19 August 2006

My Internet Shoes

Maybe it's only because the majority of my life unfolded before anyone had even heard of the internet, let alone understood what it might be good for, but it took me a long time to accept the idea of shopping online for shoes.

Airplane and concert tickets, sure, books, no problem. I even bought a laptop for myself and a DVD player for my brother over the internet. But shoes? That somehow seemed too personal, too intimate, almost. As a child, going to the shoe store to get my feet measured and the right pair of shoes fitted ("right" in my parents' minds; virtually never in mine) was almost akin to a visit to the doctor or the dentist, albeit slightly less painful.

This was mainly because I had to wear "special" shoes because of my flat feet. Or at least my father had been convinced I did, though he was always suspicious that he was being sold a bill of goods, and always bewildered me by muttering a string of anti-Semitic imprecations against that nice Mr. Cutler every time we left the shoe store, having just unloaded another $25 on a pair of oxblood clodhoppers that I'd no doubt outgrow in three or four months.

If $25 seems like nothing for a pair of shoes, bear in mind that a typical pair in those days cost four or five bucks, and a pair of Keds, which I was never allowed to wear, no matter how I pleaded, a mere two or three. My father once calculated that he had about a thousand bucks invested in my feet, so you can imagine how thrilled he was when I chucked out my expensive orthopedic shoes in favor of flimsy, support-less Converse All-Stars.

And for about 20 years I happily wore Converse or even cheaper, flimsier sneakers while doing no visible damage to my feet. If they'd ever been flat, they didn't seem to be now, and even if they were, I could easily walk ten or more miles without any discomfort. Then came that fateful night at Gilman, New Year's Eve, it was, when 1987 went into 1988. I was kneeling on the side of the stage watching either Operation Ivy or Isocracy when an enormous fat kid came flying out of the audience and landed on my back, bending my big toe backward and breaking it.

I refused to believe it was broken, which really meant I refused to go the emergency room to get it X-rayed because that would cost a few hundred bucks I didn't have. So I tried to walk off the pain, and continued to do so for the next fifteen years, still wearing those accursed Converse All-Stars, until I could no longer walk more than a half mile without experiencing excruciating agony. When I finally dragged myself to a doctor, he ordered me to throw out my Converse and never wear them again, prescribed expensive orthotic inserts, and gave me a very short list of acceptable footwear that I'd be allowed to wear henceforth.

So I'd gone full circle, back to wearing "special" (and expensive) shoes. Yeah, they mostly looked kind of lame, or at least kind of meh, but on the bright side, I could walk again. 15, even 20 miles, without much discomfort. But they're hard to find, and have been getting harder, so after six months of searching shoe stores in San Francisco, London and New York, I finally resorted to the internet, where it took me about 15 minutes to find these semi-stylish (well, I like them just fine) Asolo sneakers (trainers to you Brits) and another minute or two to order them.

They took a while to arrive, but when they did, I took them out of the box, slipped them on, and immediately went for a five or ten mile walk with Chris A and P Smith. Insane? Perhaps, but they fit perfectly, felt like I'd been wearing them all my life, and never caused me a moment's discomfort in all that walking. The closest thing to an awkward footwear moment was when the laces inadvertently came untied ("Better send them back," P Smith advised). In other words, I love my new internet shoes and may never set foot in a shoe store again.

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