Sunday, July 20, 2008


I share a cottage here at Sewanee with a good friend who changes shoes three or four times a day and is wont to leave them any place “the shoe falls.” None of this footwear approaches handsomeness and more often than not, the shoes have what I call “the uglies.” Alongside sofas or coffee tables, near the back door of a crowded kitchen, on the front door stoop, in the garage – but never, never in the closet – these shoes lie, curled up and ready, not for wear, but for tripping me.

There’s the pair of heavy white clunkers coveted by joggers, the blue plastic objects with breathing holes called Crocks, the hairy brown sandals that look like a monk’s Sunday shoes, and, sometimes, a pair of black leather, round-toed babies that would have been the envy of British walkers back in the 40’s. None of the foot coverings would be stolen if left on the front porch where they often reside overnight. My friend’s favorite shoes are Birkenstock sandals that she won’t part with because she paid $80 for them back in 1973. These heavy-soled shoes are the ones that lie in wait in the hall, and reach out and trip me when I’m trekking to the bathroom at 1 a.m. They certainly have a life of their own because I’ve thrown them out numerous times and they stealthily reappear in the dark after I’ve gone to bed.

I guess I’d be more outdone when I trip over this footwear if the shoes were odoriferous but, oddly enough for age and wear, they remain odorless, even though they’ve hiked through Louisiana, Texas, California, Tennessee, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida – about 50 states, to be inexact. If they had voice, they’d be paraphrasing an old song made famous by Nancy Sinatra, “These shoes are made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do/more than one of these days, they’ll walk all over you.”
Here’s an old shoe column that appeared in “Cherchez la femme” I couldn’t resist publishing here:


“Most women love shoes. But I’m beginning to believe that most women are passionately attached to OLD shoes. In the 80’s I was considered eccentric because I liked a pair of loafers, circa 1973, I bought in Switzerland after a marathon walking bout in fancy, but flimsy, American footwear that I had taken abroad with me. One Saturday afternoon, I was tripping along with a friend on a shopping trip when she turned to me and asked: “What happened to your blue slip-ons with the large hole on the right sole?”

“Oh,” I answered, “those are my everyday shoes – these are my good ones.” I pointed to my Swiss loafers with flapping soles and worn-down heels, a pair that would challenge a scout rummaging for shoes for the Salvation Army. However, after the sole-searching conversation with the friend, I began to notice women’s feet and I found a basic similarity in style – the well-worn look. Women are touted as creatures who prefer the superficial look, but they really prefer comfortable shoes. I have one friend who insists she wore hunting boots, similar to old fashioned brogans, daily for two years when she attended college because her feet were always cold. Another friend asked me if I had seen her in anything but moccasins or sneakers except when she attended church, and I had to say “no.”

After friends examined the condition of my Swiss loafers, they accused me of being cheap, and one acquaintance suggested that I shop in a discount store if I was so bent on economizing. However, she warned me about the procedure for trying on shoes in such a shoe center. ‘Seems that you must sit down on the floor, remove your old footwear, and place these shoes under one leg because they may be taken away by the sales clerk and put on the shelf for bargain shoppers. Then, you pick up a pair of inexpensive shoes that are taped together (you must not untape during the trying-on session). Always bring a friend with you to sit on the old shoes after you put on the strung-togethers because you must shuffle along gracefully (?) in a Cajun two-step so that you won’t break the bond between two shoes that obviously belong together forever and ever. If you don’t trip, they must’ve been made for you and you alone.

The first shoes in the world, according to research I did on this subject after embarrassing myself with the worn-out loafers, were pieces of hide or braided grass held to the foot by leather cords. I would’ve been dubbed low in financial status if citizens of Greece, Rome, or Egypt had seen my loafers. During those times, shoes showed the rank or wealth of the wearer. I would’ve been lost on several more counts, especially toe shape. The pointed toe indicated high rank, as did different kinds of decoration, and this does not include a faded red strip on the top of the loafers that I loved.

During the 14th century, if you really got carried away with pointed toes, you wore crackowes which had pointed toes so long that a chain had to be used to hold them up so the wearer could walk around. Also, during Queen Mary’s reign in England, duckbill shoes were so wide and, yet, so popular that a law was finally passed limiting the width of the toe to six inches. I could use a pair of chopines – wooden footgear made with an iron ring so that the wearer could lift his/her feet from the mud. (However, this would refute the legend that Cajuns like to get mud between their toes daily).

Well, at least my loafers conformed to the healthy height of shoes. Heels should be from ¾” to 1 1/2 inches high only, and my down-at- the-heel loafers challenged the ¾’s measurement. After the friend delivered the criticism of my loafers, I told her I didn’t have time to go shopping because I had a column to write, but after all the buzz about shoes and status, I decided to give up the loafers. What I really wanted to do was fly back to Switzerland to replace the ones that had incited so much comment. That’s my idea of frugality. And what I really prefer is life sans shoes.”
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