At the hardwood flooring outlet, the sales rep is an older gentleman (although should we always assume gentleman just because of the older that precedes him?), and because I'm a woman, when I select my hardwood planks, Al hands me the flyer.
The flyer itself is quite a thing, a "what year is this?" pause in my shopping excursion, the parentheses hanging in the air incredulously over my head. The flyer’s header screams “What puts greater force on a resilient floor?!” in bold, forty-point typeface, and a multiple-choice graphic selection sits below:
The outline of what is labeled a “two-ton car,” the likeness of which I’d guess is a Lincoln Town Car.
The dark silhouette of an African elephant, tusks prominently displayed.
The third choice is clearly the most offensive to good ol’ Al: the frame of a woman, her face a featureless rounded oval, her body cloaked in what appears to be a trench and a wide-brimmed hat. She is carrying an oversized briefcase in her left hand, feet clad in offensive pointy-heeled shoes.
“Stilettos are back in vogue,” the flyer continues, “but women should be warned.”
I know the woman offends Al by the way he grips his blue ballpoint pen, the tip chewed into plastic splintery edges, and circles her right shoe just above the caption that reads: “a 125 lb woman.” And I know she offends him by the ensuing lecture that is bestowed upon us by Al, our gentleman flooring rep. Rather, I should say he bestows it upon me because he never glances in my husband's direction.
He tells me of the dangers of the stiletto, the most offensive of footwear, the clomping and stomping of which women pound the oak or walnut or teak, manly briefcase in hand and intimidating hat protruding. How dare she walk in such a way, with hard, confident footsteps and a face with no eyes, nose, or smile.
I think of how Al commented when I entered His Store that I should be smiling, what a fun day picking out flooring for the missus! Was my husband smiling? I wondered, but didn’t say, choosing instead to smile, the submissive response a woman learns. Of course I oblige, with my upturned lips; a woman should be smiling as she selects the floorboards upon which she will cook, and clean, and birth babes.
I imagine the phone calls: Al perched at his desk, surrounded by samples in rich browns and mahoganies and the occasional gray, bobbing his head as he says "yes ma'am" to the panicked woman on the line, gesturing with a finger to a nearby customer that he’ll just be a moment longer, phone cradled between his shoulder and chin, the woman’s shrill cries piercing his ear drum like a stiletto.
“I’ve advised you of the dangers,” he would have continued, as if discussing the consequences of climbing a rock wall without a harness, of skydiving without a tandem partner, of chasing a tornado in a beat-up Chevy. He would remind her that she’d signed the Stiletto Waiver, her name scrawled above the dotted line, as mine would soon be. And I wondered, are the husbands required to sign, to confirm they have discussed it with their wives?
Yes I am a stay-at-home mom now, probably look like a stay-at-home mom now, all LuluLemon leggings and messy bun and husband at my side. But once I was what Al might call a "career woman"; the rare bird of a female corporate executive, whose shoes scratch and dent and leave tiny, angry impressions in Al's precious, pristine planks of pine, the weight of her arrogance pressed into heels.
Yes, my husband is the earner of the oatmeal raisin bread loaves now, I’m just here to pick out the pretty flooring. But I want to tell Al that if it wasn’t for me, if it wasn’t for the decades of my labor, we wouldn't be in the position to select these planks of my choosing; that if I hadn’t stomped my way up that invisible ladder one sturdy rung at a time, we’d be going with laminate. But all I say to Al as I sign his waiver with a smile is, “I don’t wear stilettos.”