‘Twas Two Days Before Christmas

f.riday5.com  Friday 5 for December 23: Something’s Afoot

I have a friend, who knows this guy, who does this blog…A very intriguing blog concept. Every Friday he posts a topic with five questions, and people blog about them (or don’t), and I always wanted to play but didn’t dare. Well, admittedly it has been a very rough year for me physically, and my activity levels were not at all typical. Since my back made it painful to sit, walk, turn, bend, and in general, live, I haven’t been dancing, or hiking, or camping, or anything where my shoes enter the picture. Slippers are my regular footwear anyways.

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(photo by Melvin Ah Ching)

Nevertheless, since this blog is entitled “Tropical Toes” in poetic homage to every step we take through our creative lives, I couldn’t resist the topic of shoes, so here goes! Thank you, Scrivener!

  1. What’s the nicest pair of shoes you’ve owned?

  2. What’s likely to be your next shoe purchase?

  3. Where’s your favorite place to get shoes?

  4. When did you last swap out the insoles or laces on a pair of shoes?

  5. What were the last shoes you got rid of like? Thanks for participating, and have a soleful weekend!

Hmm, nicest is complicated, because that could be the most elegant and expensive, or the ones I loved the most, or the ones with the best associated memories… I admit that due to my long, narrow, bony feet, shoes have been a somewhat difficult purchase all my life. I inherited my Grandfather’s feet, and his solution was to get his shoes custom-made. Unfortunately, I live in a different era, in terms of both craftsmanship and economics. My nicest shoes are usually really expensive Italian leather. They fit better, wear longer, and until recently, I could continually resole them since the craftsmanship meant they could give me 20 years of wear, all comfortably broken-in.

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After two days of deep reflection on this intense philosophical question, I’ve decided to select the Brazilian strappy leather dancing shoes featured in this blog’s avatar. I was living in the West Indies and frequently riding the intra-island ferry to the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, conveniently located so that I could buy incredibly great Parisian fashions at prices the local economies could bear (which meant about $2.65 in the local currency to the US dollar). These are lovely black leather, lined with comfortable soft tan leather, and despite the high heel, I could walk a mile to the best dance club, dance until dawn, and repeat three times a week with no foot pain. How is this possible? Good construction, attention to detail–plus I was enamored of the way the straps wrapped around my ankles just enough to attract a shoe fetishist without being slutty. When I wore these dancing shoes, I was on stage! People cleared the dance floor to watch us!

tropical2One of my favorite nights in these shoes was in Trinidad, where I had flown with my karate team for the All-Caribbean competition. My island of St. Lucia and the island of Barbados had a long-standing informal rivalry to prove who were the most rugged partyers, so the night before the finals we all went out dancing at this cool little club high in the mountains with the traditional tin roof and irresistible music. I danced all night with a very attractive guy who next day, despite our hangovers, won the entire men’s division competition! Since I was a total nerd in high school, being selected by the champion was like being in one of those movies where the ugly duckling turns out to be the swan. Great shoes!

Moving on, my next shoe purchase may be wishful thinking, as I don’t know whether I will have to have my back pinned back together or whether I will again emerge victorious over the ravages of gravity. And time. And getting hit by a truck. I want some good Avia aerobics shoes–the kind I used to wear when I did high-impact aerobics three to four times a week at the Seattle Club. Yes, these shoes are expensive, but we’re talking about preserving joints and knees here. A lot of those twinges and pains that people attribute to aging are in fact caused by inadequate cushioning and arch support. And if you exercise hard, you need to replace your shoes every two to three months. When you consider your body as a piece of fine engineering and realize that your feet take the brunt of daily punishment, I believe spending money on shoes is more important than having the latest flat screen TV or any number of expensive toys. I know men think spending “real money” on shoes is ridiculous, but do you want to be able to hike mountains in your 80s or not?

OK, I confess that when I was a true yuppie my favorite place to buy shoes was Nordstrom. Not Nordstrom rack, because they don’t typically carry N or NN. Nordstrom always has a shoe department worth drooling over. Actually though, shoes and food are the only things I like shopping for. Shopping in general gives me anxiety attacks. So my last shoe purchase was through Amazon, and I got two pairs with closed toes for work, assuming that I will go in-house again and stop freelancing, which has proven economically untenable. Once I worked for a grant-funded project under the auspices of RCUH, and the woman I worked for had this obsessive thing about people’s shoes. I was always professionally dressed, but since we were all sharing the limited parking spaces and had to bus several times a week, this meant a mile walk morning and night, and I wore open-toed dress sandals. This woman actually yelled at me about my feet, which made no sense to me as they were always under a desk with a computer on it, me typing and using the phone–but she insisted that there were huge liability issues regarding open-toed shoes because what if I dropped something heavy on my feet? This also didn’t compute, because if you drop something heavy on your feet the bones of your feet aren’t going to care very much what shoes you’re wearing, unless you wear construction boots.

I’m a cooperative person, so I tried wearing closed-toe shoes at work and changing into sneakers for the walk to the bus. By the end of the week I had massively infected blisters and my feet were so swollen and painful they wouldn’t even fit in slippers. My doctor gave me a note to indicate that it was necessary for me to wear open-toed shoes in the future. My boss never forgave me. She was so angry I thought she could spit nails. Fortunately (for me, not the project), she lost her federal funding and had to close down her program, so I jumped ship to another job, where everyone commended my writing and managerial skills and did not care what shoes I wore!

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I last changed the insoles on three pairs of shoes in 2013, because as mentioned, quality Italian leather shoes hold up with some care and attention. The last laces I changed were for my ice skates, back in 2005, when Colin and I went to Oahu’s only rink before he developed progressive multiple sclerosis.

The shoes most recently discarded were some very ugly slingbacks (with closed toes!!) given to me by some women at the YWCA when I was having financial trouble after spending all my savings and trashing my credit trying to buy medical supplies and equipment to make Colin’s life more tenable as he became progressively paralyzed. OK, I was grateful for their consideration, but it’s really humiliating to go from being a person with platinum credit cards buying $300 shoes to a person who needs something besides slippers for a job interview. Some rich women get together and get rid of stuff they don’t like and I guess it’s a nice gesture, but… I would have preferred a gift card so I could go pick out something more my own taste. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers.

Well, all of that, Colin’s excruciating death, the devastating consequences, is a chapter that felt closed when I threw out those horrible shoes. They weren’t exactly horrifically ugly, they just weren’t something I myself would choose to wear in better circumstances.

I am grateful, here and now, two days before Christmas, that I still have feet, even if I’m not always on my feet, and that I have cobbled together an existence without Colin that includes my cool new dress shoes from Amazon that I couldn’t believe fit my long bony feet! (Notice questionable pun at “cobbled,” another characteristic I inherited from my Grandfather.)

Whew! As my friend said, this is supposed to be a quick writing exercise, not the start of a novel… At least I’m not Imelda Marcos. Another thing to be grateful for. I googled her, and the UK’s Daily Mail reported in September 2012 her “famous collection of 3,000 shoes partly destroyed by termites and floods after lying in storage in the Philippines for 26 years…”

And that’s the final word on shoes: you need to wear them. We’re lucky to have them. I used to teach children in St. Lucia who were so desperate for an education they would walk miles to school, barefoot. And how it’s possible for one woman to have thousands of shoes in storage while others are barefoot is a topic for the New Year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

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