Give 'Em a Shoe

08.24.2004 | Francis Raven | Fiction & Fables | 1 Comment
They gave each of us, the living, a shoe at the end of the war. The shoe symbolized movement, of course, but also permanence, as in “I’m standing my ground.” The government, apparently expecting about half as many survivors, had only one shoe in hand for each of us.

Now you may think that the government should be in the business of giving people a hand up in their lives as opposed to a shoe, but back then people, especially ordinary working stiffs, were sternly behind the president’s shoe entitlement program even if it was more namby-pamby symbolic than Protestant work ethic functional.  

Which brings me to the ultimately important question of what young soldiers did with their solitary shoes (plural only because there were many soldiers). A popular game, Throwing Shoes, was invented with the hard leather shoes, made in varying shades of brown and yellow much like the bowling shoes of today. To play you threw a shoe, using the laces as a flinging device, at a chair placed a good distance from the participants.  Each player tried to land their shoe on the seat on the chair so that they could “stand on the seat of power.”  Extra points were obtained for landing the show right side up, that is with the sole of the shoe (on which was imprinted a national emblem of yore) flat on the target’s cushion.  

After that great fish of a war I took up the plumber’s plunger and thus employed the lace of my shoe for sundry disgusting tasks. Later, when I was older, I enjoyed calling that toilet-bound lace my plumb line. But the shitty tasks accomplished with it meant that I could not fling my shoe and clearly posted, in clean English, on my office’s door was the rule: NO FLINGING = NO PLAYING.

So, what did I do with my shoe since I could not play Throwing Shoes with it? First I cast my shoe in bronze like some parents do to their children’s baby shoes.  Then when the plumbing business was really booming in the 50’s, when everyone was building houses after that second great fish of a war (the soldiers of which, I should add, did not receive a shoe), I got my shoe recast in gold.  And then from this gold casting I made a reproduction and then several reproductions, for, as Aristotle says, it is great fun to make reproductions.  And when it came back from the casting service, let me tell you, it gleamed like something else, like a new gold tooth.  

It dawned on me that this shoe reproduction would make a beneficial souvenir for both the soldiers just returned from the war and the grief-stricken families of those left behind.  Because of these and other thoughts I patented my Official Goldcast Army Shoe, built up some capital, which proved easily obtainable for such a patriotic venture, sketchy as it may have been, and both wrote and performed one of the first infomercials.  The Goldcast’s vague patriotism allowed my ad to be broadcast after the Star Spangled Banner was played on certain “special” stations that paid the government a slight fee to run such programming in the lonely hours. In that first year of business, I became a millionaire.

But I deserved the money; I invested well and hired some of my old Platoon League Buddies and their shoes and we made a mint.  According to a poll conducted in 1960 one out of every three households owned a reproduction of a 1919 shoe and one out of every six households owned a Goldcast.
All of this made me a rich man, but at heart, I was still rather sad because I had not fulfilled the purpose of the shoe: I had neither moved nor was I stable. By this time it was the 60’s and people were really against the latest war and less patriotic, all of which meant that the demand for gold casts of shows that the government had given to the heroes (if all soldiers living at the end of a war are heroes) of an earlier war.  

There were, of course, the first inklings of ironic patriotism.  I heard of one hippie who wore two Goldcasts in his dreadlocks and then there was the rapper, one of the first, who wore a Goldcast at the end of a thick gold necklace.  But these are other stories.  The main story, which you should ultimately focus on, is that sales were plummeting and I became skeptical of the patriotism that I once believed in so strongly and that I still loudly espoused.  

There are certain items, not directly related to the shoe, that should be acknowledged to you at this point in my story: After the war I married my high-school sweetheart at a time when that term still had meaning; we lived in an apartment and fought and had kids until the Goldcast money moved us into a mansion on Mission Beach, San Diego. Then we fell in love and it was nice—what a difference space makes.

In the early 70’s, with sales well down from their peak but no longer declining, I sold my business to a new man from East Orange, retired and went back to plumbing as a hobby with my beloved plumbline, which had been reproduced in millions of Goldcasts.

Nevertheless, I still had this feeling that I wanted to be more like the generals wanted me to be when they so earnestly presented me with that shoe.  So I began walking in the shoe they originally gave me.  (As somebody famous should have said “Before you walk a mile in somebody else’s smelly shoe, why not walk a mile in your own.”)  On these treks the other foot, the right one in my case, was always bare, unhoused.  At first, my right foot, the homeless foot, was almost broken, sprained several times, and torn to shreds while my left foot was covered in blisters, next in calluses, and finally with hard-working skin.  In the early days of my mission, I merely ventured up and down the beach, but the longer I walked around this limited area the more lopsided I became and the more crazy I suppose my endless pacing appeared.  To keep up appearances I walked across the fine livable community that was San Diego and ventured to L.A. and then finally, savagely, and strangely I walked all the way to Seattle, with one shoe on and one shoe off.

It’s not like I was a hero or anything, but I did feel like I had a mission, and I have to be honest, I did want other people to respect and note my mission, and from time to time, I wanted (needed even) others to tell me explicitly that my mission was profound, moving, meaningful, spiritual, etc.  I needed this and luckily I received it: people were behind me so I kept moving till I broke some bones, my hips included.  Of course, at first no one knew what I was doing.  But hey, language really does work especially when it is plastered to placards.  My wife got the message too.  I wrote her this sign: HEY WIFE I’M WALKING AWAY.  She didn’t like it, but the avocation makes the man.  And once I explained that she couldn’t claim to love me if she didn’t let me go she shoved me off on my way.

Then I came back to my quiet home (my children grown up and away, my wife, well-compensated, moved on) where I sat and fondled my shoe.  But fondling, I found, doesn’t take up that much time.  So I rented hundreds of videos from Blockbuster.  Their blue and yellow décor became the flash of my eyes.  It’s strange, but I didn’t usually care what movies I watched.  If somebody asked me if I enjoyed a movie I would inadequately reply that “It all depends on how much you like movies.”  There were several films, however, that I watched hundreds of times: L.A. Confidential, J.F.K., The Ice Storm, The Royal Tennenbaums, Almost Famous.  It wasn’t as if these were my favorite movies.  They were merely movies that I knew best how to watch while still retaining my ability to caress my beloved shoe.  And this is what I did: I sat in a large worn-out chair, watched movies, read The New Republic, and rubbed my shoe.

Funny, touching, strange, disturbing, prescient,powerful, thought-provoking, and very, very on the money. WOW!
08.24.2004 | David Walley

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