In the summer of 1999, my brother bought a pair of camouflage, old skool Vans from a skate shop in Pennsylvania not far from where my aunt and uncle have a house. He was very excited when he got them, but only wore them sporadically for the months that followed, and he eventually forgot about them completely.
I thought they were kind of cool, and just like so many other things that were filtered down to me after my brother lost interest, they eventually became mine. I didn’t ask him because I didn’t need to. He was so preoccupied with all the new stuff he got all the time that I was able to seamlessly appropriate his belongings without him ever really noticing.
My brother went off to college in the spring of 2004, and I was left with a roomful of the stuff he didn’t care to bring with him, including those camouflage shoes. I don’t remember ever being particularly excited to get them, but they were there, and they fit, and I needed shoes. The last pair of shoes that I had owned had fallen apart one day while I was walking home from school—the sole of the right shoe literally ripped off mid-step.
All was fine for a while. I had shoes to wear, and though they were ripped up along the sides, they did just fine and complemented my inch-high, blue-black, Mohawk hair, and the Black Flag and Minor Threat shirts that I wore nearly every day.
One weekend my brother came home. He arrived Friday night, and left Sunday morning. I don’t remember why he was there, but I do remember that afterward he and my mother took off on a bus back to Boston. I was left in the apartment alone and wanted to go to the store for some pizza. I had six dollars to spend. But when I went to look for my camouflage shoes, they were gone. I instantly realized what had happened: my brother had come back from school, noticed his shoes sitting by the door and said, “Oh, my camouflage Vans. I should take them with me,” packed the shoes in his luggage, and went off. The problem was, they were the only pair that I had. Not even winter boots. And you know what else? The night before he left, it had snowed. There was a foot of snow covering the sidewalk.
I didn’t panic initially, but I knew I could do nothing, not even go to school the next day, if I didn’t figure out some sort of solution. So, I went to my computer, looked up local shoe shops and made some calls. Unfortunately, there weren’t any shoe shops around that carried shoes for only six dollars, except for one: The Salvation Army. It was embarrassing when, in my pubescent pitch-shifting voice, I had to ask the lady on the other end what the cheapest pair of shoes was.
They had a pair Converse knock-offs that were used and tattered, but they were in my size and they cost only five dollars. The other problem was getting there; the Salvation Army was nearly two miles away. I didn’t have enough to pay for a cab, and there was too much snow to bike it.
You may be asking a question: Why didn’t I call my mother and ask her to pick me up a pair of shoes on her way back from the city? They answer is: Since my mother and father got divorced, and she won custody of me, she and I had not been on good terms. After the divorce, she regressed into a wild teenage girl and went out every night, leaving me in a fly-infested apartment with nothing more than a few bucks to get pizza with. I was pissed at her for not being there, and because I had eaten nothing but pizza five nights a week for nearly a year. The last thing I wanted was to call her up and ask her for anything.
So, I made a silly decision. Considering how few my options were, the only thing I could think to do was to wrap my feet in tinfoil and then cover them with two jumbo Ziploc bags. I looked in the mirror at my feet, and I remember thinking, “How D.I.Y! The Punk Rock gods would be proud of my ingenuity!”
But that pride quickly disappeared when I stepped outside. I looked like an idiot, and I knew it. But what was I supposed to do? Go barefoot?
The first thing I noticed was how cold the ground was. The Ziploc bag and tinfoil did little to keep my feet warm, let alone dry. When I had to step into foot high snow, lots got into the Ziploc bags, seeped through the tinfoil, and soaked my socks.
I remember a group of old Russian men who didn’t wait until I walked past them to start laughing at me, and a very pretty girl who stopped in her tracks and stood, jaw-dropped, at the sight of my feet. But I didn’t care. I felt invincible at that age, and knew wholeheartedly that sometimes I needed to make sacrifices in order to survive, especially in those unfortunate circumstances. Besides, I had already gone through much worse than a two-mile trek through snow.
But everything got worse around the midway point of my journey. The bags were falling apart and the tinfoil was slowly ripping. I picked up my pace by jogging lightly, and was able to make them last until I was only two blocks away, but then, the bags really ripped and the tinfoil practically disintegrated.
So there I was in my wet, floppy socks. I made one final run for it down those two long avenue blocks, and reached the front door of the Salvation Army just as my toes were becoming unbearably numb from the cold. As I flew inside, I saw the lady whom I had spoken to on the phone. She gave me a look of utter shock, looking first at my eyes, then at my feet. I remember hoping with every inch of my soul that the shoes were still there.
“You still have those five dollar shoes?” I asked.
“Um…” she was flustered, confused. “Yeah, we have them in the back.”
My body warmed with her words. I walked to the back of the store, found them. They were hideous: off-white, with brown laces. “Who would ever wear these,” I thought. But I put them on, and they fit. I paid upfront and thanked her, even though she really hadn’t done anything.
I remember wondering who had owned those off-white, off-brand, Converses before me. I know why they gave them away, because they were the ugliest shoes I had ever owned, ever seen. I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if they knew how important it really was that they had donated them, how much it would actually affect the person buying them?”
With my last dollar I went to a corner store and bought a can of cream soda, and then I strolled home, very slowly.