The Shoe-Petter Incident
For a number of years, my favorite shoes were a pair of slip-on Vans. These were not just your average Spicoli-styled, checkerboard canvas Vans, but leopard-print cowhide Vans. Or maybe they were horsehide? I’m not sure, and it really doesn’t matter. They were fuzzy, they were warm, and they were officially The Best Shoes Ever.
The Vans were a gift from a friend, and I loved them hard. I wore them while on vacation in Boston, where I walked an average of 15 miles a day, from one historic cemetery to another and through the ivy-coated sidewalks of Harvard and MIT, where I pretended to be enrolled. I wore those Vans through Minneapolis’ cold and Seattle’s rain. They weren’t really the warmest shoes, but they had enough give to accommodate some double-thick wool socks. They had no traction, but that was okay, too. Oh, and they weren’t waterproof.
There was something, though, in their soft hide. They just wore like gloves, like the comfiest of slippers. And because of that, I pretty much wore them right into the ground. At the end of their useful life the soles had worn through, and the heels had lost their shape. There was a little spot on the outside left side where my pinky toe had started to wear the leather thin. As much as I hated to admit it, it was time to say goodbye.
But first, a victory lap. There was a show at the Crocodile, and I knew I’d be on my feet all night, so I wanted to dress as comfortably as possible. I brought the Vans out for one final night on the town.
As happens during most nights out, I had to adjourn to the ladies’ room. While I was in the stall, minding my own beezwax, a hand reached under the partition. It hovered in midair for a few seconds, and I figured my neighbor needed a few squares of toilet paper. Happens all the time. So I pulled a bit from my roll and was about to drop it in her hand when I realized that her hand was not palm-up in the usual ‘paper please’ gesture. It was palm down, and hovering inches above my right shoe.
I may have been abnormally curious, or it may have been the vodka tonics, but instead of going with my original inclination to stomp on the hand, I just sat there, riveted, waiting to see what would happen next. Should I say something? Was this some sort of secret bathroom signal that I was not aware of? Were there invisible kittens down there? What?!
After a few moments — felt like minutes, was probably seconds — the hand slowly moved down and started petting my shoe. It was nice, a good, solid pet, not just a stroke. And I was kind of oddly surprised that I wasn’t pulling my foot away.
Then, just as quickly as it appeared, the hand went back to its side of the partition and I was free to finish up. I washed my hands and waited by the paper towel dispenser thingy; I just needed to get a glimpse of the woman who had stroked my shoe. Was it a friend who was just goofing around? Was it a stranger? Was I going to introduce myself? What would I say? Should I even say anything?
As she exited the stall and moved towards the sink, I caught her eye. She wasn’t any particular sort of girl — brown hair, a little shorter than me. If I ran into her on the street tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t recognize her.
I smiled at her, tried to think of something appropriate to say … but the only words I could get out were “you… shoe petter!”
She ran away without washing her hands.
PHOTO BY GEOFF CARTER