Confessions of a shop-a-phobe

I hate shopping, I really do.

Malls fill me with anxiety and rage. The modern take on multi-dimensional shopping: “promanades” leave me feeling crazy and exhausted. Boutiques are pretentious and cluttered. Even grocery stores kind of torque my lug-nuts ever since they’ve turned into multi-department megaplexes.

Seriously, they’re out-of-control.  Just today my roommate and I went to get dish-soap and baking ingredients and as we approached the “grocery store” we both marveled at how this arena-sized monstrosity had managed to appear in the middle of a city where real-estate is at such a premium.  The structure easily took up two city blocks and looked as if the Millennium Falcon had crash-landed in the middle of town and someone decided to slap a few overhangs on it and call it a business.  Inside was as multifaceted and confusing as quantum physics.  The two of us staggered from aisle to aisle, and found ourselves utterly flabbergasted at the display of no less than 326 incarnations of dish-soap that lined the shelves like glossy, vibrant elixirs of magic… each promising a virtually transcendent dish-washing experience.

We decided on the purple one… because… purple… and then scurried out as fast as we could… pausing only to take advantage of the discount Easter candy.  Because discount Easter candy is the best thing since the resurrection and if Jesus taught me anything, he taught me to believe in second chances.


Anyway, I’m not sure how my aversion to shopping got started. I suspect it had something to do with clothes shopping with my mother… whose brain was like a hive full of angry bees when it came to sensory overload.  She couldn’t last for more than an hour in any given store, didn’t tolerate arguments and refused to pay for anything that she, herself wouldn’t wear.  I was an 8-year-old kid dressed like an LL Bean housewife.  Shopping was an excruciating process that came to be a source of dread and disappointment as childhood rolled into adolescence.  My inner goth began to seep through the placid, preppy exterior, yet I was still expected to reflect someone else’s style preferences and taste. I was forcibly dressed like Pollyanna, but had the inner roilings of Wednesday Addams.


By the time I was old enough to purchase my own anything, my attitude approaching virtually ANY shopping experience was profound exasperation before I even got out of the car. I have EVER only wanted to get it over with.

So, even now, it should come as no surprise that I rarely enter a store and I tend to wear my clothes until they are literally falling off of me. And although I’m required to dress in business casual while on duty… my general stance is to acquire all my work clothes from Goodwill since there’s every likelihood that I will end up covered in blood, soot, mud, brain matter, motor-oil, tree sap or any other number of substances.  My fashion philosophy reads like a spoiler for Game of Thrones… “Don’t get too attached.”

Still, I I suppose I get attached to my clothes, but only because I don’t want to buy new ones… even when they’ve reached a ridiculous degree of “worn out”.  I recently had to admit to myself that my work boots had achieved that state.  In fact, they did so quite a while ago.  For the last couple of months, I’ve noticed that when it rains… my socks get wet.  I tried to convince myself of any number of explanations… for example… the water… like… seeps through or something.  The seams aren’t sealed… or whatever. But the other day, I actually examined the bottom of my work shoes and confirmed the soles had split, probably some time ago, and there were holes in my boots.

Even knowing this, I managed to squeeze a couple more weeks out of wearing them. And when I finally decided to go shopping, I was on shift. I figured that since I had worn out my boots by stomping around the county in the service of dead citizens and their families, the county could damn-well pay me while I went out to buy new ones.

(Let me explain. Because I work on-call… technically, I’m get paid to be available for the dead citizens and their families.  If no one needs me and my paperwork all is caught up, technically… I’m essentially getting paid to hang out and wait for someone to die… and while I’m waiting, I can do what I want. Which means technically the county has, at times, paid me to play video games, walk my dogs, go to trapeze class, write this blog.  And on a couple occasions,   the county has paid me to have sex… high-five!)


Anyway, I started out heading to a Ross Dress for Less, figuring that I had bought my last pair of boots there and it had been a relatively painless experience.  Their selection is pretty limited, everything is relatively cheap, their store-layout is boring and predictable, the lighting is good and there will be absolutely NO store employees bugging to “help” you.  (It’s basically, everything that most stores try NOT to be)

Well, as I am woefully under-informed when it comes to all things trendy, it came as something of a surprise to discover that April is the advent of spring fashion.  Walking purposefully into Ross, I was confounded to discover that the entire women’s shoe section was inhabited by nothing but sandals and lap-dance-worthy-stilettos.

“…” said our illustrious heroine.

I needed something with adequate traction, a low heel and a thick enough sole that I would be comfortable walking through puddles of… stuff. They needed to be durable enough to handle trekking through foliage, or burned out buildings, or climbing on top of over-turned cars and/or machinery.  I should be able to scale a tree in them in order to cut down hanging bodies.  I also needed them to be roughly knee-height in case any dogs decided to run up and bite me as I entered a house (It happens). But I needed them to look at least half-way professional in order to go with my requisite “business casual”.  In a perfect world, I would have just gone to all of my calls in jeans and combat boots.  But this isn’t a perfect world… this is a world where women’s’ shoe departments are full of ornamental foot-wear that isn’t supposed to serve any other function beyond looking cute, sexy, or whimsical.

And while I might be a cute, sexy and whimsical medical examiner, the last thing I need to do is bust an ankle on a scene and fall face first into a decomposing corpse.  It really fucks up your street-cred with law-enforcement.

Now I love to feel the wind on my toes and slip my size tens into some sultry, slick-strapped, whip-wielding stripper platforms that will pump me up to over 6-feet tall and make my ass look great. AND I’ve been known to wear such shoes… briefly.


… but not at work.

And the shoe selection that I found at Ross Dress for Less suggested that most women don’t, in fact, work.  Ross seems to think that women spend their lives reclining in deck chairs on cruise ships…


James… tell the concierge to bring me another mimosa… I simply cannot be bothered…

…or taking long, leisurely walks on the beach, during which they hold their shoes in one hand after fancifully taking them off in order to experience the blithe, effervescent swirl of sea-water around their ankles…

beach walk

Ahhh… it’s lovely to be idly decorative

and if women DO work… they work on a pole. (Not to say there’s a damn thing wrong with working on a pole. but the rest of us need shoes too.)


They’re certainly one-up on me… I take my clothes off everyday for free…

But hey, I figured, “It’s a discount store… you get stuck with whatever is leftover from more legit stores.  I’ll try a different location and see if I do any better.”

So I went to a DIFFERENT Ross Dress for Less… sandals and heels.

So I went to a couple of random stores in the strip mall next to Ross… sandals and heels… and a few pairs of fringed, open-toed “ankle-booties”

So I went to a fucking Marshals I… I… can’t go on…

I was five stores deep and starting to feel a little… crazy.  I think all of the fluorescent lights were starting to fuck with my head, either that or it was the rat-trap layout of these establishments that’s specifically designed to disorient people once they’re inside. (Seriously, Google it… it’s a thing.) My breathing was inching closer and closer to hyperventilation as I frantically speed-walked laps around every shoe department… trying to find anything that might serve in the stead of my long-expired work boots. I came up dry on every front.

It was getting late: close to 3 p.m. on a Friday. I had been at it for almost two and a half hours… which is two hours and twenty minutes longer than I wanted to spend on this errand.  I was sweating in my leather jacket as I drove across town, and stress-ball squeezing the steering wheel as I watched the afternoon traffic coagulate into an un-moving clot around me.

“Fuck! Fuckitty Fuckaroo Fuckberries!” I muttered.  I was agitated beyond functioning levels. My brain was soaking in a soupy quagmire of latent childhood trauma, mixed with recent irritation at my wasted time as well as a low-grade panic as I contemplated the drive home.  I was just about to exit on to the highway (which was moving slower than a government employee) when I suddenly remembered there was a Kohl’s just around the corner: another low-priced department store that had an extensive shoe department, as I recalled.


I risked it.

I pulled the county truck into the parking lot and stomped toward the front door of the store with a renewed sense of determination.  Surely, it was just a matter of time before I found the right place. I believed! This was going to work out!

Except that I was already lost after having taken less than 10 steps inside the front door.  Kohl’s was a labyrinth of product and advertisements.  A kaleidoscope of shelves and lights… scarves, hats, jewelry, make-up, bras… My eyes were full and yet I couldn’t see anything.  Where the hell were the shoes? The last of my patience seeped out my voice as I snatched a nearby employee from her task.  “Where… Are… The… Women’s… SHOES” I growled.  Her eyes widened.

“F… F… Follow this aisle to the back, then turn left,” she stuttered, wide-eyed and fearful.

Without another word, I swiveled in the direction she had pointed and stomped back to the women’s shoe section… where I was greeted with endless aisles of…

…sandals and high-heels.

I scrambled from one display to the next… following a pathway that seemed to be populated by more respectable and practical flats and modest pumps… suitable for an office worker, but still far from appropriate for my grisly occupation.  Nothing… there was nothing I could wear… However, as I paralleled the endless stacks of offending shoes, I spied a store employee, squatting amongst a pile shoe boxes with a pricing gun in hand.


She looked up at me in confusion, undoubtedly wondering how I escaped the mental asylum. “What?” She gasped.


She glanced around her, at the piles and piles of women’s shoes that would probably qualify as “work shoes” for any job other than mine.


“LOOK!” I barked. “I am the county medical examiner and I need a pair of fucking SHOES.  I am frequently standing on the side of the road in the rain… often in a puddle of BLOOD or BRAIN MATTER and I need some goddamnned SHOES, OKAY? THESE ARE NOT SHOES!”

…and to demonstrate my point, I grabbed a black-velvet, 3-inch-heeled pump off the nearest shelf and brandished it in her face as though I was waving a murder weapon in front of my chief suspect.

She shrank back from me in a not-unreasonable show of self-preservation. “Uuuhhhh… ummm…” she mumbled helplessly.

Dissatisfied with her response, I continued with my tirade.

“I have been to five fucking stores in the last three hours… YOURS is the SIXTH and I have YET to find a decent pair of SHOES!”

“Wh.. where have you been so far?”

“What?” I scowled.

“Where have you tried so far?” she asked again, probably hoping to get a feel for what I found so unacceptable about these other places.  But I wasn’t having it.

“Look… do you have women’s WORK shoes or boots or whatever?”

“Ummmm… I think maybe you should try Big 5 Sports This is pretty much all we’ve got.”

It was a smart move on her part.  I think it was clear that I was not going to be satiated with a nice pair of penny loafers, and any attempts to up-sell me on a useless pair of shoes would have met with a swift beheading.  Instead I snarled a thank you at her and bull-dozed my way back out of the building.  Then proceeded to sit in traffic for an hour.

The day didn’t end there… The day didn’t, in fact, end until that night. Or technically, the day didn’t end until the next morning , at. 3 a.m. when I was called to a suicide. Some dude had managed to shoot himself in the head in a very small room… Which wouldn’t have been a problem, but for the fact that there was blood all over the floor, and I mean ALL over the floor of this tiny room… Where there was nowhere to stand… Other than in a big puddle of blood…. In my old boots… with the holes in the soles.

The detective, the patrol officer and I were on scene for almost 3 hours… Each of us staring at the skyline, willing the sun not to come up… Praying we might be able to stagger back home and crawl back into bed before dawn.  Of course,  my attention was split between the encroaching daylight and the fact that I could feel my socks getting wet as I stood in the swamp of this dead dude’s blood and cerebrospinal fluid.  But all things considered, I didn’t have it nearly as bad as the patrol officer, who had to kneel down in the slop to fingerprint the guy.  He sighed in dismal resignation as he squatted down and tried to wipe the dead guy’s hands off with a napkin we had purloined from the kitchen.

“You know,” he said as he did his best to roll a clear rendition of our decedent’s fingerprints, “today, my entire family left to go on vacation in Jamaica… And here I am…”

He looked so forlorn, and I was so sleep deprived at that point, that for reasons beyond logical description, I pulled out my phone, opened the YouTube app, and played the song “”Work From Home” by 5th Harmony.


Nice shoes!

“Come on guys!  Shake it out,” I hollered at them, as I commenced having a small-scale dance party, holey boots and all.

The detective stared at me like lobsters had just crawled out of my ears..

On the other hand, the patrol officer on the floor started head bobbing and singing along with me:  “You don’t gotta go to work… Work… Work…”

“Jesus, Grace,” barked the detective as I twirled around, waving the phone over my head.  “”What are you so goddamnned cheerful about?”

“Hey man, it could be worse… We could be shoe-shopping”
Epilogue: I ended up running something like 2 more calls that morning. I was tragically exhausted and couldn’t bring myself to forage for new shoes again.  On the upside, when I came home from my activities, there was a brand new pair of Doc Martens waiting for me, left by a certain dark horse who had been lurking in the wings waiting for his entrance.. But that’s another story… Stay tuned…


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