des moines, humor, Iowa, life, obesity

One day at Brown Shoe Fit Company

From the desk of Paragraph Stacker Daniel P. Finney from Des Moines, Iowa.

I needed new shoes. I usually buy New Balance. Those are appropriate sneakers for middle-aged men. I’ve long outgrown shoes for style. My shoes are all function. And that’s what New Balance makes.

I usually buy my shoes at one of the sporting goods stores at the big mall in West Des Moines or one of the discount shops that sells last year’s model.

But I’ve got degenerative arthritis in my knees. There’s inflammation in my meniscus from a slip on the ice and tendinitis plagues my Achilles tendons.

My stimulus check arrived and I decided to treat myself to a higher-end model of New Balance to help me negotiate the treacherous winter.

The last time I went to the sporting goods store, the kid who helped me wasn’t even sure if they sold shoelaces. I’m not making that up. So I called Brown Shoe Fit Co. in West Des Moines.

I liked the name. I liked the idea that what they do there is sell shoes and shoe-related things like shoelaces and some socks. There wasn’t a hunting section or a sports jersey department.

There’s nothing wrong the big sporting goods company. I was just raised by people who “had a guy for that.” My parents had a plumber, an electrician, a baker and so on.

When I was a boy, there were scores of independent craftsmen who survived on the loyalty of people who were satisfied with the service and preferred dealing with the same person rather than obsessively seeking a bargain.

That reads more critical than I intend. Things change. I buy most things from Amazon except comic books. I try to support favorite businesses when I can.

This time I needed a shoe guy. I had a shoe guy when I was very young. His name was Pete. He worked at a shoe store in Park Fair Mall. I’m old enough to remember when Park Fair Mall was still a shopping hub on the northeast side.

Pete knew I only wanted one thing when I came into the store with my parents: Keds Tail Lights. They were navy blue canvas with a yellow diagonal stripe on the side and a bright red-orange circular reflector on the heel — just like the tail lights on a car.

I remember the day my parents took me to finalize the adoption. They made me dress up and wear a pair of saddle shoes. Chuck Offenburger would have been proud.

I was unimpressed. The saddle shoes were too tight and I kept complaining they hurt my feet. My parents urged me to keep quiet about my discomfort lest the Polk County judge think they were bad parents who failed to provide proper shoes.

I don’t remember how old I was, but I didn’t want to mess up the deal. I kept quiet. The judge signed off and my life as a Finney began in full.

To celebrate, we drove straight to Pete’s store and I got a new pair of Tail Lights. I don’t remember when I became too old to wear Tail Lights, but that must have been a sad day.

Since Pete, I haven’t had a regular shoe guy. I just went wherever. Sometimes I bought bargain. Sometimes I bought mid-range.

I now needed something higher end. I went to Brown Shoe Co. A man introduced himself just when I walked into the store. I worried this was going to be a hard sell.

“What can I get you?” he asked.

I told him I needed some better shoes and explained my ails. He motioned for me to come to the back of the store. The guy took off like a rabbit.

I’m an obese man living in a world designed for average sizes. I looked at the chairs, all of which had arms and narrow seats. I was in trouble, I thought. There’s no my big butt would fit in these chairs.

The salesman disappeared into the backroom. He came out with a wide bench in his arms. He set it down between a couple chairs and offered me the seat.

At that point, the guy could have sold me a pair of red stilettos with taps and bells on them. That is a smart salesman. He anticipated a customer’s need before the customer had to vocalize it. I would vote for this guy for president.

The thing is, it’s not unusual for an obese person to be noticed. But it’s exceptionally rare for an obese person to be treated humanely, with kindness and gentility. This guy did it unprompted.

He brought out several pair of more expensive New Balance, but he hit a home run on the first pair. He explained all the features to me. I tried to pay attention, but in the end, all I cared about was they were comfortable.

The salesman laced them up for me, put my old pair in a box and walked me up to the registers. I paid. I thanked him for bringing that bench out. It made my day.

I took his card. I immediately lost it, of course. But I have a new shoe guy. And I know where to find him next time.

Daniel P. Finney feels better about using a cane to walk by thinking of it as his “whacking stick.”

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

humor, Iowa, life, sports

Stuff my dad texts

From the desk of friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines, Iowa.

Super Bowl celebration in my house as a boy usually involved my dad and me stretched out on the basement furniture with bowls of popcorn on our bellies and a fizzy Pepsi on ice on coasters atop the end table.

Time passed and things change, as they do, and many years have passed since Dad and I watched the championship game together. The pandemic prevented us from gathering this year.

I work most Sundays. I called home to ask who my dad picked to root for on my lunch break. We pick opposite teams during most championships unless one of our favorite teams is playing.

My dad picked the Kansas City Chiefs. I rooted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We promised to text during the game.

My dad defines soft-spoken. His quiet belies his thoughtfulness — he can drop a wisdom bomb like few I’ve known — but his absence of gregariousness hides a wicked sense of humor.

The following is a partial transcript of texts during the big game.

On a missed touchdown that slid through a receiver’s hands and hit him in the helmet:
DAD: Almost a touchdown be he couldn’t catch it with his face.

On breaks in the action:
ME: I didn’t understand any of the last three commercials.
DAD: That’s probably a good thing.

On CBS Sports self-promotion:
DAD: I cannot wait for the halftime reporting.

On the Coors Light “shortage” commercial:
DAD: Nothing like watching a good truck wreck.

On a Tom Brady touchdown pass:
DAD: Nice throw by twinkle toes.

On a shoe commercial about 2020 and soft soles:
ME: Hey, did you hear last year sucked? I’m glad these commercials are here to remind me.
DAD: With the right shoes, this year will be like walking on clouds.

On a call against the Chiefs:
DAD: The fix is in.

On a commercial about working out with paint cans, broomsticks and rubber bands:
DAD: I had weights like that as a kid.

On Kansas City’s anemic offense and bright yellow shoes:
DAD: They would score more without bananas on their feet.

On hearing about Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ toe injury one too many times:
DAD: Take a time out and get a replacement toe.

On a commercial for a new melon-flavored Mountain Dew in a pink hue:
DAD: Pepto-flavored Mountain Dew?

As the game becomes out of reach for the Chiefs:
DAD: (Mahomes) has never lost by double digits? Is that another toe reference?

On a commercial that references the center of the 48 contiguous United States:
DAD: We went to see the center of the country. Lebanon, Kansas. 2018 (He texts three pictures he took of the site on one of their trips.)

I slept through big portions of the ballgame. I remember Tom Brady and Tampa Bay won.

But I mostly remember texts from my dad — and the thought that the jokes would’ve been much funnier in person.

Daniel P. Finney knows he hasn’t written in a while. He’s trying to figure out a new job and go to school and manage his mental health and an arthritic knee in the middle of a goddamn pandemic. Things are stressful and sometimes, as much as he wants to, he just doesn’t have the energy for paragraphs. But like all things in life, it’s a work in progress.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester is underway. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Crime and Courts, des moines, humor, life, Movies, People

Emancipation by identity theft

Of course I don’t own this image. If you’re really sore about it, don’t sue. I’ll take it down. But you’re a real sorehead.

A colleague had his identity stolen. The thief ran up a $500 bill on one of his department store credit cards. He reported the charge. The bank fixed it.

I might do things differently.

My credit is so bad, if someone stole my identity, my credit score would go up.

I pity the thief. I’ve had this identity for most of 45 years. It’s been OK, but I’m no Kardashian. I’m not even a Jenner.

I’m a lumpy middle-aged white guy in the Midwest who spent 27 years in journalism and is collecting student loan debt in hopes of entering the lucrative field of public education.

If you steal my identity, I’m going to let you keep it.

I wish they sold identity insurance the way they sold car insurance. Somebody jacks your car, the insurance company writes you a check and you go get a new ride.

I would go down to Identity Emporium and pick out something new.

Do you have anything in a Tom Selleck, “Magnum, P.I.” era?

I’m sorry, sir, but with the payout from your previous identity, you’d be lucky to get into a Tom Selleck, “Blue Bloods” era.

How about Brad Pitt after Jennifer Aniston, but before he left Angelina Jolie?

Sir, there is the question of size.

Size? What size? Are you telling my my identity is big and tall? What if a short guy stole my identity? He’s going to look silly.

I don’t make the rules, sir.

It sounds like we’re making it up as we go.

Fine. What do you have for me in celebrity?

We could just get you into a John Goodman, “Roseanne” first series era?

Couldn’t I at least get John Goodman from “The Big Lebowski?”

I’m sorry, sir. Our last of those identities was stolen last week.

Daniel P. Finney covers board games and bird watching for paragraphstacker.com.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. The new semester starts soon. All donations are greatly appreciated. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

life, mental health, People, Unemployment

2020: The year of the grunt

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, friendly neighborhood paragraph stacker, Des Moines, Iowa.

I’ve developed a nervous tic: I grunt.

I mean to hum, but it comes out a grunt. It’s anxiety, I think.

I don’t know how long I’ve been doing it. I’ve hum lyrics to songs. I’ve whistled movie themes.

These days I grunt.

Why? I can’t say.

I’ll blame 2020.

There’s 15 minutes left to the year, so it’s just another thing to attribute to the calendar.

It seems fair. I think I took to grunting during the pandemic while I was unemployed for seven months.

I worried a lot. I perfected my already strong self-loathing skills.

But I also endured.

I persevered.

I demonstrated resilience.

That’s what my therapist says.

2020 was the year of resilience, I think.

A lot of terrible things happened this year: the pandemic, the presidential election and social unrest.

The sadness stacked upon misery and grief.

2020 was a lot.

Getting through every day took more effort than usual.

I used to go to a gym when my mind and body were healthier. I may go again when the pandemic passes.

My trainer, Nate Yoho, used to encourage grunts — even shouts — when exerting energy to accomplish a cardio challenge or set a personal record in weightlifting.

I did not set many personal records in 2020.

But I maintained. I held the line.

I almost cracked.

But I was blessed. Friends and family propped me up. They would not let me fall even when I was ready to collapse.

I won’t try to name them all here. I’ll just say that without all of them, I wouldn’t have made it. They showed faith in me when mine was gone.

I survived pneumonia, unemployment, depression, going back to school and starting a new career. I didn’t do it alone.

It was hard. Damn hard.

Hard enough that I needed to grunt sometimes.

I grunt because my arthritic knees and back hurt.

I grunt as a nervous habit. (I’m trying to stop that so as not to become a greater annoyance to my new coworkers.)

I started grunting in 2020. It was a hard year and it required exertion.

I’ll probably grunt plenty in 2021.

Life is work. Damn hard work.

It requires a little grunting.

Daniel P. Finney once watched “The Big Lebowski” 136 days in a row.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.