episode1: Palin Picks the Right Shoes

The old kid gave a sad glance at his favorite ACTION SHOES. The sign in the store called them cross-trainers — whatever that meant. Back in the day they’d be referred to as tennis shoes or even sneakers if the person doing the referring was mom. Palin Warwick didn’t care what they were called, all he knew is he put them on and his feet gushed with pleasure. Not only were they comfortable, but these ACTION SHOES were sleek: sky blue with a big silver “N” on the side; they weighed nothing and empowered him with imaginary fleet steps.

He wasn’t athletic although “athletic heart” was a term used by the traveling health insurance guy when un-velcroing the blood pressure cuff. Palin, the pseudo-doctor accurately guessed, was coasting into middle-age on reserves leftover from playing sports in high school. “Pressure too high. Keep an eye on that. Otherwise a model employee, I’m sure.”

Palin figured he still had time to turn it all around and knew the ACTION SHOES would play some part in that, when the time came.

For now they served a purpose other than exercise: inspiration. It was the kind of Monday morning no amount of coffee could dent, so any amount of inspiration helped, even if it was just the sight of ACTION SHOES.

Today some older people would be at the office and older people typically liked the fancier clothes. They thought the way someone dressed had something to do with the quality of their character. Palin agreed. He pushed the ACTION SHOES aside and reached for his standard black leather Clarks. The Clarks were fancy enough for a meeting with the older people and robust enough for the usually rainy walk to work.

Upstairs in his closet were two suits from Nordstrom’s. One was too small, the other too big. Both, in his opinion, too fancy for daily wear in Alaska. Also upstairs in the closet was one pair of $400 brown leather shoes. Very fancy; they were delectable and he loved them. But damn, $400 dollars! Wingtips, hand-made in London, the real deal. They were the only dress shoes Palin had ever put on that didn’t want to immediately take right back off.

Added bonus: they were made in a westernized country so he didn’t have to pay tax when bringing them across the border.

Like a true best friend on their last great road trip, Jerry reminded Palin that he only lived once. “YOLO, Pal.” Since they were in Canada everything was basically 30% off thanks to the superior American dollar, and Jerry helped Palin with not only the shoes but the whole suit. If it weren’t for Jerry those shoes would still be on display in Vancouver. If it weren’t for Jerry — many things.

The $400 shoes got the hella worn outta them at an out-of-state conference where everyone — no matter how old — wore fancy shoes. A “casual” summer conference meant most of the men wore their fancy shoes with short-sleeved button-down shirts tucked into slacks. Palin was there in a room of mid-managers to talk about how to be better mid-managers. They heard inspiring speeches by former mid-managers and got to ask panels of current mid-managers questions about mid-managing.

The ones that liked to look good towed the rest in their wake. Most of the mid-managers, from big cities, wore such garb every day, so packing for a BUSINESS CASUAL conference was a simple matter of putting clothes in a suitcase. For Palin it meant going through Canada on the way to buy some fancy shoes and a suit.

By far the best-dressed of all conference attendees were women. Outnumbered four-to-one, their rarity gave their appearance extra impact. Palin imagined that for a woman, a casual conference would be no less work than a formal conference. A woman’s clothes changed every day, and had matching components and accessories and hair and make-up and everything else that goes along with that.

Palin didn’t want to think about everything else that goes along with that. He had enough trouble with just shoes and belt. If a man wore the exact same business clothes all week, no one would notice. If a woman did, the water cooler would boil over with talk about so-and-so’s mental meltdown. Coworkers would gush concern for the poor woman — behind her back. They would speculate: perhaps her fiancé dumped her. Perhaps her Internet at home was broken. Maybe she was on drugs — or not the right drugs. Palin Warwick was glad he wasn’t a woman. Sorry, women.

Today was special and Palin was moderately spiffied up for it. About a seven on the fancy scale. He wore dark “fashion jeans” — as Jerry called them — a button-down long-sleeved shirt (tucked-in), and the aforementioned fancy-enough black leather shoes (which, incidentally, cost a reasonable $120 at Juneau’s only fancy shoe shop: Shoefly — the only place in town where women outnumbered men ten-to-one).

On a normal day he would swap the button-down for a black t-shirt and the black shoes for ACTION SHOES. This, to him, was a sensible outfit for a high-end IT wizard turned mid-manager.

But it wasn’t a normal day. The office was abuzz. “The Board is coming, the Board is coming!” no one yelled the warning while running down the hallways. Juneau, being the Capitol of Alaska, was a political terminus, and the Board was on their way to meet with members of the legislature.

An email came out early last week warning Palin and the other 4th-floor wizard/nerds that the Board would be in town. “They’ll get a tour and will need a flawless demo of the robot, please.” The language reeked of Lord Ryan even though the email came from his assistant Mandy. The only thing Mandy-ish about the email was the quote below the emoticons in her signature: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. -Buddha.”

Palin’s boss, Ryan Stone, wasn’t a lord by a long stretch (he was born in some mysterious country club outside of Spokane) but it was a good nickname, Palin thought. Maybe because every time Palin read one of the man’s emails it sounded to be written in a British accent. Or maybe it was vice versa. Which came first, the nickname or the accent? It was a question of subjectivity Palin told himself to think about while staring out an airplane window. Despite Stone’s propensity toward acting like a big girl’s blouse, he was Palin’s boss and lord over all the Information Technology Department. And so, as a good mid-manager, when asked to “step up the appearance game, will ya lads?” Palin Warwick obliged.