The Gala

It was January 2007 when I received the invitation to my very first charity ball. A gala, as Michael (my then-boyfriend) called it. I think it was an event to benefit children of some kind and while I was very excited to help children, I was equally as excited that I, me, would in fact be attending a gala. My heart soared like a 16-year-old girl who was just asked to prom.

Moments later the soaring sensation stopped like a bird on a freshly cleaned window when I remembered one minor detail… I was a bargain shopper. Which meant I had absolutely nothing to wear to a gala.

I envisioned walking through a gala-security-sensor that would sound an alarm and flash blue lights as I entered. “Bargain Shopper! Bargain Shopper!” I had flashbacks to junior high and the ridicule I faced because of my hand-me-down wardrobe. I simply could not face that kind of humiliation again. I simply couldn’t go to the gala.

I informed Michael that I was unfortunately coming down with a cold and would be unable to attend. (Even more unfortunate was the fact that I told him a week in advance, which made the illness less believable.)

“Kindra,” he said sternly, “My company purchased a table. We RSVP’d. You’re going.”

A mere three hours before my chariot to the event was to arrive, I still had nothing to wear. Nothing except my junior year prom dress (which I considered). I took a deep breath and headed to the mall. When I arrived, I ran to the sale section of the dress section of the least expensive of the department stores. Within 15 minutes I found a cute black and white number that made my chest look bigger than it was, my waist look smaller than it was, and all for a price a bargain shopper could swallow. I purchased some “pearls” from the lady with lipstick on her teeth at the jewelry counter and raced home. With five minutes to spare, I was showered, dressed and ready to run out the door when I realized I had no shoes on my feet.

Shoes! I forgot shoes!

Before panic set in, I had a moment of inspiration. I ran back to my closet and pulled out a pair of black strappy heels. The heels I purchased in 2002 at Mervyn’s to wear to my college Homecoming Coronation. They were $24.99. They were Mootsie Tootsies. Sure the black straps were a little faded, the soles were a little ragged, but they had never let me down. I strapped those shoes on my feet, revealing my Revlon painted toes, gave my hair a final toss and headed downstairs where Michael waited.

When he saw me, he gasped (just a little). “Ah! There’s that million dollar smile I love.”

We arrived at the gala and it was everything I had dreamed it would be. Men in little coats with tiny bits of food. A red carpet. Endless glasses of champagne. Women in gowns, and fur, and diamonds. All of this … and me, feeling like a million dollars.

Then, just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any better, a woman with a camera approached me.

“Excuse me, Excuse me. I am with a Magazine and I was wondering if I could photograph you.”

I was speechless. I handed Michael my (Target) clutch and followed the photographer to the lush surface of the red carpet where I knew exactly what to do.

I smiled.
I put my shoulder in. I put my shoulder out.
I felt like such a natural that for a moment I forgot I was a bargain shopper.

Just then the photographer shouted over the crowd that had gathered:
“What are you wearing?!”
Oh, this was not good.

I tried to think quickly. I tried to channel Heidi Klum, or Debbie Gibson, or someone…

“Um. It’s vintage?” (After all, it was on sale).

The photographer frowned.

“What about your handbag?”
I remembered the Target clutch with the fake rhinestone heart was safe with Michael.

“Um. I lost it?”

The photographer frowned more.

“Who are your shoes?” she shouted.
I considered saying vintage again but shoes aren’t vintage, they’re just old.

Having had enough with my hesitations and lack of cooperation, the photographer slung her camera over her shoulder, charged the red carpet in a huff, and lifted my foot off the ground to read the name on the bottom. Her plan was thwarted; the name was worn off from years of use.

Convenient and embarrassing.

Unwilling to surrender she actually lifted my heel to look at my tattered sole (soul). There, the brand remained in all its humiliating glory. The photographer stood and announced to the world:

“MOOTSIE TOOTSIE”

I felt myself skin burn as I blushed. I wanted desperately to run from the red carpet. To never set foot in a gala again. I slowly walked back to Michael and when he asked how the photo went I mumbled something about “mootsie toosties” and “total humiliation.”

“Well, as long as they snapped a shot of that million dollar smile of yours, I don’t think your shoes will matter much.” I hoped he was right and tried to forget it had ever happened in the first place.

We stayed for the rest of the evening; eating great food, cheering for the children, and having the time of our lives dancing the night away (in shoes that were made for dancing). The embarrassment of the gala had all but been forgotten until…

A month or so later, Michael came home with a Magazine open to a page with photos of four women: Celebrity gala guest, beautiful Scottsdale woman, beautiful Phoenix woman, and …

Me.

Below the photos were captions of what these style-icons were wearing—shoes included. It went something like, Gucci, Prada, Versace, …

Mootsie Tootsie.

If ever a picture was worth a thousand words (or a million dollars), this was it.