Sunday, November 12, 2006
I bought my first pair of Converse All Stars in more than 30 years Friday at a small shoestore in the East Village.
Black canvas with white trim.
But time will fix that.
The last time I owned a pair of Chuck Taylors, I was firmly in the grip of puberty, Gerald Ford was president and one's reputation could be made or broken largely by his choice of footwear. I say "his" because girls seemed above all that.
Sneakers provided one of the few ways you could rise from social outcast to one of the gang in one easy step.
When I was a kid, there was an unwritten list of "approved" sneakers from which the cool kids chose. You could buy Converse All Stars. Or PRO-Keds. Or Pumas. If you could afford them, Nikes and Adidas earned you bragging rights. Nobody had ever heard of Reeboks. New Balance, Mizuno, Brooks and Saucony were for another generation of kids to fret over.
Sneakers not on the cool list were derisively called "skips" or "bobos." Those were the kind your parents bought you if they thought spending more than 10 or 15 bucks on a pair of sneakers was madness. Those parents economized, and their kids suffered for it.
In the suburban New York town where I grew up, there were two things at which we excelled: Verbally stepping all over each other's sneakers and each other's mother. These were art forms. The best trash-talkers were respected members of the teen community worthy of emulation. And we all tried to emulate them, unless our heckler was bigger. In that case, discretion became the better part of valor and you took your tongue-lashing.
Flash-forward to middle age. I've largely abandoned the art of insulting a person's mother. People get shot for that these days. Come to think of it, they get shot over a pair of sneakers, too.
I'm too old to give a crap about the kind of sneakers people wear, and I'm too old for anyone to care much what I wear.
But I miss that time when the choices were fewer, the stakes lower. The time when your entire image could be made over just by wearing the right sneakers.