0627 Vidro Consumerism Sneakers

A pair of Converse sneakers.

Doctors and nurses aren’t the only medical heroes during this viral pandemic. I am proud of my niece, who works at the admissions desk of a large hospital. Also, don’t forget each hospital’s cafeteria workers. And their custodians. Think of the valuable work custodians do to maintain a hospital’s cleanliness.

Except it has gotten harder to thank custodians. For they no longer call themselves custodians. Now a hospital custodian is an “environmental service technician.”

Job titles change over the years. The changes are not of lasting importance, but they show how people just can’t let things be. They feel the need to rename almost every job title (and redesign almost every logo).

Why not leave well enough alone?

Over at Disneyland, there no longer are visitors/patrons and employees. Instead there are “guests” and “cast members.”

Certain big-box stores also call their customers “guests.”

Well, unless you have specifically invited me to visit, I am not a guest and I would rather not be called one. And if you are an employee, why not admit it? Instead, we have “associates” and “team players” and “staff members” and other euphemisms. What is wrong with being an employee?

When I was growing up, garbagemen (and yes, they were all men) used to come and pick up the trash. Then one day their job title changed to “sanitation engineers.” I was one confused kid. Had these men, I pondered, somehow acquired degrees in engineering?

Perhaps in big cities where garbage is picked up by unionized workers, the “engineering” title led to higher wages.

Granted, the term “garbageman” is not attractive. So now I use “trash collector.” But I will be danged if I call them engineers.

As a kid in restaurants, I would notice “noodles” on the menu. Then one day there were no more noodles on the menu. Instead, the word “pasta” was there. Along with considerably higher prices.

Guess “pasta” is worth more money than “noodles.” Even if they are one and the same.

I once worked at a publishing house where, with hard work and good annual reports, I got promoted from “assistant editor” to “associate editor.” At a different publishing house where I later worked, one started as an “associate editor” and hoped to advance to “assistant editor.”

Associate editor? Assistant editor? Which is higher up on the editorial pecking order? Guess it depends where you work.

When I was growing up, there were basically four forms of footwear: shoes, sneakers, boots, and slippers.

Somehow, that changed.

Thirty or so years ago, some friends and I visited a mall. I was hoping to buy new sneakers, for my toes were protruding through the old pair.

I entered the shop, looked around in confusion, then asked a nearby clerk where the sneakers were shelved.

“Sir, here are the athletic shoes.” He pointed at a vast wall, and went though the items line by line. “We have walking shoes, jogging shoes, basketball shoes, tennis shoes, running shoes, golf shoes—”

“No, no,” I tried to explain. “I’m not looking for shoes. Just sneakers.”

Again he went through his spiel, but nothing he pointed to was a sneaker.

“Look,” I tried again. “Do you sell sneakers? They have flat, rubber soles. The brands I remember are Keds and Converse. They should cost under $20 – which is much less than the fancy footwear you keep pointing me to. Do you stock either Keds or Converse?”

“Sir, we have many types of athletic shoes. We have walking shoes, we have—”

I cut him off as an idea occurred to me. To justify having doubled or tripled the prices, had the word “sneaker” been replaced with all these other names in another marketing ploy?

“Look, sonny,” I said. “Are you even allowed to say the word ‘sneakers?’”

An uneasy look cloaked his face. He remained silent. I had hit the nail on the head.

My companions suggested I buy the “athletic shoes” or else leave; they feared I was giving the clerk an unduly hard time.

I don’t fault the clerk. He was just carrying out idiotic orders.

As I walked out of the store, disappointed and empty-handed, I announced I would look elsewhere until I found a shop that admitted to selling sneakers.

Oh, the name of the chain store I had just exited where the employees were not allowed to utter the word “sneaker” because it suggested low-end merchandise?

Sneaker Circus.

If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro in the care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend. His latest short story, “GLI or NOGT?”, appears in the June 2020 issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine.

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