For as long as I can remember, I've been a shoe guy. This dates back to grade school, to the days of PF Flyers, which we bought either downtown at Art Douglas (where they gave you pretzel rods and had risers to sit on) or at the smaller place in Clarks Summit. PF Flyers were similar to Chuck Taylors, but they made you jump higher.
There was a small glitch in sixth grade, after we moved to California, when my mom made the mistake of buying us shoes from Sears, which unsurprisingly fell apart in three weeks. Then she bought us some more, which fell apart in four weeks.
I have a very clear memory of telling Dave K., later in sixth grade, that he needed to ditch those sorry old blue Vans he wore and get on the Thom McCan Jox bandwagon. I wore them, Chip McLean wore them, they were of the moment.
The next year, things really took off. I began a great run at the forward edge of athletic shoe consumerism. Running shoes in strange colors, New Balance 320s the same year they were introduced. I talked my mom, for whom spending exorbitant amounts of money on footwear was a foreign concept, into buying first-generation Nike Waffle Trainers for her trips around the Villa Park High School track.
There was always a dark undercurrent, however. Shoes cost money, and since my mom dished out only $15 per pair (enough to buy some baseline canvas Nikes, but not Adidas Stan Smith's, which cost $26.49 with tax), any cost overruns were managed by me. I did what I had to do.
I bought unusual shoes on sale at Big 5, like the oddball mutation of new leather Converse uppers with old school Chuck Taylor soles. Available in bulk at he beginning of my ninth grade year, they became sudden trend at school, then quickly disappeared, except for the pair on my feet, as Roger A. Hunt looked on skeptically from atop his high end all-leather Converse.
Then came high school, and things got complicated. They haven't eased since.
All I wanted was the green Topsider oxfords that Hunt had. All of the cool seniors had them, too. They were and integral part of the chic Orange County conservative surfer uniform. Unfortunately, since we were not actual locals, and instead committed to individualism, I ended up with some Thom McCan knock-offs and a weird pair of Deerskin oxfords that looked similar to the Topsiders but were "more comfortable," according to my dad. Like the Alfa Romeo we drove (instead of a BMW), the shoes were best appreciated by the few insiders we unconsciously targeted anyway -- the non-mainstream enthusiasts.
I wanted the Topsiders. That's all.
So I got a job, or series of jobs, and had the extra lettuce available to buy real topsiders, crisp Izod shirts and -- as mentioned previously -- stylish Brittania jeans. Did I feel a sense of accomplishment? Could I relax?
No. It accelerated from there. Next came penny loafers and saddle shoes, then putty-colored Cole Haans to be worn without socks. Argyle sweaters and khaki pants from Sousa & Lefkowitz, a local outlet so revered that we once set up lawn chairs and spent the night on the sidewalk in front of the place so that we'd be the people who got the $50 gift certificates when the doors opened for their annual sale the following morning.
And still I could not relax.
Periodically, for reasons still unknown to me, shoes that once looked wonderful suddenly lose their allure. You wake up one morning and suddenly they look small and thin, clumsy. They're a weird color. Your pant legs swallow them up so they look like slippers. Or your taste changes, and the Cole Haans you coveted for so long are immediately and forever as unhip as those shorts with all of the little sharks on them that you loved last summer.
And so it was and will be. My saddle shoes dropped out of rotation immediately upon arriving at college. Doug Davidovich introduced me to Topsider deck shoes which I wore for four years in white, blue and black. Eventually, searching for a look that would mark me indelibly as a laid-back Southern Californian, someone for whom the beach is always an option, I took to wearing flip-flops to class, or sometimes just walking barefoot, then slamming the sandals (always Flojo brand) onto my feet as I arrived at class.
After college, I moved to Seattle, where I stomped around in Doc Martens for a few years. I thought I'd wear those shoes forever. I truly loved them, and tried to induce Sandra Bullock to join my big-shoed world, only to fail miserably. An unused pair of purple 8-hole Docs sat in her closet for years before we threw them out. There were some hybrid Nike trail running shoes and light-duty hiking boots in there, too, for summer wear. One year I was so broke that I just took hand-me-down high tops from my friends, and wore a pair of white Chuck Taylors until the duct tape and cardboard I was using to keep them together became a liability during the cold Seattle winter.
There were other shoes, mostly big and black. Some had steel toes. Some were meant to be worn while riding a motorcycle. I flirted with work boots, secretly enjoying the hidden irony implicit in the idea of me wearing footwear best used while working with power tools. I still have a pair, bought on Mission Street during my most recent blue collar period, when I got laid off by a dotcom and decided I was going to "get back to my street roots." Or someone's street roots, at least.
I have mentioned in here before that 41 can be a difficult age, appearance-wise. My friend Butter Goats has long cultivated a "perpetually 12 years old" look, so the recent trend toward Pumas and other 1970s-inspired, semi-running shoe-looking gear has worked well for him. I've tried to wear that stuff. When I do, I look down and feel like some kid stuck his feet on my body while I wasn't looking.
S. Bullock has tried, repeatedly, to find me the casual pair of shoes that I won't hate. So far she has failed. During the real estate period, I went with several pairs of Kenneth Cole shoes, left over from various periods of employment. But when that "career" ended, it was like the Kenneth Coles aged 75 years overnight. Now some hang on my closet door, while others share space on the floor with running shoes, Vans, the Adidas Sambas I bought seven years ago (I know this, because I wore them to the Jawa's 2nd birthday party. He had identical little tiny ones and used to say "same shoes!" all the time) and now wear regularly because I have no other options, and the leopard skin creepers I wore on my wedding day.
I have been looking for a go-to shoe since real estate ended. I'm a casual guy 24/7 now, and I need a casual look. The high-tech Nikes I've been wearing, thankful that running shoes are acceptable in the aging hipster world, are not meant for heavy use. They are my workout shoes and need to be restricted to that environment. I bought some Vans, but like many shoes, they were much better as an idea than they were in reality. I have these cool Tsubos that Flush Puppy steered me towards one time when I was in Seattle doing a couple of magazine articles, but they're now two years old and besides, their soles are so thin that my stylishly long jeans drag on the ground. However, please note that the soles are also so thin that I don't have to remove them when going through security in airports.
I was dreaming of some new casual shoes. They would be hip, but age-appropriate. Not skateboarding shoes, not 70s shoes, maybe some Tigers. They've been showing up on alot of urban feet lately. I began doing reconnaissance, haunting the hipster shoe stores on Haight Street with the Jawa, who also needed some shoes. They would be the go-to shoes. I could strap them on every morning with little or no thought. They would be the symbol of my simplified life, and would appear effortlessly stylish, but not overbearing, as if their stylishness was by accident and without thought.
But I got impatient. Instead of waiting for the right moment, I panicked while the Jawa was at Foot Action, betting some New Balance running shoes. I grabbed the first pair that even remotely resembled the idea I had in my mind: Adidas, brown, with big giant shoelaces. They looked good on my feet ... in the store.
Not so much at home, or in public. Those laces, which my niece, Noodles, says should be tied behind the tongue, so as not to look like a poseur, they're too big. I wear them and all I see are laces. That and a 41-year-old guy trying to look like a teenager. I think I had imagined myself as lanky when I bought them, but reality is not so kind.
So what now? I've mixed the Adidas into my rotation, but I'm still augmenting them with my 7-year-old Sambas, my space age Nikes and the occasional Tsubo. I don't have the go-to shoe I'd imagined. Each morning still finds me digging through the pile of shoes at the bottom of my closet, hoping in vain that I will turn up some magical pair that I had forgotten about but would suddenly see in a new, flattering light.
And honestly, I kind of wish I could just wear work boots every day. Why not? Johnny Depp does it, and he's 44.