Waiting for the other shoe to drop

Friday, July 6, 2012

There's something that sparks the imagination when you see a shoe dangling by its strings from an overhead utility line: How did it get there? Whose shoe is it? Where's the other shoe? What event, or events, occurred in the moments before that shoe was airborne and headed for public exposure, perhaps for weeks or months, dangling from the same wire that carries electricity or TV signals or telephone conversations so private and confidential that you would never want them aired in public.

But there it is. The single shoe. Usually an athletic-type shoe. We used to call all such shoes "tennis shoes." That was before jogging began influencing fashions, long before golf gave up hard steel spikes in favor of comfy leather uppers and hard rubber nubbins on the soles.

But the shoe I see hanging from the wire over the street isn't a tennis shoe. It is someone's regular footwear. That's what these specialty shoes have become: style statements. There is little, if any, regard for function.

And the better it looks to the intended wearer, the more it costs. Could you, half a century ago, have imagined paying hundreds of dollars for shoes? The only individuals who did that were movie stars and the top CEOs of far-off giant corporations who were always depicted in movies as slightly sleazy but well-shod.

I was among the many fortunate youngsters who had a parent or parents working for a shoe factory. One of my mother's perks was a discount on all Brown Shoe Co. products. So my shoes came from a catalog, not a shoe store. And we guessed at what size to order for my pair of growing feet. Sometimes my new shoes were, like Goldilocks' porridge, too big, too small or just right -- for a few days, until my next growth spurt.

My mother could not abide scruffy shoes, especially if you were heading for the Saturday shopping trip in town or church on Sunday. When shoes got past being repaired, resoled or otherwise presentable in public, they became barnyard shoes and were worn for every conceivable outdoor task. That's why the neighbors saw us wearing oxfords when the Herefords were calving and needed human assistance. Or when the milking stall had to be mucked. Or when the woodpile on the back porch had to be replenished.

I, nor my parents nor my friends nor their parents nor anyone I knew in the whole, wide world would never, ever had considered throwing our shoes toward the sky to see if they would get caught on utility lines.

OK. One useful disclaimer: We didn't have utility wires crossing the Killough Valley farm for years, so the temptation would have been zero. But there were plenty of wires along the streets of my favorite hometown. I don't recall seeing any shoes swaying in the breeze there. Ever.

So when I see these shoes caught up in the air until their shoestrings rot, I hope they were not needed. I hope they were outgrown. I hope they were tossed aloft when someone was overjoyed with a new pair of shoes that were the right size and looked great. Up, up, up went the old shoes to signal to every passer-by that someone, somewhere, was sporting new, comfortable shoes.

Yes, there's that other possibility, the one where the shoes were maliciously thrown into the air for no good reason.

You have a choice here. You can choose to look on the bright side. Or not. I doubt you or I will ever know the truth. So you can look to the swaying shoe on the wire and smile. Or you can frown.

This world needs a whole bunch more smiles. Guess which story I choose. Call me Goldilocks, but I think someone has a new pair of shoes that are just right.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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