I am a flat foot. Much to the chagrin of my ankles, shins, knees, hips and back, the beat I walk in the community known as Life In General is constantly harried by the walk itself. I have big flat feet and my only medical savior is the orthotics which make my big flat feet a little less flat and a bit more big. Does this bodily imperfection make me more humble? No; I have dandruff for that. If anything, my big flat feet make me less humble in that they are attached to a big tall body, a frame I usually feel good about. In my few decades on Earth, my dogs have only made me strive that much more for their sustenance: A good pair of sneakers.
The obsession began at around six. Christmas. My first pair of Jordans. I would be lying if I said I did not sleep in them that first night. From there, the lust only grew. That Brett Cowman had the black and white Bo Jacksons did not escape my attention, or anyone else’s at the lunch table for that matter, which is natural considering elementary school is where we first learn that cool shoes garner cool points. Eastbay was pornography for me and many of my cohorts; in the days before going online was the natural thing to do, getting that catalogue provided many hours of discussion, debate and planning. Often times, my lust was unrequited; indeed, there were some Deions and Griffeys and Pippens and Barkleys that escaped my grasp. But the Air Max 95s didn’t. I washed and poorly waxed cars to get them. Carrying a drunken friend to her father’s car one night, I less than diplomatically noted aloud that, should she vomit on said 95s in the course of transport, there would be a dust-up starring her with a special guest appearance by myself. (Now, lest you think I was anything but cosmopolitan, I acquired a taste for boots: Eastman, Timberland and, sadly, even Lugz.) Clothes, though still quite important, were merely for wearing. Shoes were for stuntin.’
My sneaker freakdom made me in no way unique. However, I can say there was a wrinkle, a monkey wrench, a fly perpetually in the ointment that made my quest for sneaker rapture all the more maddening, yet gratifying: my big flat feet. Anyone who knows anything at all knows size 11 is the single greatest for a man. A store will always have it and if they run out, another store will have it. I don’t even remember when I was an 11, but I’m well-versed in the spite for those who are. To find a great shoe in my size was better than getting good grades. Good grades confirmed what I already knew. But a size 13 in a great colorway? That’s the stuff legends are made of.
The older I got, the harder the great finds came. I kept getting taller and my feet got just big enough to keep me out of the mall. There was no point in even going. Ordering shoes, even from the catalog I once cherished, just took the fun out of the whole experience. So like any level-headed teenager, I fought back. If I saw a shoe I liked and a price I liked and a size I could talk myself into, I bought it. It didn’t matter that I shouldn’t even have bothered with 13s or that the pinch in the forefoot would cause my toes to fall asleep. These were the Mardi Gras Bos. Lack of cushion that puts more stress on the ankle, shins, knees, hips and back? That’s the price you pay for black, grey and red Dunks.
At my peak, I could wear a different pair of shoes every day for a month. Is that crazy? Relatively speaking, no. I definitely have buddies that far outpace me in that department. Were all my shoes limited editions? Nope. I had a nice fleet, but few pairs that would warrant honorable mention on Crooked Tongues. Even at the height of my freakiness, I could only justify spending a certain amount of money on footwear. In fact, part of the thrill was finding something fresh at a good price.
Still, lest you think I wasn’t a junkie, a word on my storing procedure: When possible, I kept all my sneakers in their original boxes, not just for easy storing and safe keeping, but because the sight of differing shoes touching one another made me ill. The quarantine process was always made more interesting when a box broke down or a tripped needed packing for—the element of feng shui and plastic bags being further complicated by having to choose which footwear to bring along on a trip, which is tantamount to choosing between your children. What can I say? My stable was one I had accumulated through perseverance and pinched toes and I was proud of my stallions.
Truly great tragedies never happen all at once; they happen in stages. First, my body tapped out. Like my feet, my orthotics got older and flatter (and like my feet, they have yet to be replaced.) Walking around in fresh shoes that didn’t fit and had no support became a lot less sexy. “My body hurts but gosh my shoes are ill!” lost a good deal of cachet, particularly when my body felt worse than the shoes looked tight. Then college ended and two things happened: I found out what broke really means and what space really is. If walking around in fresh shoes that don’t fit and lack support isn’t sexy, paying for said footwear is just stupid. That’s like paying to do extra homework, which I believe the Greeks called ‘graduate school’. Don’t think that I always spend money responsibly, but if I’m gonna be wasteful, it has to at least feel good on some level.
Then the frustration and weariness that comes with hauling thirty pairs of shoes in addition to all the other stuff people consider their personal effects just broke me down. In college, you can have thirty pairs of kicks like you can leave the heat up on high and leave the room with all the lights and your computer on. In real life, what was once a point of pride was now a lot of stuff I wasted a lot of time shlepping and little time wearing. When your residential situation goes from being more or less stable to having a great deal in common with the touring company of a Broadway show, you tend to care a lot less about whether or not you have a navy blue pair of 574s.
If that wasn’t enough, I started to lose my love for sneakers as a pursuit. Shoes, boots; footwear that can be worn in any situation, particularly adult ones, have begun to take my interest. (Author’s Note: As of this writing, I have not fully come to grips with that fact).
What was once a thirty shoe empire has been reduced to the rubble of the sensible seven: Black with green trim low top Nike Dunks—my every day shoe; navy blue Adidas sandals—house shoes; black Bostonian dress shoes; brown Nunn Bush dress shoes; brown Wallabees—a pair currently under review; black Nike basketball shoes—for working out, and grey New Balance 992s—and they were a gift from the misses. All have a purpose; all have a place.
I still appreciate a good pair of footwear, sneaker and otherwise. If all the world’s a stage and we are but players, I don’t see anything wrong with the footwork of your costume being in order. Still, I sometimes struggle with choosing comfort and fit over style. There are moments when I see differing shoes touching and feel my jaw go slack, announcing the onset of a minor stroke. Indeed, I’ve even developed a strange fear of purchasing shoes because so many years spent wearing things that don’t quite fit have left me unsure as to what constitutes a good fit.
I sometimes wonder if my big flat feet with big flat orthotics and a thin flat wallet make my fall from freakdom circumstantial; if changing two of the three factors would grossly change my outlook on the situation. I mean, with the right equipment and the right dough, finding something fly in a 14 is extremely doable. But I doubt I’ll return to the halcyon days of Shoe Month. My feet will always be big, if temporarily un-flat, I will never miss wasting a whole suitcase on shoes or the contortions it involves and I still stink at waxing cars.