Today we took a drive across the state to East Lansing, Home of Michigan State University and sister city to the hamlet of Okemos, Michigan. We were going there to meet up with a specialist in ballet pointe shoes for Zoe. It's the time of year when the Z-girl not only goes back to high school but she goes back to dance school as well. This means ballet shoes are in order. Zoe's been needing new shoes for a while - pointe shoes are only good for about 15 hours of use before they give up the ghost. She used up those 15 hours back in July when she went to dance camp. We traveled to Okemos on the advice of several dance teachers who felt Zoe needed better fitting shoes that were fitted by an expert. The folks at "Bottoms Up" Dancewear and Lingerie came highly recommended. I had my reservation, but it was a nice day and I was up for a day of driving.
I had Zoe drive as sort of a practice for next week when I'm letting her drive the three hours by herself down to her cousin's baby shower in Indianapolis. I was the passenger and navigator on this trip, but I kept reminding Zoe that she'd be on her own next week and to pay attention to how on and off ramps worked and how to read signs and remember landmarks. Of course, I got the stock reply.
"Jeez, alright! I'm not an idiot!"
"I know that, but you can be a little, er, distracted. You can't drift when you're driving somewhere new."
"I know that. You're here today and I know my way down to Indy. Don't worry... God!"
"Alright, okay." I point out the windshield. "Don't rear end that Harley, please."
And so forth. All things being what they are in the universe, my carefully calculated directions to the "Bottoms Up" store are thrown out the window when a key exit ramp is closed for repairs and no detour is offered. Its assumed that everyone is local and knows their way around. Luckily we're an hour early for the fitting appointment so we have time to improvise. I take this in stride, but the Z-girl starts to get agitated. She likes her ducks in a row and hates when plans don't go right. She used to throw fits and completely melt down when she was younger. Now she just stews and says unlady-like curse words through gritted teeth while I blithely throw out directions with gusto, creating the illusion that I know where I'm going. In fact, I haven't been in this part of East Lansing since 1979. And I was in a state of perpetual drunkenness then, so those brain cells containing the traffic DNA of East Lansing were pickled to uselessness decades ago. We come to an intersection that wouldn't look out of place in Mogadishu, and I tell Zoe to swing into the Spartan Shell station next to us on the right. She stays in the car and locks it while I dash in to ask for directions. I'm not opposed to asking for directions - I have no macho illusions about my directional skills. Besides, it saves a lot of aimless driving around in the hood. I wait in line behind some twitchy little dude paying for two giant cans of Amp with small change. The counter girl cheerfully tells me I'm on the right path - it's just a matter of going down two blocks, take a left and keep going through campus until you see the sign that says "Okemos". Great. We get on our way and after a 15 minute drive through a campus humming with activity we enter the village of Okemos and almost immediately see our destination.
"Bottoms Up" is a small cinder block building painted purple and white. The sign says "Lingerie, Dance Shoes, Dance and Exercise Wear". I figure the purple paint scheme has something to do with the allure of lingerie. I wonder if parents coming here for their kid's dance or gymnastics equipment needs might also stock up on a little lingerie while they're at it. We go inside and are greeted by a tiny woman with cat's eye glasses who comes around the counter and tells us she's glad to see us. I apologize for being a little early even though we got lost on the way.
"Oh that's alright, dear. Shall we start the show?"
I can tell Zoe's enthralled already. The woman is encrusted with costume jewelry, but there's enough of the real thing there to add credibility to the ensemble. Her wedding ring shines like a small galaxy on her finger. She has blue eye shadow and false eyelashes like Liza M. in "Cabaret". She has all the earmarks of a retired dancer or theater actress. By the way she moves and talks, I'm guessing both. By her diminutive size I'm also guessing she's related to Hobbit-folk and probably worked her way around the Shire in her younger days as a fan dancer and chantuese. She shakes my hand and looks me dead in the eye like she's sizing me up for something other than selling me dance shoes. The sparkle in her eye matches the ring on her finger. Lingerie indeed.
"My name's Lee, by the way. Where're you coming from?"
I stammer out my name and tell Lee that we came from Holland.
"Oh my! Well then, you come all this way. I'd better be good then, huh?"
I give her the smirk that hides the leer.
"Oh I don't think there's going to be any worries about that."
Zoe looks between the two of us, resists rolling her eyes, but I can feel the vibe coming from her. I know what she's thinking. Jesus, old people are so weird.
Lee shows us to a small bench and tells me I'm welcome to sit and watch "the show". I don't even ask if I can take pictures. I just start and Lee ignores me. She's all business and focused on Zoe. Lee is a woman of a certain age. I hesitate to say elderly, because that denotes decrepitude and being past your prime. She was neither. Almost instantly she plopped down on the floor in front of Zoe and positioned a small piece of parquet floor in front of her with her legs almost in a split. Yup, Lee had been a dancer I'm sure of it. Lee inspected Zoe's feet and made suggestions for taking care of her nails. She gave Zoe an emery board for filing off the sharp nail edges. Then she had Zoe retrieve a small box from a table behind our bench. It was full of marbles. She had Zoe pick out a marble then place it on the piece of flooring. Lee had Zoe pick up the marble with her feet in a couple different ways. She told Zoe to do these exercises with the marble every day and within a few months she would notice a difference in her stability while en pointe. Twenty minutes and we haven't even said the word shoe, let alone look at them.
Then one of the college girls that worked at the store appeared and Lee started rattling off shoe brands, sizes and colors. She told Zoe she needed a wider shoe and that her feet, being slightly flat and pronated, would do well with a stiff shank and a sturdier box. With this Lee gives me a sidewise glance and the eye sparkle. Christ, I'm here buying dance shoes for my daughter from Mae West.
Lee has Zoe try on about five different pairs. She instructs the Z-kid in the proper way to put on a pointe shoe.
"Don't pull at it from the back, honey. Slip your foot in and hold the rear open with both hands. Yup, there. That's right! Very good! That'll save wear and tear on that heel fabric. It'll keep the rear flexible." I look for indications of an entendre here, but Lee doesn't acknowledge it, and I'm thankful.
Lee methodically goes through the five chosen pairs and has Zoe go through the same stances with each until its narrowed down to two brands. One brand is new to Zoe and the other is what she's been using for two years now. Finally, Lee illustrates through logic and a series of maneuvers that Zoe should buy the new brand. No sales pitch, just a plain fact that these shoes fit and work better. Lee assures me that these particular shoes will wear better also. So it's possible the Zoe will get through Christmas and Nutcracker season without having to get new shoes.
Finally, after about 90 minutes, the shoe fitting's done and I have to pay up. Pleasantly these shoes are cheaper than what we have been getting so that's good. And I felt that Lee totally knew her stuff and was very good with Zoe. For her part, Zoe wanted to adopt Lee as an adjunct grandma and I'm sure Lee wanted to adopt me as well, but not in the capacity of grandson. While I was paying the bill I asked Lee for directions out of town. She shows me a list that's comprised of three legal sized sheets taped together.
"These are direction for all points of the compass out of here. We get people from all over. your directions are easy. You just go out of our parking lot, take a right then another right and straight on out to the highway about 2 miles down. Pretty easy. How'd you get here anyways?"
I told her we relied on the computer for directions.
"Oh honey, those things are only as smart as their owners. Next time why don't you read a map?"
I laugh and tell her I will next time. I look around for Zoe and see she's across the tiny store flipping through a rack of leotards.Lee leans across the counter and gives me a stage whisper.
"How's about some lingerie before you go?"
I tell her I don't usually wear any myself but that I do like the feeling of a silk teddy against my skin, but only if it has a girl inside of it.
And it's her turn to laugh.
"Of course! You wanna look at some? Maybe get a teddy for that girl to get inside of?", the eye twinkle coming on at full power now. I shake my head and twinkle back at her.
"Nah, I'm good. Besides, you took all my money. The girl's gonna have to do without."
"Well, that's alright, doesn't do to spoil a girl too much. You take care and be sure to give a holler if Zoe has any problems with the shoes. And keep on her about those exercises - they'll help."
I collect Zoe and we head out. A couple of turns and we are on the way back home. It's a beautiful day and the drive is pleasant. Zoe has her music going in the car and I notice she's got scrolling lyrics going for some of the songs. Like karaoke. I sing some Green Day for Zoe who puts up with it for about two songs then begs me to stop. She laughs and tells me about this video she saw on the internet about this Filipino cabbie who put a karaoke machine in his cab to entertain his fares. I tell her that I think that's a brilliant idea and I start up singing again....
" When I'm walkin' I strut my stuff, man I'm so strung out
I'm high as a kite I just might stop to check you out
Let me go on... like a blister in the sun,
Let me go on... big hands I know you're the one"