The place only sold socks. They were everywhere and in every single color you could imagine. It was very nice to see rows and rows of different tones and drawings on them. Special socks for Christmas, for Halloween, for Thanksgiving, for Valentine’s Day, for Easter and even for New Year’s Eve. Every employee knew where everything was and how socks were made and could help a costumer find anything they wanted in a matter of a few minutes. There was a reason why the store was called the Sock Empire.
The Empire was also divided into types of socks, not only color, and between those made for men, for women and for children. Ruben Rostenkowski had been the creator of the Empire and many of his competitors admired him for his amazing take into the world of footwear. People had been focusing so much on the foot for so long, that it was refreshing that one store could focus its whole attention solely to socks and all the types that existed.
No one knew how Ruben had come up with the idea but they were envious he had had it. Everyone in the city knew he made millions of dollars every year and only from the main store. He had stores in other states but they were not as extravagant and amazing as the one in his hometown of Cleveland. He had been born there over sixty years ago and, although he had lived and worked in other parts of the country when he was younger, he decided to go back to his home in order to make his dream come true.
Back then, Ruben was just a young boy, not really a full adult. He was still shooting cans with his air rifle and drinking the content of those cans with his group of friends. He had gone to school to study medicine but the truth was that Ruben was the lousiest student ever. He attended only half of his classes and the rest of the time he just spend it with girls and drinking. For all that, he wasn’t apparently as childish. After all, he was twenty-five years old.
Many thought that a man that owned such a store dedicated only to the foot had to be some sort of fetishist. And they were right. Ruben found that out in college, as he met lots of beautiful and not so beautiful young women. The first thing he did every time, as a form of foreplay, was to massage the girl’s feet. He would do it in such a professional manner; the girls never really realized he was so into it. To be honest, he was obsessed with it as he detailed every foot he saw, the curves and the skin and the complexity of it all. He was very obsessed.
In class, he would suffer sometimes when a fellow student decided to remove her shoes beneath the desk. He instantly wanted to touch the foot and have it for his own but then he remembered he was in class and he couldn’t risk shaming himself even more than he already did when getting drunk. So he learned to breath deeply and just think about something else, maybe even count backwards in order to relax his mind and get any ideas out of it.
It worked, sometimes. Other times, he would just ask the girl out and massage her feet as soon as he was able. He decided, and that a very healthy choice from him, to visit a shrink. He was sure a person with enough experience in these things would be able to help him stop his obsession and live a healthy life.
However, it was a surprise when the psychologist told him it was pretty normal to have a fetish. He told Ruben most people had one, whether they realized it or not. Maybe it was a hair fetish, or maybe a “tall” fetish or maybe even weirder stuff like liking sex in costumes or always in public spaces. The point was, and the doctor repeated it constantly, that it wasn’t a disease and it wasn’t something bad as long as he learned to control it and not the other way around. So he advised him to get a hobby with which he could control the thoughts he had.
It was difficult to find the right hobby, though. Ruben had never been really good at sports. Actually he sex appeal didn’t come from his body at all but from the way he spoke to women and how they responded to his voice and careful and intriguing demeanor. Anyhow, he still tried to play softball, rugby and gold but he failed miserably at all of them and it was then when he noticed he had started looking at men’s feet and he hadn’t even realized.
Now he was really worried because in his mind he thought that his obsession had made him gay. But after calming down and watching a pornographic movie, he realized he was not interested in men, at all. Only their feet. So it was in that moment when the idea of the Empire first came to his mind: he thought that if his obsession was to be put to good use the best thing to do was something with feet.
He looked everywhere and finally found a small workshop where people could go and learn how to make shoes. Of course, it was more about seeing the process than doing it because the materials were not all that easy to find and the idea was to attract people into the footwear business. There were just a few sessions but he became obsessed about shoes now and started reading all there was to now about the history of shoes and also about the making of shoes.
As far as Ruben’s parents were concerned, they were happy to see him doing his last year of med school. He entered that time when he actually had to help patients and do shifts in a hospital and so on. But he was as lousy in that as he was in class. Besides, he was reading all he could about shoes and started thinking a business dedicated to shoes might be just what his life could be all about. Making them was not that easy but maybe selling would be a lot more interesting. He would see feet every day but he would have under control because it would be his job. Perfect.
But after months of research, he realized the market was just filled with shoe stores selling the same types of shoes to every single idiot in the United States. He had to be unique and bold.
It was around that time that Ruben met Carly, a student of reflexology. She wasn’t from college but she had attended a rare conference about the subject there and Ruben had instantly fallen in love with her. She took some time to liking him however, but after some weeks they were dating and enjoying each other’s company. They rapidly found out about their mutual interest and engaged in long and detailed talks about the history of the foot and its pressure points.
It was the day Carly took him home for Christmas, when he realized his biggest idea yet. Her grandmother was there, a lovely lady, and she was knitting the socks that were left for Santa to put on the presents. And it was then when he had the idea to dedicate his business, not to shoes, but to socks. He told Carly this over dinner and even her parents thought it was a very funny and smart idea. They had never seen a store that only sold socks.
The following year was the one. It was hard at first because Ruben had to drop out of college only months before finishing. His parents were devastated and told him not to come back home. He was destroyed by that but moved on thanks to Carly, who traveled with him to Cleveland, finding a nice flat for the both of them. There, Ruben created the logo of his company, the idea, the details of the first store and so on.
He asked for a loan and with that he set up shop and asked for socks from all around the world. Then, he decided to wait a year and see how it went. If it failed, he had lost a lot of money. If not, it was just the beginning.
That was the birth of the Sock Empire. The name was made fun of sometimes but he loved it and people loved what he did with the place. He would come into the shop sometimes with Carly in order to visit his workers and shake hands and tell everyone how much he thanked them and how much he loved his sock world.
Even now, years after his invention, he still massages Carly’s feet before bedtime. And he still looks at all the feet he can on the beach and on his store. After all, he couldn’t stop doing something that gave him his livelihood and so much happiness.