, I teetered between a lethargic trance and full-blown nap. (a snap as my mother likes to say.) My eyes grew heavy and I sunk into the woven chase lounge.
Ring…ring, ring…The clang echoed old school. (I might be one of the last humans on the earth who hasn’t learned how to download a signature ringtone–forgive me)
Shaken from my “snappie”, I grabbed my cell and answered. The voice on the line was familiar, a fellow board member from the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. I listened and after a few “ah-ha’s”, we hung-up.
A light breeze splashed across my face and my eyes popped open. Was I dreaming?
My cohort asked me to fill in as the guest speaker at the Civil Air Patrol awards/graduation ceremony. Humbly, I accepted.
A week later, I’d prepared a well-researched and rehearsed speech. Only one obstacle stood between me and the awards banquet. What was I going to wear?
I copped a squat on the floor of my closet and stared at the double hung wardrobe.
BILCF (before I left corporate flying) this was a no-brainer. I’d wear my uniform, my standard issued navy blue pants suit, white epaulette shirt, black belt and, if I was feeling a little crazy, a patterned tie. (most likely navy blue and burgundy)
But AILCF (after I left corporate flying) wardrobe decisions became more complicated. Now I was a writer. A free spirit, unshackled from the conservative and sometimes uncomfortable fashion constraints inflicted on pilots.
I scanned my suits. My eyes defaulted to the black tailored two-buttoned jacket and matching pencil skirt. “No,” I shook off my provincial instincts. I got up and fingered my dresses.
When the airy fabric brushed my hand, I knew exactly what to wear. The tomato red, one-shoulder fitted dress replaced my navy regalia.
One down, one to go. I glanced at the shoe shelves. My eyes scanned from right to left. No, no, no. And then…I stopped.
Black, chunky lace-ups or nude patent stilettos?
My instincts wailed, “Wear the black ones.”
I gripped the thick soles between my fingers and held the shinned dress shoes in front of my face. There was no denying the truth. They were ugly.
But the grooved bottom never slipped from the rudder pedals during taxi or braking. And the double-wide sole gripped the tarmac even if the asphalt was coated in glycol. (the thick, gooey fluid sprayed on airplane’s control surfaces when it’s icy or snowing) A lesson I learned after falling flat on my ass in front of passengers who had already expressed interest in checking my driver’s license to make sure I was old enough to fly (long live the gripping lace-ups). I squeezed my faithfulls to my chest.
Just then, a stream of sunlight angled through a crack in the doorway and illuminated the runner-ups. The reflection from the creamy patent caught my attention.
My vision narrowed and my practical flying shoes tumbled to the floor. Make no mistake. The five-inch platform stilettos were the new me.
Besides, the eighteen-year pass the fashion police indulged me was certainly due to expire. The A.P.B issued on my clodhoppers was at least worth a healthy ticket, if not possibly a fashionless life sentence.
Staying true to my “alpha introvert” nature, I hyper-prepared the thirty-minute motivational speech until it flawlessly rolled off my tongue. The evening closed with the ceremonial changing of the colors–A perfect finish to an exceptional celebration.
Outside the auditorium, the warm, southerly breeze enticed me to walk. Invigorated, I carefully strutted down the cobblestone drive and headed home.
Back at the ranch, I plopped onto the glider on the porch and carefully removed my shoes.
“Ah,” I gasped. As turned the heels over, I noticed the beautiful red soles pocked with road raspberry.
How did this happen? Today was only the second time I’d worn the shoes. My thoughts fired. How much did I pay for these impractical, however, highly fashionable heels? (buying shoes to suit the new me was definitely busting my budget.)
Frantic, I phoned a sympathetic ear. I stammered. “Aren’t you supposed to walk in them?”
“What?” My friend asked.
“What do you mean? Of course…” She paused. “Oh, you don’t mean those five-inch patent beauties?
“I wore them to give the graduation speech and then walked home.”
“You wore them outside?”
My stomach cramped.
“Oh no,” she tisked. “Those are inside shoes.”
“What do you mean? Who makes shoes you can’t wear outside?”
“Apparently designer you admire. I have to admit, I was kind of surprised when you picked the platform.”
“Since when? You’re an outdoor girl.”
“With indoor shoes.” I envisioned my hard-earned cash bursting up in flames and then disconcerting into the atmosphere.
I’m sure she knew what irrational thoughts were running through my mind and quickly staged an intervention. “I’ve got a guy who can help.”
I held the broken down pumps in my lap. “I’m not letting some hare-brained repair guy get his soiled hands on theses skyscrapers.”
She spoke slower. “We’ve been friends for our entire lives. Would I send your precious stems to just any random cobbler?”
“No,” my lip quivered. “I guess not.”
“Otto has a master’s in shoe restoration.”
“I don’t care if he went to “Shoe U”, he’s not putting his nubby digits on my investment.”
“He specialized in soft sole repair.”
“He studied under one of the most revered cobblers in Germany.”
“I don’t know, doesn’t matter just send them to me and I’ll take him to Otto, the stiletto whisperer.”
Two days later, the shoes arrived at Otto’s Shoe Concierge.
My friend put me on video conference and walked through the door. Two soft bells chimed as the screen closed behind her.
She used her phone to pan the 3’ x 3’ space—antiquated counter, distressed cash register, shelves covered with shoes bagged in plastic—exactly as I expected. I remembered her saying his shop smelled like aged parmesan cheese. (not fresh grated, but the kind that comes in a green metallic can.)
“What have we here?” A short, portly man with a heavy accent stood in front of the counter.
My friend gently passed my shoes to him. She whispered, “He has clean hands.”
He held the heels at arm’s length. He turned and twisted them and even sniffed the inner seams. Finally, he ran his thumbs over the distressed sole.
He shook his head. “You know, shoes like these, not meant for walking.”
I envisioned my friend nodding in agreement.
He shrugged. “I cannot think of reason to buy shoes like these.”
Great, dissed by the shoe guru. The imaginary fumes from a wasted dollar bonfire blazed before my eyes.
“Can you fix them?” She asked.
Otto put the shoes on the counter and ran his hands across his stained canvas apron. And after another glance, he frowned. “I make them have purpose,” he pointed his finger through the air, like a parochial school nun. “I make them inside and outside shoes.”
“Perfect.” That was the last word I heard and my friend hung up.
Suddenly, I had a sinking feeling my shoes would never be the same.
A week later, UPS dropped a shoe-sized box at my door. Dying to see the makeover, I tore open the container half-expecting to see a pair of patent “Fit Flops”. Much to my surprise, they looked exactly the same.
I studied the top, the side–no change. My heart raced.
I flipped them over. The buttery soft leather with the signature red finish was replaced with a neutral, nothing special, non-skid pad. I grabbed the matching heel. Taped to the bottom of the second sole was a handwritten note from Otto. Walk on.
I slid the pumps on and cruised across the wood floor. So far, so good. I eyed the door. My hand reached for the handle, flung the door open and I high-tailed it down the front walk. Glided like the wind.
When I stepped on the rough surfaced street, I twisted, turned and then jogged into the grass. I quickly kicked off the shoes and examined the soles. Not a single, scuff.
I smiled. The shoes were perfect. Tall and fashionable, with a sturdy foundation to meet whatever circumstance I encountered both indoors or out.
Perhaps I was a little too anxious to let go of my uniform. The all-weather wool suit and the practical shoes served me well for nearly twenty years. Maybe instead letting go of the past, I needed to hold on to the part of my flying experience that served me.
A practical, rational side with a strong sense of fashion. Now that’s me.
I guess Otto was exactly as advertised. A true doctor of lost soles.