Shoe Game

Written by Alexis Candelaria

I know details, my eyes can see the forest and the trees. I can notice if your nylons are actually made of silk or that mass produced polyester that sticks and irritates the skin. You’ll scratch your legs, but you won’t scratch silk. Silk kisses your skin. I notice if your perfume is a knock off or if it’s the real deal. Key indicator? How much you use of it. When it’s the real stuff, you know, Chanel, Burberry, and for you 50 and older crowd: Estee Lauder, you use a strategic amount. If I can smell your perfume after I’ve hugged you, you are probably wearing a perfume from Target. You don’t create a business from scratch, and not notice the details.

God, the 405 is a disaster at nine in the morning. It’s also a disaster at ten, eleven, twelve. When is it not a disaster? I could’ve taken the 10 but at this time, it’s just as well that I sit in traffic on the 405. I know what you’re probably thinking: I’m a rich LA bitch sitting in a luxury car doing the most rich bitch thing ever-complain about traffic in LA. And you’d be partially right. I drive a jet black BMW 7 series, it’s classy but still flashy, all leather interior, of course, with state of the art technology that can suggest the best route to work and the best place to get a spicy tuna roll wherever I happen to be. And before this, I drove a Porsche-I think that’s enough said.

But I’m not rich. Not like you are thinking. I’m definitely not a rich LA bitch.

I purchased the 7 series from a bank that was selling their fleet cars. Banks always buy the flashiest cars for their management and replace them every decade or so, and if you are keeping track of the last fleet sale, you’ll usually score yourself a luxury car at an affordable price. The Porsche? Bought it off some teenager on the West Side who wanted to “upgrade”-whatever the fuck that means. I’m wearing my black Versace dress, bold Versace glasses, my gold Tiffany hoop earrings, and nothing says boss bitch like my red bottom Louboutins. Now my wardrobe, that’s an investment, but not as much as you’d think. When you know people in the industry, you can get the real deal for half the cost. Look, people notice what you are wearing right away: they can tell if you are wearing cashmere or cotton, if the seams match, and if your shoes are actually leather or some plastic bullshit. Do you know what people actually notice first when they’re meeting you? Your shoes.

Does that surprise you? Having a good shoe game can literally open doors for you. And my game has been on point since I started my business. If you go into my closet, you’ll find rows of Manolo Blahniks, Jimmy Choos, and I already mentioned my Red bottoms but who doesn’t die whenever they see a pair of Kate 120s? My shoes, well, those have been an investment. But, hey, I get a paycheck just like everyone else and I get to choose what I want to spend my money on. Some people choose to spend their money on Blow, I choose shoes instead. And before you think I’m shallow or narcissistic, let me tell explain something.

You have to learn fast if you want to make it as an entrepreneur. Here’s one of the first things I learned: People are simple creatures, really, flash something shiny and pretty around them and they are mesmerized. I did research and found that when you appear rich, people are more likely to trust you, find you smart, attractive, even more moral. That last one always gets me-people obviously know nothing about rich people if they think they have any moral compass. The only compass they have, is the one that leads them to more money. A money compass, that’s what it is. Oh, and you know what else my research confirmed over and over? Appear rich-wear the Versace dress from the latest fall collection, flash the Berkin bag, and dangle your Tiffany tennis bracelets-in their faces- and people are more likely to invest in your company. I don’t bust my ass, putting in 70 plus hour weeks for over a decade, for my company to let something as malleable as image hold me back. No, I lean into it, I have forged this image with my own two hands.

My company: a wellness group that sells overpriced tonics and lotions to people, mostly women though, looking for any way to stave off death and/or the signs of obvious aging. We do workshops about breathing too. Can you believe people in California will pay upwards of 1,000 dollars to learn how to breath “better”. Insider information: there is no better way to breathe, you just breathe. Not that I don’t believe in my company, I do, anyone who doesn’t won’t survive past year one in this entrepreneur eat entrepreneur world. I lead a company of over five hundred employees. Five hundred people call me boss. Not miss or missus, they call me boss.

And today I’m driving into LA to meet with a new potential investor. Do I really need a new investor? Well, every company needs new investors, more is more, right? And more is always better. I tell people I live “in the mountains” just outside of LA and most assume I mean Santa Monica or Calabasas, and I let them think that-it’s better for my brand if they do. The truth is that I live in the foothills. Of San Gabriel. Nowhere near the mountains, in a two bedroom apartment that I would best describe as modest. You have to choose wisely where you put your money and how it contributes to the business. No one is coming to my home, it will not add to my brand or grow the business, so, yes, I have IKEA furniture and Target brand sheets. All of my cups and bowels are plastic and I got my silverware from Amazon for fifteen bucks. It’s not like I live in a shit hole, I invest my money strategically to a vain fault.

I am running my newly manicured nails through my dark, blown out hair when I see the lights in my rear view mirror. Blue and red, followed by that tell tale sound: I’m being pulled over. Fuck. You know what rich entrepreneurs aren’t? Late. I pull over to the shoulder, I’m right near the off ramp near the Forum. What city is this? Inglewood? Before I shut off my car, I hurriedly tell Siri to send a text message to my investor. Good Morning. Period. I am on the 405 and have just been pulled over. Period.

He knocks on my window and I jump, before I can tell Siri to send the message. I roll down my window and he asks me, curtly, to turn off the car. Of course, I say and I push the ignition button. The car hums to a gentle stop and the officer asks where I’m going. I read the name, just below his silver badge: Officer Shelby. I explain that I’m headed out to the Valley for work. Work? He says, as though he doesn’t believe me. He takes a hard look at me, his face is like granite, and lets more than a few seconds pass between us. I ask why I’m being pulled over and before I can get the word Over out of my mouth, he asks my my license and registration. I reach over to my purse to get my license out of my wallet and my registration out of my glove compartment. When I hand them over, he takes them and disappears for a second, only to reappear and remind me to put my hands at ten and two on the steering while he is gone. I put my hands promptly on the steering wheel and think this cops is really on one this morning, and for fucks sake, I just knocked over my black Coach bag into the back seat. My iPad, my iPhone, and MacBook splash onto the floor of my back seat.

Officer Shelby leans into my window and asks me for my name. Mari, I say, Mari Holcomb. Mary? He scoffs, tiny droplets of his spit landing on my cheek. I sit up straighter, my hands now gripping the steering wheel, and correct myself. Maricela Holcomb. He runs his tongue over the top row and says my name slowly, crunching each syllable as he spoke: MA-RI-CE-LA HOL-COMB. I look straight ahead. It takes twenty minutes to prime my face and correctly apply my Tom Ford’s foundation that smooths out my most egregious signs of aging. I’m forty two, I can’t wear cheap make up. That shit is made for girls in their twenties who don’t need to wear foundation anyway, but they do. We do.

Well, Maricela, he says, why does this car say it’s registered to a David Holcomb? I nod, and say, that’s my husband. Your husband? He says like an afterthought. Then, he continues, what’s your real name? This question catches me off guard and I flick my eyes over at him. My real name? I ask. Yeah, your real name obviously isn’t Holcomb, Maricela. He looks at me, an unforgiving edge in his murky green eyes.

Oh, a bead of sweat runs down my back. Oh, I know that look. Yes, I know that edge. No amount of Tom Ford’s traceless foundation, or Charlotte Tilbury’ matte lipstick, sixty bucks a pop, could distract from what some people work very hard to only see and want to erase. Eradicate. Growing up, my parents had to teach me that there are people in this world who want to erase my existence, my culture, my history, and that I shouldn’t let them. Don’t hand over your existence, Maricela, my mother would say.

I grip the steering wheel tighter, the traffic slowing, grinding to a halt, drivers craning their necks for a nano second to check out the drama on the shoulder of the freeway. Look, but no one ever helps. Fuck, I have never pulled into the shoulder of a freeway to help a motorist, another person, ever. It’s not safe.

Names, names: I’ve heard alot of names on the radio this year. I first heard about Sandra Bland on the radio. Then, I read it in the newspaper, clicked on the links on Facebook, watched the YouTube videos; it was every woman’s nightmare. Shot by the police in your own car for a routine stop. What I found fascinating, though, was the social indignance and outrage, as though the nation was blind to its own history. How’d did we become the nation with the shortest short term memory? When I first heard the news about the Sandra Bland murder on NPR, I remember thinking, there must be a countless number of nameless Sandras, silenced forever, and that there will be more, inevitably more. I was thinking this while applying Dior blush, in peachy peach, to my cheekbones. I was thinking, also, names are important, so important.

Lopez. Maricela Lopez. I say, looking straight ahead at the off ramp. If I had a dime, he says leaning away for second, looking out into the mid morning sky. It was pristine, a beryline blue-the color you’d expect from a gemstone, that was the color of the LA sky. It’s 2020, Ms. Lopez, he began, police officers, we have a new due diligence. I’m sure you’ve heard in the news.

The ICE raids. The child camps at the border. Families torn apart and then lost. Yes, I’ve heard it. I listen to the news every morning, after I take my shower while I lather myself in lotion imported from France, meant to keep me firm and youthful. I’ve memorized what to say should ICE ever show up at my home or workplace, even though, the possibility feels remote. My husband tells me to be careful, and citizen or not, he knows people who have called ICE on their neighbors, just out of spite, so stay vigilant.

So I have to ask you. Are you legal? He said so insouciantly, he might as well asked if I preferred red or white. That question: as if I hadn’t heard it all my life. If you lived through the 90s, when California was nipping at the heels of proposition 187, and white people would cattle call into predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods “La Migra!” Just to laugh when people scattered. 2020 was no different, but at the same time we were living in a whole new era. One where we resurrected an ancient type of hate, and everyday it grew stronger, more vicious, more autonomous. It seemed to function and adapt everywhere, no longer requiring once relied on popular bases. This new evil has evolved and is showing up in places like our school board meetings, grocery stores, even our libraries and it’s making itself right at home.

Then I heard it: my cellphone. It was ringing. Reflexively I turned my body and reached for it. I read the name of the caller: James Kohl. My potential new investor, likely wondering where the fuck I am. I heard the officer bark at me and when I turned back around, he already had his gun pointed at me. Holy shit, I screamed, my hands trembling back to ten and two. Hands on the Wheel! Hands on the Wheel! He barked again, and I closed my eyes, not wanting to see the gun pointed right at my face. This is it. This is how I die, shot on the shoulder of the 405, impeccably dressed. If I’m lucky, my death will be apart of the news cycle for a few days before fading into obscurity and oblivion. In the unlikely event he is prosecuted, I am wondering how the media will portray me in order to cast the best light on Officer Shelby. They will quickly learn that my parents are undocumented immigrants, arriving in Texas when my mother was eight months pregnant with me. I was born in El Paso and migrated to California when I was ten, when my mother secured a job through her aunt, who made the trek to the US years before my parents. The job paid well and consisted of cleaning the homes of the elite in Beverly Hills. It was honest work but the media would call them criminals, leeches, sucking tax payers dry with their food stamps and social services. They’d say I must’ve done something to get shot, because innocent people don’t get shot.

Officer Shelby pulls my car door open with his free hand while keeping the gun squarely on me and tells me to get out of the car. Get out of the car! I freeze. If I get out of this car, he’ll kill me for sure. I can’t get out of the car, no way, I’m not moving. I shake my head, still looking straight ahead, my hands on ten and two. Tears are running down my face, my fifty dollar mascara is mixing my tears, creating grey streaks on my face. Lancôme. Lancôme isn’t supposed to smear. No? Officer Shelby barks. Get the fuck out of the car. I blink away my grey tears and the word escapes my mouth: No.

He yanks me out of the car violently, and immediately I fall to the ground, my head makes contact with the paved road first, cars perilously close to my face. Officer Shelby pushes my body away from the freeway and onto the gravel. As I breathe in, my mouth is coated with dirt and dust. I can feel his knee in my back and see his other foot on my left side. Officer Shelby has no shoe game, he’s wearing black utility boots, with cotton laces, tied tightly. Each time he moves, he kicks up more dust that fills my nostrils, stings my eyes, and coats my lips. He probably doesn’t even realize my Louboutins aren’t just shoes, they are a statement. They say, I’m the fucking American dream, bitch. The only child of immigrant parents who didn’t speak a word of English, works hard and relentlessly, suffers rejection, indignities but never loses focus, never allows the noise to distract her. My brown skin and Spanish tongue may keep some from ever looking my way, but not all, and especially not after they learn how good I am at what I do. I make people see, make them know. I create. I create business. I create jobs. I make money literally, and emphatically move even if once upon a time, my parents paid a stranger one hundred bucks to guide them across the Rio Grande, only to have him ditch them once he pushed them into the fast moving waters. My mom once told me that the water was so cold and so fast, it ripped her skin raw. She could hardly breathe, fighting to keep her head above water and keep her arms and legs moving, swimming to a new country, to safety.

I can’t breathe. One swift kick to my side and I can’t breathe. There is no air, only a sharp pressure in my chest. I cry out, and Officer Shelby delivers another blow. When your ribs break, it sounds like a pencil breaking. That’s all we are made of-hollow wood, easily made, easily broken. This really is it. With a mouth full of gravel, I feel my eyes start to blink close. I see Officer Shelby, now doused in an ethereal light, move towards me again, gearing up for another blow. Looking at him, my face smashed into ground, my eyes half open, it appears as though he’s moving through molasses. Slowly, slowly, slowly. I see one hand, and then another, before a pair of white Converse appear in front of me. I can hear muffled shouting, as my breathing becomes more labored, each breath is weak, like a worn shoe string. Nikes. Air Force Ones in white stand in front of Officer Shelby. I can’t raise my head to see anything but shoes. Green ballet flats stand formidably in front of me, like a wall, as though proclaiming to the Officer-no, you can’t have her. Brown construction boots, a pair of Doc Martens, pink Keds; so many shoes. So much game.

Before my eyes close, I see a pair of Red Bottoms approach from my side. They stand next to me, one front in front of the other, poised to fight. Before my eyes close, I think, damn, shoe game is fire.