To say most runners are addicted to buying shoes is an understatement. Having said that, looking for the latest and greatest pair of shoes isn’t only restricted to runners. In the essay below, take a peak at T.R. Foley’s deeper look at his own life-long shoe addiction. Enjoy – P.J.
I consider myself a simple person.I have recycled since the 80s, way before it was chic. That big Green movement? Hey, nice of you to join the party, but it’s nothing new, nephew. I mow grass with a push mower, and while I labor at it, I love it. Doing it, I imagine I am Levin from Anna Karenina out hacking away in his fields with the peasants. Recently, I even did something drastic: I stopped buying books and use the library much more. I want to compost, too, and use rain barrels and get in touch with those Quaker hippie roots my mom tried to plant. I want to be better, and use less and be non-materialistic.
For the most part I try to be good. What I am trying to say is trying to buffer what truth I will reveal to you: I have a real problem with shoes. We shoe people are a slippery and lusty pack, we who look at shoes and find any excuse to buy them. I saw rare steak fed to a golden-maned lion at the zoo once and I was disgusted. His eyes glazed over and the ravenous bloodlust for the bloody piece of meat was not unlike the gaze I have seen we shoe people possess when a pair of Timberlands is thirty percent off and sings her siren song. I have hidden this problem for years, and only you, dear reader, and my patient wife know of my affliction, and I implore your confidentiality and your lack of judgment.
I know little about Imelda Marcos with the exceptions that she once tried to imprison The Beatles from leaving her country, and that she did not hide that she enjoyed a shoe or two in her time. Her closet had thousands, falling out and spilling from everywhere, and while I have not yet reached this stage, I think I would have enjoyed spending and afternoon with her. Plus, if she had in fact been successful and kept The Beatles in her country, maybe chained in her shoe closet, which, by the way, was more like the size of a small New Hampshire hamlet or the size of Kenwood mall, maybe we wouldn’t have to blame Yoko for the breakup. Hell, the boys would be living and strumming in Imelda’s shoe closet. Maybe if I would have visited her in the luxurious palace, she might have rattled the chains of the Liverpool lads to wake them, throw the boys a few crumpets and slosh some teas to goad them to play some hits while she and I traded glorious Zappos stories. One can imagine such things when you are as sick as I am.
I will be honest here and do what any normal American will do with such obsessions and addictions. I will blame my parents. I don’t know why yet that they deserve this, but as this piece progresses, I am sure I will see a pattern that points to my mom and dad, all those didactic teachers I had, – The nuns! It is always the nuns!
Blame them and their pointy fingers of meanness and fear! — and maybe society for turning me into this calculated, frothing-at-mouth with mad dog lather shoe-boy. Part of overcoming anything, I am told, is to be unafraid to say who you are. People today, more than anytime in history, have evolved into saying who they are and who they are to become.
Here I go, a blindfolded step over the abyss: Folks, I am a shoe addict.
My first pair shoes that I can remember were a brand called Zips in the early 80s. They had wonderful commercials of blonde-haired kids who ate white bread and raced about on big wheels while wearing these shoes, and the shoes were magic and glittered with promise. I was just like these boys, minus the white bread and big wheels. Also, I had black hair as a child. My mom was a hippie Quaker, too, and white bread was evil, but I digress. The boys seemed to fly when they wore Zips, and I did have a pair myself.
I must tell you now: I still think those shoes did help me run faster with that cheap-looking “Z” emblazoned on the red nylon sides. Zips were the most popular shoes for about two weeks in 1982. Strangely, enough, like Bonnie and Clyde who rambled in to towns quickly and disappeared, The Zips Company was shot to hell and died a quick death. No one has heard of Zips since. I keep asking around, but no one’s talking.
I suppose the memory of shoes is as potent as the shoes themselves, but again, blame my parents for this. Before I was the hulking Fat Elvis you see before you, I was an athlete. I played three sports in high school. One perk of this was to go to Meeks Sporting Goods Store and pick out a pair of shoes. Walking in- Ahh, sweet nectar, the smell of bottled heaven, the scent of new kicks – ahh, yes!
Meeks still had an old timey-cash register, and one half of the store was athletic equipment, like cups and jockstraps, the other side footwear.
Cups? Maybe later.
I took the road more traveled by, the one littered with foot wear and that made all the difference. Nike Revolutions, glossy and smooth and red and black and blue and wonderful and sleek and stylish and mesmerizing all lined the walls. They were everywhere. It was enchantment. Adidas, Pumas, New Balance, Reebok, Converse, and K-Swiss lined the walls like statues of saints in cathedrals. It was all I could do to breathe and inhale that new-shoes smell, the slow caress of plastic, and the inspection of traction on the bottom, which was essential.
One special day in Meeks, there was a sale on Air Jordans. For some reason, a pair of these was twenty dollars. They were, however, white with bright fluorescent orange, and in those days, this type of shoe was not very popular. Fluorescent orange? Who wanted that? I did. My eighth grade uniform was bright orange, and when I saw them, something happened, like spotting that blue-eyed beauty in high heels or vintage Doc Martens across the room at a party (The Docs, by the way should be made in England only, not China, because the Chinese shoe is cheap and not as sturdy or as lovely).
I knew that I would be unstoppable in hoops, my crossover stronger, my defense more tenacious, and my jumper white-hot. I didn’t ask for things as a child, though, and my father was very generous, even though we didn’t have much money then. I am here to dispel the myth that the shoes don’t make the man. Listen, I was unstoppable that year, and the sweet sounds of the swish were attributed back to those shoes. Was I good? Hell yes, and the shoes magnified that year. Words fail me now. Forgive me now, I am choking up. See, I told you about the memories.
Back in the day, though, I couldn’t wear gym shoes to school. When I was in high school, we were required to wear ties, belts, and dress shoes. I didn’t mind it, though. It was then in those days that my father introduced me to Rockport shoes. They were clunky, odd-looking things, like something a blind, frail cobbler from Middle Earth would have pieced together with orc skins and glue. The cobbler might have even suffered from sciatica or had ingrown toenails, most likely from donning his own shoes. I maintain still that I saw an elf wear a pair of Rockports in Return of the King, but that’s neither here nor there, really.
When I needed a pair of shoes, my father and I rode in our ‘87 Buick from Springfield and drove to Cincinnati to look at Rockports in the downtown. It was an hour and a half drive that always went fast, but when we arrived at the shoe place, I was surprised at how strange and, frankly, unattractive these shoes were. They were subdued, hideous little bastards, like logs or driftwood attached to my feet. There was no humming, no thrumming, no electricity that the Nikes had.
There were a few pairs that even made Dutch clogs look attractive.
It was like viewing a tragic skeeball accident at Chuck E. Cheese or that time my cousin Jeremy wore bowling shoes to my wedding. I just had to avert my eyes. Ghastly, ghastly little things. Since then, Rockports have come a long way stylistically, but let me say this: when I stepped into a pair, my stars, I never looked back. They were light, airy, and the most comfortable shoe I have ever had. Sure, Cinderella had glass slippers, and they looked nice, but let’s face it: glass slippers would have sucked to wear. Really, who would have worn those things? Kim Kardashian? Sure, but I think I just proved a point somewhere.
Floating on air, I glided out of the store and wore them home. I have ten pairs of Rockports, and they will forever be my favorite dress shoes. To be honest, when I returned to high school that Monday, I even came to love how clunky and zonky they looked. I mean, these were super uncool and nerdy, like those of that Professor you had in college, the one who had his lesson plans laminated since 1957. You know him. Posters of Norman Mailer on his wall. Coffee stains on his lapels. Egg on his tie. Hated adverbs. Yeah, him. At school, I was the Professor, teased by everyone. I didn’t care, and soon they were mystified and believed that I knew something that they didn’t.
They were right. They next year, guess what shoe was the hottest at my school.
In 1997, I spent five weeks in Ireland, and it was as Kerouacian as it could get. I wish I could tell you about the literary pub crawls where I ended up at Davy Byrnes place, the tanned Italian girls getting off the bus at Trinity College, hiking in Glendalough in the cold rain, how good the Guinness is, sleeping in a burned-out castle in the middle of a field with light rain and fox yelps, depriving myself of sobriety in Dublin City, but I can’t.
You must get there yourself.
Listen, You must get there yourself. Sure I could write how I took a train from London to Sligo in one day just to place flowers on Yeats’s grave. Sure, I could tell you about Mrs. O’Connell’s farmhouse and fresh lox at breakfast, or that insane and wonderful man Gilbert Fox who drove us to Monk’s Pub for fresh mussels and clam chowder, or my friend Douglas and I being stalked by odd German girls who spoke about nothing except pancakes. Yes, those are great tales and all true, I agree, but allow me to regale to you a short, final tale of the favorite pair of shoes that I own.
In Dublin, there is a busy street called Grafton. Bewleys tea shops, quaint store fronts that sell woolen sweaters from the Aran Islands, fish and chip eateries, and bustling street life are a part of Grafton. Yet, walking into that nameless shoe store on July 2, 1997, was not unlike the day when Paul and John met in Liverpool.
Most people don’t believe in love at first sight, but I say that’s just cynical and pigheaded, and if there’s one thing that’s detestable, among people, it’s cynicism, especially about a kickass pair of shoes. The day was warm, perfect, and when I stepped in, a beauty caught my eye, like being struck in the head with a huge brick that has fallen off the side of a skyscraper and clunked you in the head and you can’t decide to exclaim the foulest word possible or just pass out.
I was struck dumb.
A pair of dark blue Doc Martens sat there on the shelf, coy as an angel, with eyes, or eyelets, I should say, as soulful as any puppy I’d ever seen. Svelte black string. Leather. Those little vixens bewitched me. There were damn expensive, especially for a wandering young fool like myself, and I walked out.
See, before I did, the young clerk, who was beautiful and mysterious as the Irish sea spoke to me. With an accent I couldn’t detect, she looked me dead in the eyes, smiled, and told me that the shoes really belonged (she said it, she used THAT verb, and it has haunted me ever since!) to me. “These belooong to you.” She said it was the last pair, and then she told me something so utterly specific, so unique to my life, and so kind and generous, that I blushed and smiled to her, and I will never forget it when I said:
“Damn it, give me those damn shoes.”
She smiled, placed them in a box, and when she gave me my change, she touched my hand slowly, like something from a French film. I got so excited, I put the shoes on then, and I glided out the door into the bustling Dublin streets.
That girl was something. Such wild beauty, and I wish I could tell you what she told me, but it is something I will take to the grave with me. Really, though, if you’d like, we could sit down and talk about shoes. I would really rather tell you about my Chuck Taylors that I bought in Yellow Springs in 2001 …