Monday, November 14, 2005

Step Rite in for your Free Shoes!

Back in the old days, when I was young and full of vim and sometimes vinegar, I was sort of a practical joker. I never tried to do any serious harm to anyone. Well, I tried not to.

Late one morning, my best friend, Stewart and I were standing around the old Weiner King restaurant, in Flemington, NJ. We would go in around 8 AM to chop onions, make burger patties, and do just about everything else the business needed to prep for the day. Our boss, Jack, had gone somewhere, so it was just the two of us. I think we opened at 10:30 AM. This was before then and we had nothing else to do. I think it's a big mistake to leave a couple of 19-20 year old kids alone in a business with idle hands and busy minds. It creates a breeding ground for trouble, especially when both are pretty good at setting up and executing practical jokes.

I don't remember which one of us came up with the idea of making prank phone calls that fateful morning. It was probably Stewart. You know, the old "Does Prince Albert come in a can?" "Yes." "Well, let him out!" kind of thing. I guess it doesn't matter, either, which one of us conjured up the idea about what kind of prank call it was going to be, I just know that I was going to be the one making the phone calls. I had one of those voices that sounded like it came right out of your AM radio. I could turn on that voice and people would swear they were listening to some DJ from the Big Apple. We decided to give away free shoes. There was a store in Flemington called Step Rite Shoes. Shoe stores in that town were few and far between, so we assumed most people we called would know about it. They were all going to be local calls anyway.

"What should we ask them, Stew?"

"I don't know, come up with something." Hmm. I thought about a question they probably wouldn't know the answer to, like, who is the present ambassador to the United Nations from the United States? It was George Bush (1971-1973.) No, not this one. His father. We figured that this time of morning it would pretty much be housewives who would answer the phone. Back then, it was like that. Husbands were the breadwinners and wives did the ironing after sending the little kiddies off to school.

We grabbed the phone book and randomly pointed to numbers. I started dialing. Initially, most calls went unanswered. Hey, maybe more women worked than we thought.

Finally, the whole thing started to connect.

"Yes, good morning. This is John Smith, from Step Rite Shoes in Flemington. We picked your number at random from the phone book. Are you familiar with us?"


"If you can answer this question, you'll win a free pair of shoes of your choice. Any size, any style, any price. Are you ready?"

"Yes!" I sensed an overall glee from the prospect of winning something.

I asked the question. The first few had no clue what the answer was, just as we suspected. I mean, we didn't really expect to give away free shoes, it was just the fun of making prank calls Stew and I were interested in. I thanked them for their time and reminded them to keep Step Rite in mind when thinking about their next shoe purchases.

At some point, a man answered and I posed the question. "George Bush," he responded almost immediately. Uh oh.

"Yes! You're absolutely right!"

"Now, what do I do?" he asked. Well, golly gee whiz, we hadn't thought about that. I had to think fast.

"Er, uh, come into the store any time today or tomorrow. What is your name again? Uh, okay. Yes, any time today or tomorrow. Give the manager your name and feel free to choose your shoes. I'm very happy you won. You're the first to know the answer."

"Thank you. Thank you very much."

I guess we made several more calls, assuming that guy was a fluke, but, I'll be doggoned if a woman didn't get the answer right, too. Not because she's a woman. I just didn't expect anyone to know the answer. I gave her the same response about coming in.

All in all, I think that out of the dozen or so calls we made, they were the only two who knew who the ambassador was.

After our fun, Jack returned and we told him what we had done. "You boys are sick."

Then we imagined what's going to happen when the first person arrives to pick out their shoes...

"What, is this some kind of a joke?" I could almost hear the manager scream, as he tells that person to leave the store before he calls the cops. But, by the time the second person came in, well, I just don't know. A conspiracy of some sort? Maybe he did give them shoes after all.

Thirty-some years later, I'm still wondering what the outcome was. I'm glad I'm above that sort of thing now. Good thing they didn't have *69 back then.

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