Last week I was racing across the street in flip flops when, before I could stop it, my left foot landed on a pulverized rat. This was upsetting. Standing on the curb taking deep breaths, I decided to turn around and take a second look. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.
Closer inspection revealed that I did indeed just step in rat guts with nothing more than a thin flip-flopped sole between me and them. Trying to stifle my gag reflex, I peered down at what had once been a rat but was now just a flattened layer of mush pressed into the concrete, a tail and one foot the only discernible features that remained.
Walking away, I tried to convince myself that this was not a big deal. Maybe I’d actually only grazed a sliver of the rat, or missed it entirely. A few blocks later I gathered the courage to look at the bottom of my shoe. There was black gunk on the upper left corner, and some reaching up along the left side of my shoe, centimeters from my bare pinky toe.
Not a big deal, not a big deal, I thought as I practiced Lamaze breathing. But I knew that there was no amount of scrubbing and disinfecting I could do that would make me feel OK about stepping foot back into my apartment in these shoes. However microscopic, I would never step soundly again knowing there could be rat entrails on my floor.
I looked down at my flip flops. I loved these flip flops. I’d gotten them at The GAP last summer so they probably didn’t carry them anymore. They were super comfortable and the perfect neutral shade to go with everything. And I was super broke and not excited about shelling out money for any unanticipated expenses. But the ratty flip flops had to go.
On my way to meet a friend for coffee, I thought about canceling and immediately heading to The GAP for my replacement. But he was going through a hard time and needed my help so I felt like I had to show up. I spent an hour with my friend, silently praying that I wasn’t at that very moment contracting the Bubonic plague. I’d planned to go to an event afterwards, but there was no way I could sit through even another five minutes with this rat on my foot, so I changed my plan and walked in the opposite direction towards the closest GAP.
Why does this shit always happen to me? I thought. Who the f**k ever steps in a smooshed rat?!? It wasn’t enough to feel sorry for myself on my own, so I called a friend.
“I’m on the way to buy new shoes,” I said. “Because I just stepped in a f**king rat!!!”
Which was when I walked past a guy who looked a lot like my favorite singer, Maxwell, but it was kind of hard to tell because he had a full beard and was wearing a baseball cap. I smiled, and he smiled back.
I kept walking, but I had to take one more look to make sure so I turned around. He was looking at me (checking me out?), AND IT WAS TOTALLY HIM!
“Gotta go, bye!” I said to my friend, hanging up.
She texted me right away, “Feel better, the Universe just wants you to have new shoes!”
“The Universe just wants me to meet Maxwell!” I wanted to text back, but I had more pressing things to attend to first.
“Maxwell?” I asked, and he nodded yes.
“This is so crazy. I was just buying shoes,” he said, nodding at the shopping bags in his hands. “I can’t believe you recognized me.”
“I’m Max,” he said, reaching out his hand.
“I’m Jen,” I said, shaking his hand.
Let me semi-digress for a moment here to say that if I could meet one person in the whole entire world, it would be Maxwell. That I’ve been very vocal about my love for him for a long time.
I was shaking and totally overwhelmed so I said, “I can’t believe this! I’m shaking! I’m so overwhelmed!”
He stood there smiling as I recounted my love for him through the years, beginning when my first roommate in New York City introduced to me to Urban Hang Suite in 1998 to the present. Some highlights included when I took a half-vacation day from work three years ago to see him perform on a morning television show and told my boss I was taking a “Maxwell Half-Day;” how I went to see him in concert at Madison Square Garden by myself because none of my friends would go with me, and in the elevator at home that night I ran into my neighbor who was coming back from that same concert and I discovered that another die-hard Maxwell fan lived a mere four doors down from me; and how I listened to his music in my cube so much at an old job that whenever I came back from being on vacation, if an issue of TIME or People Magazine had come out while I was gone with an article about Maxwell in it, my boss and coworkers would leave a copy of it on my chair. I talk fast, so I was able to cover 14 years’ worth of stories in a relatively short period of time.
“You made my day, you made my day,” Maxwell kept saying, and hugging me. Multiple times.
Needless to say, I no longer cared that I was standing in rat.
“I put your songs on so many uplifting playlists!” I said, clutching my heart. “Your music has brought me so much joy!”
“You made my day,” he said, and hugged me. Again.
After Max and I parted ways, I found my way to The GAP in my post-Maxwell haze. I couldn’t believe that they had the exact same style and color as my beloved flip-flops, circa 2011–the second miracle of the night! Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size, so they directed me to the GAP on 5th Avenue which allegedly would.
Walking into the second store, I pointed to my feet. “Where are these flip-flips?” I asked a woman who worked there.
“We don’t have those,” she said.
“But the GAP I just went to said you’d have them in stock here.”
“This is Bebe,” she said.
“Oh! I’m so sorry! I just met Maxwell!” I said, by way of explanation.
“I LOVE MAXWELL!!!!” she squealed. “I walked by him once but I would have had to leave my little brother in the middle of the street in oncoming traffic to say hi to him so … I didn’t,” she said, with a look of remorse that conveyed this had been a difficult decision, and she wasn’t sure she’d made the right choice.
“He’s my husband!” she exclaimed.
Our sisterhood cemented, we hugged goodbye and she wished me luck finding my shoes.
Then I stumbled into the actual GAP a few doors down, and while they didn’t have my size either, they assured me that their Chelsea location would. That was the next stop on my shoe mission, and I found flip-flops in the exact color, style, and size to replicate my beloved pair. And miracle number three!–they were on sale for only $10! I put them on right away, and tossed my contaminated pair in the nearest trash can.
As soon as I got home, I called a friend to give her the play-by-play of my night.
“The best part of that story is the rat!” she said laughing.
Having lived through it, I was pretty sure the best part was Maxwell.
“We give thanks for the rat who gave his life,” she said solemnly.
“So that I could meet Maxwell,” I finished.