Sole Survivor

“…time for these boot heels to be a wanderin…” –

Bob Dylan

I think I just might be done with shoe stores.   Seriously, I know it’s not completely realistic but if push came to shove, if my fortunes took a sudden tragic downturn, or I gravitated to a cult that advocated abstinence of the sole (you had to see that coming), I could subsist to my projected expiration date on the current ‘roster’.

I have a solid rotation of Monday to Friday business starters – blacks, browns, some sacrificial oxblood, suede in loafer and lace – and a bullpen developed to come in at any level of relief.  Longer relief comes in the form of distance walkers, middle innings hurlers for seasonal conditions and short relief for date nights, weddings, bar mitzvahs and holidays.  My ‘go to’ pair in the late innings are black suede monk strap bad boys that my Bobby Fleckmanesque publicist forced me to buy at a store – “the best evah” –   off Union Square in San Francisco.  Four years later she might have been right.  I also have  “fatte a mano” dreadnaughts that I can wheel out when the count is full and the bases are loaded.  Closers, to push the baseball metaphor further than necessary.

I’ve consulted actuarial tables and cross-referenced that data with rare tractates on sandal wear among my ancestral tribes during the Exodus.  I’ve used digital fitness devices to measure my average daily trudging and came up with a wear vs. style algorithm that predicts I could, with the help of a good cobbler – you know, the shop next to the guy who repairs Victrolas – die with a pair of boots on that wouldn’t embarrass my loved ones.  I wouldn’t be very stylish in my twilight years, and the collection wouldn’t be worth much at any charity clothing dump but it would suffice as we say at the Seder table.

Okay, I’m ridiculous.  Think of it this way you there, not yet forty or fifty – how many more pairs of hockey skates are you good for?  Or ski boots?

This is precisely where the sexes diverge.  Tell a woman of my vintage, or any for that matter, that she had bought her last pair of pumps and her response would be, “Today?”  In my limited experience I have found that the instinctive female behavior in the vicinity of any substantial display of retail footwear oscillates between that of an unapologetic gambling addict and a crack whore.  Of course that is an insensitive and unfair comparison.  My apologies to the unapologetic gambling addict and crack whore communities.

I have heard recently that oncologists, in order to persuasively convey the gravity of a terminal prognosis to a female patient, have couched terms of longevity in a currency they can easily grasp.

“What can I look forward do doctor?”

“Six, maybe seven pairs.  You might get to a sandal if you’re lucky.”

“ So soon? But I promised my daughter I would be around for…”

“The semi-annual sale at Saks?  That, I am afraid, is not up to me.”

Those old enough might recall that very few women even bothered to feign outrage over the criminally large shoe collection of the late Imelda Marcos.   Most just shook their heads and murmured under their breath, “I wish…”.

I did a tiny bit of research that reveals that of all the shoes sold in North America, only six per cent are in the men’s dress shoe segment.  This is not surprising in a culture where everything is disposable. Nothing is worth the trouble any more.  However, I am not one of those guys who wears thinly disguised athletic shoes to work.  You’ve seen those – black on black deals with black logos that are better suited to NBA referees.  I am partial to shoes that need a shine once in a while, another simple pleasure of which so few of us partake.   Although I do engage the services of the shine stands at the airport, there are better rubs for half the money in Penn Station in New York when you can sit back in your suspenders with a an old Herald Tribune, complain about ‘dem Bums’ and generally pretend you are in a Norman Rockwell painting.

The truth be told, caring for my shoes is what passes as a  longterm relationship I can handle. My ex suggested that I build up my nurturing skills far enough down the food chain so as not cause any cognitive lifeforms undue pain when it all goes to hell.   Someday I hope to be able to look after a Chia Pet.  Until then, I will take my guys out for long walks and make sure they are fed the proper nutrients.  When I am away they have shoe trees for company. I keep them out of the rain.  There’s some travel, the odd night on the town.  Hey, if Disney could make ‘The Brave Little Toaster’….

There’s a larger consideration here –  mortality.   Disposing of a pair punctuates a chapter in one’s life with a very hard hit period on the old Smith Corona.  Once they’re gone so is a piece of you. Forty five years ago my father bought an expensive pair of Italian boots.  Years later I remember seeing them and wondering why he would hang on to them when they were out of step with the latest styles like disco platforms.  Now I get it.

To conclude, I add this qualification.  When it comes to  corn plasters, insoles, replacement golf spikes, socks, visits to The Bata Shoe Museum (can’t wait for the Odor Eaters retrospective) and even some comfy slippers –  I can see myself being in that market for some time.  For the foreseeable future though – my Achilles Heel is not heels.

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