May 2, 2005

Even if the shoe fits, I still might not wear it

I'm shoe shopping. I've been in DSW Shoe Warehouse for hours, maybe days. I'm starting to feel hungry and faint, and between every few pairs of shoes that I try on I have to lie down on the floor for a few minutes in an attempt to regain my strength. But I can't go home. No. Not until I have purchased a new pair of black

The problem I'm having is not an absence of black shoes. In fact, DSW offers 43 pairs of shoes that fit exactly my requirements: heel not too high, toe not too pointy, etc. Unfortunately, 43 pairs is 42 pairs too many, which leaves me crouched in a self-constructed cave of shoe boxes, 42 of which must be discarded before I can finally, blessedly, go home. But which pair of shoes will be the pair? It's anyone's guess. And what if I select the WRONG pair? The pair, out of these 43, that proves difficult to walk in, or which is the wrong shade of black to go with my pants? It's a risk I can't afford to take.

A woman walks past my shoebox fort and gives me a funny look. She looks familiar. She, too, has been in this store for hours—perhaps days—I think.

"Actually," she tells me, when she stops to chat, "I bought a pair of shoes here earlier today. Then I went home, cooked dinner, put the kids to bed, wrote a novel, and cured world AIDS. Then I decided to come back for some more shoes. And you're still here! That's funny."

"Way funny," I agree, envisioning her head on a stake.

Curiosity gets the better of her. "Why are you still here?" she demands.

"Because I'm not an ambitious world-beater like you," I answer. "And because I have buyer's anxiety."

Buyer's anxiety, you must understand, is a prevalent problem in modern society. In pre-modern times, buying stuff wasn't such a big deal. Back then, you went to market to trade your cow for some eggs, and you didn't spend all day and well into the night sizing up every egg there, wondering if any of these eggs were really worth the loss of your cow, and asking about the egg return policy. You didn't do any of that because then the rest of the folk in your village would refer to you in private as Crazy Addie, and you'd never find a husband, thus rendering you a spinster, forever dependent on the other villagers' alms. The local preacher would deliver sermons about how giving charity to you was like godliness. So your neighbors would donate money to you, sure, but in whispers they would warn their children not to play too close to your cabin. This is assuming you ever managed to buy a cabin and didn't get so distraught cabin hunting that you ended up sleeping in a pasture.

Indeed, those were the olden days. But today, consumer culture has enlarged to such an extent that my level of buyer's anxiety is totally normal and I don't even have that many friends who think my neuroses are so severe that I should seek professional help.

Anyway, I'm totally dealing with my panicky indecision in the face of every choice. I have cunningly adopted a vast array of heuristics, designed to eliminate all options except one. For example, when I go to restaurants, I know that I will not order any meal that involves red meat, fish (except for smoked salmon), beans, tofu, any food that ends with the suffix "-berry," nuts that you have to crack using a nutcracker, yogurt, coffee or anything coffee flavored, fizzy beverages, mushrooms, plain eggs, plain milk, mashed potatoes, or, most crucially, any food that is green. Mostly, I eat a lot of pasta and cheese.

But when I go to restaurants whose menus offer two pasta-and-cheese dishes, I am conflicted. I am ruined. The system crumbles around me, and I'm reduced to wild blithering while the waiter stands by, waiting for me to choose between fetuccini alfredo and ravioli. Sometimes I will give up entirely, opt out of the system, and just order orange juice. But if I do spur myself to action, and order the ravioli, I will spend the rest of the meal eyeing someone else's fetuccini and wondering if they're having a more pleasurable dining experience than I. Generally, they are. But that's only because they're not huddled on the ground, whimpering about their purchasing decisions. That sort of thing can really ruin a meal.