Sunday, May 21, 2017

kicks just keep getting harder to find

When I was a kid, I wore sneakers all the time. They weren't fancy They were purely utilitarian. As a matter of fact, my mom used to buy them for me in the supermarket, from a hanging display at the end of an aisle. They were cheap, only a few bucks. They were generic, brandless hunks of canvas and rubber that we called "bobos." There was even a silly little rhyme about them that some kids made up, sung to the tune of Colonel Bogey's March from Bridge on the River Kwai. I went through a lot of pairs of bobos.

When I was in high school, I graduated to name-brand sneakers. No, not the up-and-coming leather models from Adidas and Nike. I was still content with the canvas and rubber versions, but now I was sporting the "Converse" name on my feet. They looked like the bobos of my youth, but they were obviously of better quality. They cost more so, ergo, they lasted longer. 

In 1982, I saw the teen comedy film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (right after I read the book). In a memorable scene, perennially-stoned surfer Jeff Spicoli (played by future Academy Award-winner Sean Penn in just his third screen appearance) slams a pair of black and white checkered Vans sneakers against his head to demonstrate just how wasted he is. From the moment I saw those Vans, I wanted them. I really wanted them. They were so cool. They were slip-on sneakers with no laces. Did I mention how cool they were?

However, I continued to wear my Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. And since I started wearing other types of shoes, I wasn't wearing sneakers as often, so my sneakers weren't wearing out as quickly and weren't being replaced as frequently. Then, Converse introduced a new line of patterns. Soon, I was wearing black canvas high-tops covered with little white skulls. I bought a pair of green camouflage sneakers and ones that featured bright red and yellow "hot rod" flames. I had a closet full of sneakers like I was Imelda Marcos.

After many years as a loyal Converse customer, I bought the greatest pair of sneakers I ever owned. They were bright orange with no laces! There was a thick elastic band under the tongue that kept them firmly attached to my feet. I wore those orange babies for years and years. I wore them on beaches from Atlantic City to the Caribbean. I wore them to outdoor music festivals. I wore them with and without socks. I wore them in the rain and in the sun. The were the most comfortable sneakers ever! But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Alas, the rubber soles got thin and began to pull away from the canvas upper. The canvas, too, was looking threadbare in a few spots. They served me well for years. But, sadly, I would need to buy a new pair of sneakers.

After pining for them for over thirty years, I finally purchased a pair of Vans. I had waited so long, that the black and white checkered style is now called "classic" by the manufacturer. I ordered them from the easily-navigable Vans website. When they arrived, I tried them on (but not in front of my orange Converses, so as not to make them jealous) and they were a bit too small. Vans customer service directed me to my local Vans store (in a mall I hadn't been to in years) and, in a transaction that lasted approximately ten minutes, I painlessly exchanged them for a pair that fit perfectly.

I have not had the opportunity to wear my new Vans. My wife and I are going on vacation in a few weeks. I may choose "break them in" on the white sands of the Bahamas. Or I may wear them around this weekend while running neighborhood errands.

I couldn't bring myself to throw away my orange Converses. Instead, I tossed them to the back of my closet, like a one-time great power hitter relegated to the bench late in his career. Maybe one day, they'll get called back to pinch hit.

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