Aa a finger exercise in writing, I decided to submit a piece to Manolo’s
Essay Contest. The constraints — low word count, a subject
that really doesn’t interest me much — appealed to me. I
figured if I could produce something interesting under those
circumstances, it would be an accomplishment.
Here it is. You be the judge…
I’m a geek, not a fashion plate. I don’t think about shoes a lot,
but I know what I like — and when I do think about shoes, I’m
profoundly grateful for some of the changes that have come about in my
lifetime. I’m thinking, more than anything else, of the way athletic
shoes have taken over the world.
When I was a kid back in the 1960s and early 1970s, “shoes” still
meant, basically, “hard leather oxfords”. Ugly stiff things with a
high-maintainence finish that would scuff if you breathed on them.
What I liked was sneakers. But in those bygone days you didn’t get
to wear sneakers past a certain age, unless you were doing sneaker
things like playing basketball. And I sucked at basketball.
I revolted against the tyranny of the oxford by wearing desert boots,
which back then weren’t actually boots at all but a kind of high-top
shoe with a suede finish and a grip sole. These were just barely
acceptable in polite company; in fact, if you can believe this, I was
teased about them at school. It was a more conformist time.
I still remember the first time I saw a shoe I actually liked and
wanted to own, around 1982. It was called an Aspen, and it was built
exactly like a running shoe but with a soft suede upper. Felt like
sneakers on my feet, looked like a grownup shoe from any distance.
And I still remember exactly how my Aspens — both of them —
literally fell apart at the same moment as I was crossing Walnut
Street in West Philly. These were not well-made shoes. I had to limp
But better days were coming. In the early 1990s athletic shoes
underwent a kind of Cambrian explosion, proliferating into all kinds
of odd styles. Reebok and Rockport and a few other makers finally
figured out what I wanted — athletic-shoe fit and comfort with a
sleek all-black look I could wear into a client’s office, and no
polishing or shoe trees or any of that annoying overhead!
I look around me today and I see that athletic-shoe tech has taken over.
The torture devices of my childhood are almost a memory. Thank you,
oh inscrutable shoe gods. Thank you Rockport. It’s not a big thing
like the Internet, but comfortable un-fussy shoes have made my life