Our shoes decide what kind of person we are going to be.
There I stood directly in front of this phrase contemplating its meaning. It was printed in a flourishing script worthy of a constitution or declaration of rights.
It’s the kind of quote that makes you think. It’s the kind of quote that might have been uttered by Gandhi or Mother Theresa during a long march.
Our shoes decide what kind of person we are going to be.
As I stood where I stood, though, I felt a strange feeling. Because as I stood where I stood, I realized I was standing in a line. At a DSW.
I was one bead amongst a lengthy string getting or returning shoes at a shoe store. The day after Christmas.
“Our shoes decide what kind of person we are going to be” was the slogan in the line area emblazoned across all the lamps lifted beside the not-so-golden exit door.
The forty-something lady in front of me was buying Under Armour crossfit sneakers. I imagine her shoes would soon decide her to be someone ready to make aggressive changes, be more direct, ask for what she wants in life, and protect her house. She was scolding her teenage daughter who was buying Uggs … boots which I can only imagine was for a self-actualizing trip to the Arctic or adjacent tundra, I’m sure.
Me? I was buying these. All red Nikes. The person I was going to be was someone who clearly would require a lot of attention. As I considered the purchase, a voice inside my head whispered, “Just do it.”
As I sat in that immovable line, a war of words between mother and daughter erupted—
“Why do you need those Uggs to be warm if you’re going to wear them with booty shorts?” she asked aggressively, directly, and, remarkably, without her new sneakers even on yet.
I looked at the quote one last time.
Like me, you think you see the quote for what it is. Some meaningless phrase there to just sell shoes. But we’re about to travel through time and space, a full eternity of 2 days from now and a cosmic, well, 1.7 miles from this DSW, to learn one thing: we can be wrong.
“Our shoes decide what kind of person we are going to be.” By the end of this story, I submit to you that they can.
Metropark, 2 days later.
Metropark is a major train hub in New Jersey, ferrying tens of thousands of Edison commuters into New York City every day. Of those tens of thousands, approximately tens of thousands of them are also South Asian. Day in. Day out.
This means that you, someone you know, or someone going to a desi wedding will come through its hallowed walls tired, hungry, and yearning to have dosa. And that’s where I am right now in this story, in a line. Again. This time a bead amongst a scattering of many more waiting for a train.
“Great shoes, bro” I hear a younger version of myself say. He looks like he is in college and it looks like he and his girlfriend are off to their respective internships.
“It’s no big deal,” I lie in response. “They’re just shoes. These are great for the gym, though” I lie again. 2017 is in two more days. I’ll resolve to actually go to the gym then.
The train arrives and I stop smiling at my younger self. I finagle my way through the crowd to get on first, passing the young, old, and infirm. There’s rowdiness, shoving, a general acceptance that you must leave your humanity on the platform if you intend to get onto this train. I manage to put one shoe onto the train entrance and proceed to put the second one on.
Suddenly, I feel a scraping from my calf all the way down my leg. My shoe is dislodged and starts to dangle on my toes. For one brilliant Schroedinger moment, I was neither wearing nor not wearing this shoe. But then the impossible happens. My shoe falls off my foot. But it does not land in the train or on the platform. It dives right through the middle and lands on the tracks, ten feet down, looking like a bloodied forest animal.
My rage begins to build. I turn around to see the culprit. It doesn’t matter that he is an old man. He looks embarrassed but shoves past me to get on the train as do all the other passengers. What follows is fueled by the wrath of a thousand lines I’ve been in and will be in. It is fueled by that perceived indifference. And, if I’m being honest, probably fueled by this election and the fact that he is an old white man in a suit that doesn’t care that there’s a shoe on the track.
“My shoe is on the track,” I shout. “My shoe is on the track and you don’t care.” It starts like a nursery rhyme if not for my red face and spittle coming out of my mouth. “You don’t care because you’re in such a big rush. Right, Mr. God Damn Important?” He leaves stoically and behind him is the younger me with his girlfriend. They are looking at me with horror. I hobble off the train refusing to take off the other sneaker for symmetry.
I can’t walk back home which is twenty minutes and presumably longer with one shoe. Getting on the train and walking over 40 minutes through Manhattan doesn’t seem like an option either. I realize that I don’t have any place to go and no place to return to. This, in a way, makes me homeless. I time out how long it is till the next train and decide when and where I can jump down onto the tracks. As I’m weighing the pros and cons of this potential suicide, the conductor comes out.
“Should I even ask how this happened?” I think about drowning that stoic old man with my words. Ending his career with a tale of high crime and intrigue. But then I see the conductor smiling, he’s the only one smiling for miles during such a morning commute. He chuckles and pops the floor of the train entrance. I shout “wow!” as I’d never seen that happen. He goes down some steps until he is at track level and bellows from below “could you please describe the shoe for me?”
I start belly laughing. “It’s red. Pretty much looks like this one,” as I dangle my left foot over the tracks so he can see it. He smiles at me and I smile back. I get on the train and see my younger self.
“Holy shit, bro. How did you get it back?” he says as his girlfriend and about three onlookers also want to know. “Well, let me tell you,” I sit down across the aisle from him so I’m properly staged for everyone to see and hear my story.
A cruel twist. I’m told by other passengers that I’m in the quiet car where absolutely no talking is allowed.
But I smiled. My shoes had decided that I didn’t need the attention anymore. And even if I’d never get a chance to tell this story anyway, that’s okay.