Trying to Put Your Best Foot Forward in Honolulu

Morgan, of La Jolla, is a magazine and newspaper writer

Shoes came tumbling down from the sale racks and lay piled on the carpet at Liberty House in Honolulu. Most of the shoppers were Japanese tourists or locals of Asian descent. They crowded around tiny shoes marked sizes 3 and 4.

Head and shoulders above the throng, I walked toward bigger models. Salesman Dan Johnson approached.

"Did you have something special in mind?" he asked.

"Comfort," I replied. "I'm a hard-to-fit 10-narrow. I have my best luck with the cut of Ferragamo."

I had not planned to start that sunny day in the air-conditioned cave of Liberty House. There were paperbacks to be read in the shade of a breadfruit tree at my hotel. There was the tempting water of the deep blue pool with the giant mosaic orchid on the bottom.

But at breakfast, about the time that barefoot hordes were making for Waikiki, I saw the newspaper ad: Ferragamo shoe sale--35% off.

While Italian leather shoes may not be a traditional souvenir of Hawaii, I had no need for another aloha shirt or pineapple slicer. I took a taxi to the Ala Moana Center. I'd give it an hour.

Dan disappeared into a back room and began bringing out boxes of shoes: high-heels, low-heels, stacked heels, sandals. I may have seen 30 pairs, more than I've been shown at the Ferragamo home shop in Florence. Some of the familiar red boxes were battered from travel, but the shoes inside were pristine.

We discussed the westward migration of shoes, in which styles that don't sell in New York City or Los Angeles finally cross the Pacific and end up in Honolulu. Maybe they are a season behind, but they maintain a classic look.

"Take your time," Dan said, in friendly fashion. He came from Kansas. "Frankly, it's nice to see a good-sized American foot come in here. As you can see, most of our customers wear a 3 or 4. They're like doll shoes."

Dan was patient and chatty as I swept through two dozen 10-narrows. He'd absorbed his share of island cool. After Kansas he'd worked in Alaska before taking a taste of Hawaii. He and his girlfriend were about ready, he thought, to go on to California. Maybe settle down at UCLA.

By this point I'd narrowed my choices and was trying to remember what was in my autumn wardrobe back home. I mulled over taupe, Bordeaux and tobacco brown. You have to wear an odd-size shoe to appreciate the joy of color options.

A woman came in wearing support sandals. She sat down heavily and asked a young Hawaiian clerk to bring her a plain pump in size 6--double wide.

She attempted to squeeze into three styles before the clerk said gently: "If you are going to try to wear closed shoes, you may have to trim your toenails."

The woman sighed and nodded.

I decided on two pairs of low-heeled walking shoes and two pairs of mid-heel pumps. Dan said he'd mail them to my home in California, which would save me lugging them around the South Pacific.

In Honolulu, they say that Japanese travelers spend an average of $598 a day, while American tourists spend $198 a day. I do not doubt it. On Kalakaua Avenue I watched Japanese honeymooners scoop up gems from Tiffany as if they were sands on the beach. Credit cards glittered beneath crystal chandeliers.

Even with my Ferragamo shipment I could not match the Japanese figures. But I proved I could be more than an average American . . . at least for a day. I also found a new excuse for visiting Hawaii, and plunging in feet first.

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