Two weeks ago I saw the Queen of the Netherlands coming towards me on 8th Avenue. She was wearing a tan colored raincoat and a clear plastic rain bonnet on her head. She looked down at the street as she walked, so I was able to stare right at her, but when she was very close she glanced up and saw me and I was caught. I went ahead and told her what I thought: That she looked just like the Queen of Holland. “Queen Beatrix,” I added, and the lady laughed. She said, “Yes, I know her. I mean, I’ve seen her picture, and I’ve seen her on TV.” We stood smiling at each other in the rain. She didn’t say, “Yes, you’re right, I am she,” or “I’m sorry, but you’re mistaken,” and she seemed delighted to be recognized as the Queen. Her pleasant, leonine demeanor was one of humble ambiguity, and when she spoke, it was with a little all-purpose accent that could have originated anywhere from Holland to Iceland. She laughed, thanked me for stopping, and gave me a little regal wave.
I thought of a letter I got a while ago from a Dutch friend in Amsterdam, telling me about a dog she had met named Truffel who had just had something interesting happen to him. She included his picture, which I’ve put here for you to see. Something Truffel can do is wave to people with his paw, in a manner my friend described in her letter as ‘very elegant and small, the way royalty will wave, for example.’
One day, Truffel was out for a walk in Amsterdam with Maria, the lady who owns him, when a car drew up to the curb and stopped. Out stepped Her Majesty the Queen, right in front of Truffel. She had guards with her but no entourage, and Maria said, “Look, Truffel, it’s the Queen. Why don’t you wave to her?” So Truffel sat down, lifted his paw and gave his elegant and small wave to Queen Beatrix. And when she saw what he was doing, Queen Beatrix bowed to him and gave him a gracious little wave in return.
I thought of Truffel when the lady who might have been Queen gave me her little wave, the kind of wave that Gore Vidal once described nicely as a royal salute, "in which the fingers of one hand unscrew, as it were, an invisible upside-down jar of marmalade.”
Last week I was coming home from the grocery store and while I waited for the light to change at 23rd Street, a man stopped and asked me if I would mind telling him where I got my shoes. I was wearing my red clogs, which I bought on sale at a little shop on 7th Avenue that is gone now. When I told him, he seemed very disappointed. He said he had a friend who would absolutely love my shoes. He said his friend actually prefers used shoes, and asked me if I knew of any shops in the neighborhood that sells them. I told him Housing Works thrift store on 17th Street has some. Then he asked me if I would consider selling him my shoes. And that’s when I started to get the feeling something was not quite right. He looked normal enough; he reminded me of Johnny Mathis 30 years ago. But he didn’t ask me what size my shoes were, and it seemed suspect that he would want to buy them for a friend without knowing the size. The fact that his friend “likes used shoes” was already making me a little queasy.
I said, “You know what? I’m kind of attached to my shoes, so I don’t want to sell them. OK?” He said he understood. Then the light changed, I crossed 23rd Street and he went off in another direction. I wondered if he was an actual shoe fetishist. I’ve heard stories about them but I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly met one. And this was the first time someone had ever offered to buy the shoes right off my feet. I usually have one pair of shoes at a time and wear them until they fall apart. I had to wonder why, if this man was in fact a real shoe fetishist, he would want my beat-up old clogs?
Yesterday I was in a store looking at soap. I turned my head and there he was, the shoe guy, looking sheepish and caught. He said, “I hope you won’t think I’m stalking you, but I looked all over the internet for shoes like yours and I couldn’t find any.” I looked down at my clogs. He said, “I really don’t do this sort of thing ever, but I really would love to buy your shoes. This is a one-of-a-kind situation. I’ll pay you anything you want. Or I will buy you two new pair of shoes if you give me those.” He looked terribly embarrassed. I said, “You’re a funny one, you know that?” I said, “Look, I like my shoes and I want to keep them, OK?” He asked me if I would take his name and number in case I change my mind, and he wrote his first name and cell number on a slip of paper. I took it, but as harmless as he seemed, no amount of money, short of a million dollars, would make me want to give him my shoes.
At home I left my shoes in the hall by the door the way I always do, and then just for the heck of it I looked up his name together with ‘shoe fetish.’ Something called Shoe Fetishist Anonymous or something close to that came up. I won’t put his name down here, in case it’s him and he’s trying to sober up, but I’ll tell you this: when I saw that, I went right out to the hall and brought in my shoes.
June 30, 2011