The Shoelace King
by David Cochran
An aglet and an eyelet
This story won a prize from The Storyteller magazine.
As I walked down the corridor in the mall, I saw him standing like a sentry at the entrance to McAvoy’s Shoe Emporium. About 5’ 10”, balding, and a tad overweight, Rodney Thorndike wore corduroys, a white shirt, green striped tie, and a tan, sleeveless V neck sweater. Confident, smiling, and enthusiastic, there was an air of anticipation in his demeanor.
“Sir,” he said before I barely got my foot into the store. “You look like a man on a mission. I’ll bet I can help you find just what you’re looking for.”
“Well,” I said rather modestly, “I don’t expect that I’m going to be your biggest sale today.”
“Big sale, small sale, it doesn’t matter. I’m here to assist you.”
“How about shoelaces?” I asked.
“Wow!” It was like he was waiting all-day for a shoelace sale. “I’m known here as McAvoy’s as the Shoelace King. You’re speaking to the right guy!”
My internal radar was sending me caution signals. I seldom get such enthusiasm from my students at the community college, even when I cancel their exam.
“I just need a pair of shoelaces,” I said. “You know, your basic brown shoelaces.”
“Now, er, Bill, is your name Bill?”
“No, it’s Walter, but if you want to call me Bill, that’s fine. I just need some shoelaces.”
“Now, Walter,” he began. “All shoelaces are not alike. We need to determine what your needs are before we can pick the right shoelace.”
“That’s easy,” I replied. “Brown. I need brown shoelaces.”
“Let me look at my shoelace chart, Walter.” He pulled out a small handheld computer, pulled up a shoelace chart, and chose brown. “Well, you’re in luck. We have brown. In fact, we have light brown and dark brown. We have cordovan and tan. Do you have any idea which color brown you need?”
“I’d like them to match these shoes,” I quickly responded.
Rodney looked down at my shoes. He cocked his head to the left, wrinkled his brow, and then cocked his head to the right. After an unbearable pause, he looked at me. “Walter,” he said, “I’m a bit perplexed. Those shoes you are wearing are loafers. Yes, they’re brown, but they really don’t require shoelaces.”
“Of course not,” I said. “These are the right color, but they aren’t the right shoes.”
“But, you know, Walter, a shoelace is not a shoelace is not a shoelace.”
“I understand,” I said exasperated. “All I want is a pair of dark brown shoelaces just like the color of these shoes.”
“You know,” he said condescendingly, “there are many styles of dark brown shoelaces.” He looked at his handheld computer again. “It appears that we may be talking about 150 combinations of length, style, and color. We need to be right on target with this, Walter. We don’t want to be disappointed, do we?”
“Trust me, Rodney. I’m not going to be disappointed.”
“Ok…ok, Walter. You’re right; we can find something. I just need some basic data.”
“Data?” I rolled my eyes.
“Yes. Like your eyelets. How many eyelets are we talking about?”
“Hmm. I’m not sure. I think it’s four on each side of the tongue. Or is it 5?”
“Well, that would be either 8 or 10 eyelets. That’s a difference of two eyelets, Walter. We need to be accurate. We don’t want to be tripping over our shoelaces, do we?”
I felt like a volcano ready to erupt.
“Also, do you need flats or rounds? Cords or leather?
“Leather,” I yelled. “Leather, schmether. All I want are some basic shoelaces for my 4 or 5 or 8 or 1000 eyelets!”
“Now calm down, Walter,” he said in his disgustingly calm voice. “I think your shoelaces are beginning to reveal some underlying stress. Perhaps there are some problems at home?”
Enraged, I looked around the store for something to throw at Rodney. The Brannock metal foot sizer caught my eye, and it looked like a perfect murder weapon.
I took a deep breath. “Ok, I know wh…what I want. Rodney. I just….ju..just want one pair of dark brown flat shoelaces for an 8 eyelet pair of shoes.”
Rodney smiled at me in a way that gave me the creeps. “Of course, you do, Walter. And I can help you with that.”
He reached forward to pat my shoulder. With the swiftness of a lifeguard doing a pivot pari, I grabbed his arm, twisted him around and held him in a hammerlock.
Instead of yelling, Rodney took me off guard. “Walter,” he said. “The aglets. You forgot about the aglets!”
His obvious attempt to divert me worked. I let go of his arm and looked perplexed as he spun around with that sappy sales assistant’s grin on his face.
“Aglets?” I asked. “What are aglets?”
“If you didn’t have aglets,” he said, “you wouldn’t be able to negotiate your eyelets. As we say in the trade, an eyelet without and aglet is like a needle without a thread.”
Rodney picked up a pair of comfortable looking shoes. “You see here, Walter?” He was pointing to the eyelet.
“Of course, that’s the eyelet,” I muttered. I had a sinking feeling like I was being sucked into a vacuum cleaner.
He pointed to the shoelace. “See that aglet, the little plastic piece there on the end of the shoelace?”
“That’s worth its weight in gold.”
“It doesn’t weigh anything,” I said.
“Yes, but you try getting this shoelace into that eyelet without the aglet. It would be like putting a piece of cooked spaghetti through a hole in the strainer.”
“You’ve got me there, Rodney. I can see that your aglet is really important. Now, how about those shoelaces?” I looked at my watch and realized that we had been at this discussion for over15 minutes.
“Yes, the shoelaces,” he said. “Yes, of course, and about that assault that just took place on me a few minutes ago.”
“What? Now wait, Rodney. That was no assault. I was just er….uh…. just trying to protect myself.”
“Well, my brother-in-law, do you know him? He’s Bob Welch, the prosecutor. He tells me that when you physically grab someone in anger, you are assaulting them.”
“Now, Rodney,” I said. “You and I have become friends. You know I wouldn’t hurt you.” I reached over to pat him on the shoulder.
He stepped back. “Oh, no, Walter. We don’t want any more assaults here.” He paused. “Of course it doesn’t have to be this way, does it?”
“What do you mean, Rodney?”
“I mean that you could make up for such abusive and hostile behavior, and we could both go on our merry ways.”
“Of course, sure. Anything,” I said. “Why can’t we just be friends?”
“You came in for some shoelaces,” he said.
“You don’t have the shoes with you, so you aren’t sure if the shoelaces are going to match your shoes.”
“Well, I guess not. What are you saying?”
“Well, one-way to solve the problem and know that both of us are happy is to buy a new pair of shoes.”
“Hey, that’s blackm…” He stopped me mid-sentence.
“Oh, Walter, don’t speak like that. You would look good in a new pair of dark brown shoes.”
He paused and smiled. “My brother-in-law, the prosecutor, tells me that it’s a lot better when two parties settle their differences out of court. Do you know what I mean, Walter?”
“Court!” I yelled.
“Shoes,” he rejoined. “You were on TV.” He pointed up at the security camera that caught my weak moment.
“Shoes,” I conceded.
“Nice shoes” he said.
“How nice?” I wanted to know.
“These,” he said holding up a pair of $400 dark brown shoes.
“What? You low-down scam artist.”
“Now, now, Walter. My brother-in-law says….”
“All right, all right,” I said. “Just give me the shoes.’
Rodney smiled that sickly smile as he quickly scanned my credit card. “You know the best part of our amicable settlement, Walter?”
“There is no amicable part, Rodney.”
“Yes there is. Look.” He pointed to my new shoes. “They’re loafers! No more shoelaces!”
I shook my head as I grabbed the shoes and stomped out of the store. As I was leaving, a man was coming in.
“May I help you, sir,” Rodney said.
“All I need are some shoelaces,” he said.
“Well, you’ve picked the right person,” Rodney said.
I turned around and started to warn the man, but Rodney just smiled at me and wiggled his index finger from side to side, signaling me to leave.
Copyright 2020 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.