Unlike so many cool bruhs I know, I’m not a sneaker freak. (Come to think of it, I’m not “cool,” either.) I don’t get a kick from kicks. I dislike taking shoes out of the box, untying the laces all the way, putting my foot in, retying them, hobbling around testing for cushion and balance and savoir faire, all the while knowing damn well that someone else’s stinky feet have been in these, someone else’s toejam and earl has curled around the arch support and found it unsuitable. My socks are sniffing around someone else’s footsweat. Even if not, I feel a little like a shoplifter when I’m in-store trying on shoes, unless I’m being assisted by a salesperson, and then I have to deal with that dude’s (and it’s usually a dude) prattle and pitch. I have a sliver of dress-clothes style, so at least I can find good-looking shoes to fit my suits, slacks, and trousers. I’m useless, though, with casual flair. Ask my friends: As an adult, it’s only in the last five years that I started wearing jeans regularly, only in the last two that I’ve regularly flashed my ashy flab-thighs in shorts during the summer. And I live in the South, y’all. All this means that I haven’t bought a pair of sneakers, honest-to-God rubber-sole, let’s-go-balling kicks since 2001. Yes, I remember exactly when, because my stupid mind remembers these things but not my brother’s birthday. A week after 9/11, I drove to New Orleans with Judith Coleman to see They Might Be Giants at the House of Blues. I love that city but I know what the French Quarter’s streets are like. (See: Outhouse, with a frat boy’s digestive tract.) There was no way I was splashing my pedals down Canal or Decatur, Conti or Bourbon, with shoes that were worth a damn. This dawned on me two hours before we were heading from Jackson to New Orleans, so I had to scramble. I ended up in a Stein Mart near my apartment, looking for sneaks that were simple, black or at least very dark, without zigzags or any shade of purple, and that fit. In a clearance rack, I found ‘em: Nike Air lowtops, size 11, combo of felt and leather on the surface, straightforward, and for six bucks. They’d been hidden under bags of athletic socks. It’s possible they hadn’t been moved since the Clinton Administration. I didn’t even bother trying ‘em on, because I was in a hurry and, as I’ve said, I hate shoe shopping. When the cashier rang them up, they didn’t even come up in the system, though the price tag was right there on the box, plain as day. He called over a store manager, who asked me where I had found them. Once told, he tried to buy them from me for $20, I think so that he could put them back out on the floor for twice that amount. No dice. Shoes bought, I put them on in my car, and we headed to New Orleans. A problem emerged. Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, my shoe size was 11. That must have changed, or maybe it was my foot size that was 11 and not my shoe size. Anyway, the suckers were tight. I squeezed my feet in and, once in, they were fine, but my big toe touched the edge of the shoe, and the sides didn’t have much breathing room. But I had kicks that looked cool, for the first time in a while. Over the next decade, they gradually lost their coolness, because I apparently hate taking care of shoes (sneakers, anyway) even more than buying them. I never cleaned them, buffed them, or brushed them. I replaced the black shoelaces only when the ends were so raggedy that they no longer fit through the eyeholes. And I wore those Airs everywhere, in all kinds of weather, on all kinds of surfaces. I’m pretty sure I went hiking in them once. Oddly, at work, I think I’m known for my sartorial flair and, two months into the job, my boss mentioned during a slideshow presentation that the picture she was showing was vivid “but no match for Walter’s socks.” I do love colorful socks; like a good tie, it’s a cheap way to add flash to my look. Somehow, though, this hasn’t extended to my shoes. All the same, it’s lately become urgent that I buy new kicks. When I walked a 5K in Portland, OR, in May 2012, I bought a pair of baby-blue Saucony kicks. I got a 50% discount on shoes at the race’s registration site but the coupon worked only at a shoe store in Portland. I made the same mistake, though, and the Sauconys were size 11. (By then, I knew I needed a size up but the store didn’t have twelves, and those shoes were the only ones I liked.) I made it through the 5K, and I walk/jogged in those things for four months, but—surprise surprise!—they hurt my feet. So did my Nike Airs but that was the price of having some part of me that looked cool.
For my birthday last year, my dad bought me a pair of Asics that have the distinction, unknown by me for the past ten years, of: 1) being roomy for my feet; 2) being well-cushioned, especially at the arch; 3) having high-enough tops to provide ankle support; and 4) being butt-ugly. I’m embarrassed to wear them, and more embarrassed because I picked them out and they were the least gaudy ones I ran into that fit me well. So, I’ve alternated between the achy Airs and the glitterbomb Asics. Tomorrow, though, I’m heading to a conference in Washington, DC, a city I love walking in, and I just couldn’t face loading the Asics into my luggage one more time, hanging around the hotel lobby in shoes that make me sigh. So, after work, I headed to Target. In twelve years, my shoe shopping strategy has changed only in that I at least tried on the Converse One-Stars before I bought them. I’ve always wanted a pair. They are the classic hipster shoes, sure, but they’re the classic anything shoes for men. For a few years, it was hip to get married wearing red ones with tuxes. Maybe it still is. I wouldn’t know, because I’m not cool. But the damn things fit beautifully, they look great with jeans, and I’m reminded that, while shoes don’t make the man, they do make the man feel better.