My dream job is to be a writer. My day job, as I may have mentioned, takes place at Walmart in Warsaw, Missouri, and involves stocking produce. It’s not as dismal as it sounds. The people are mostly nice and frequently entertaining. It’s always fun to people watch, and once in a while you can even find something to be proud of. One accomplishment that I look back on fondly, years later, is the night that a co-worker and I Saved The Pink Sparkly Slipper.
This happened, as I said, several years ago — long enough ago that I can no longer remember exactly when these events took place nor recall the names of most of the people involved. I do remember that it was a rainy evening, late in the spring, I think, or early in the fall. I was working in the produce back room when an off-duty associate came in and asked me if I had a ladder she could use. She was shopping with her middle-school-aged daughter and two of her daughter’s friends and one of the girls had lost her pink sparkly slipper on top of the “wet wall”.
The “wet wall” is the name of the big, open, refrigerated set of shelves that run the length of the produce department. It’s called the “wet wall” because it contains misters to keep bulk vegetables moist. Ours is about seven feet tall, some six feet deep and probably forty or fifty feet long. It is anchored to the floor by both electrical and plumbing connections and is completely immovable. It backs up against the frozen food section, sitting back-to-back with a freezer unit that is just as long, just as deep and even taller. Between the two lies a deep, narrow cleft. The ends of the cleft are capped by smaller, but still massive, freezers and the space within is entirely inaccessible.
You can see where this is going.
You may be wondering, as I did, how the young lady managed to lose her she on top of this fixture. I asked her that and she replied, quite reasonably, that she was just demonstrating how to kick a soccer ball. Since I did have a ladder, at that point it seemed a minor problem.
The Pink Sparkly Slipper was not on top of the wet wall. It wasn’t on top of the freezer unit and it wasn’t in the aisle on the other side. The only place it could have gone was down in the metal canyon where it could not be reached. Since climbing on either the wet wall or the freezer is strictly forbidden, there was no way to even see where it had landed. It seemed the Pink Sparkly Slipper was gone for good.
The owner of the PSS took it hard. One of the other girls lent her their shoes to console her and she went home weeping in the rain.
I felt terrible for her, and thought about it for the rest of that night and all through my shift the following day. At that time there was an uncommonly tall young man named Matt who worked in our deli. While helping one of the frozen foods associates fix a sign over one of the freezer end-caps, Matt discovered that, if he stood on a tall ladder and looked at just the right angle, he could actually see the Pink Sparkly Slipper. He couldn’t come anywhere close to reaching it, but he could see it and we knew it was there.
After consulting with, well, just about everyone who was working or shopping that day, Matt and I hit upon a plan. What we needed, we realized, was a fishing pole.
I had at my disposal a wooden mop handle, some lengths of wire, about the thickness of coat hanger wire, a rope we use to tie the freezer doors closed if there’s a power outage, a metal peg hook and duct tape. (There is ALWAYS duct tape!)
I bent hooks into the ends of three lengths of wire and taped them together to form a grappling hook, then taped the grappling hook to one end of the rope. The peg hook, I taped to the end of the mop handle, to act as a line guide, then I strung the rope through it and down the length of the handle, allowing me to push the rope out over the back of the wet wall and drop the grappling hook straight down.
In the last few minutes before the end of our shifts, Matt and I set up Operation Save The Pink Sparkly Slipper. He put his ladder back at the end of the aisle, where he had a visual on the PSS. Then he directed me in the placement of a second ladder, so that I was level with the target. I dropped my grappling hook into the mechanical canyon and Matt guided me as I swung it down and towards the object of our rescue.
After all the preparation, it was ridiculously easy. I caught the hook in the toe of the slipper on, probably, the second or third try and reeled it in. We were outrageously pleased with ourselves and, going to the back of the store to clock out, we proceeded as if making a triumphal march, holding the PSS aloft and singing the theme to Rocky in that “da da DAH da” kind of way you do when you don’t actually know the words. We turned the shoe over to management and they promised to give it to the off-duty associate so she could return it to its rightful owner.
Some time passed before I found out the whole of the story.
About a week before she found herself demonstrating soccer kicks in the produce department, the young lady in question had lost much more than a shoe. Her beloved grandfather had suddenly passed away. The Pink Sparkly Slippers were one of the last gifts he’d ever given her.