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Denise Duhamel – Canzone of a Shoe Salesgirl

Denise Duhamel
Canzone of a Shoe Salesgirl

You could never tell who would want to try on the pumps
and who would want to try on the loafers.
Sometimes the Plain Janes wanted fuck-me pumps
while the dolled up gals opted for a sensible low-heeled pump.
I wore sling backs
when I worked so I could slip them off behind the register and pump
my tired toes into the thick carpet.  Sometimes pumped-
up men, pretending to look at sneakers
or workbooks, would sneak
into the women’s department, where I worked, and ask for red size-12 pumps
obviously for themselves.  Kids pulled adult-sized flip flops
from the shelves, put them on, and flopped

onto the carpet.  At the end of each season we marked down the flops–
the size-7 lime-green bridesmaid pumps
a customer asked us to dye but then never came to pick up, the floppy
slippers designed with the one Muppet kids couldn’t name, the flip flops
too wide for even the widest wide-width foot.  I wasn’t one to loaf
around since we worked on commission.  I spent days flopping
to my knees like a Prince trying to convince the women in floppy
hats, the women in wigs, that this season’s mule or sling-
back could make then Cinderellas.  Selling shoes was better than sling-
ing hash though I saw a lot of funky bunioned feet, some with toes that flopped
over each other.  And I smelled some pretty rank sneakers.
A tidy woman was usually the worst offender–the odor wafted like a sneak

attack from her shoe, and I’d sneak
to the back room where there was a bench we could flop
onto to recuperate for a second, sneaking
a whiff from the bottle of Love’s Baby Soft we kept there.  I’d grab the new sneakers
the customer wanted, then pump
myself up to make the sale.  I had to watch for Anita who would sneak
behind my back and steal my customers if I was too slow.  She was a sneak
and a cheat, who could sell penny loafers
to a hooker.  In fact, she earned that reputation when she did sell such loafers,
along with six pairs of heels, to a tart-looking gal who paid cash.  Anita had a sneaky
way of bringing out boxes of shoes women didn’t even ask for, then slinging
the compliments.  She also had a way of slinging
the shoe polish and heel grips and mink oil, last minute slings
at the register that really added up.  Our manager Fred would sneak
out for long lunches to sell Amway products, to sling
carpet cleaners and laundry detergent in bulk.  He tried to get us to take a sling
at the Amway pyramid too, but I flip-flopped–
even as a high-schooler, saving for college, Amway seemed like the flop-
house of getting-rich-quick schemes.  Our manager felt like a flop
when Anita and I rebuffed his Amway offer, so we had to pump
up his ego by telling him what a great manager he was.  Anita pumped
him for info on how to succeed in shoe-biz–her eager eyes, stones hurled from a sling-
shot.  She wanted to be a manager too, even though everyday Fred ate olive loaf
Saran-wrapped sandwiches he brought in from home and his own loafers

were pretty scuffed up.  In the break room downstairs, I listened to Meatloaf,
“Paradise at the Dashboard Light,” the pimply boy from menswear hassling
me for a date.  His arms looked puffy in his suit jacket, like two loaves
of bread.  I couldn’t help but stare at his too shiny patent leather loafers.
This boy already had a girlfriend, and I wondered how a guy so pimply could sneak
around and get away with it.  The teeth marks in his cold meatloaf
sandwich arced like half moons.  I let him loaf
around alone and cut my break early, my sling backs flop-
ping up the stairs, back to the shoe department where tired customers flopped
into our beige comfy chairs, staring at the display of Wedgies, canvas loafers
that were popular that year.  I needed change for the vending machine so I pumped
open the cash register by pressing “no sale,” trying to forget the pimply boy’s pump-

ernickel bread crumbs on the table.  I pumped
quarters into the Coke machine outside, Meatloaf’s
voice still in my head.  I wanted to sling
sounds like that into a microphone, sneak
into the back room but be backstage instead, gearing up for life that
couldn’t flop.

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