When our daughter Alisa got married, Nancy
and I helped clean out her room so she could get things ready for
her move to the new apartment. With my daughter leaving, I would
finally get a whole real closet to myself in the house, instead
of living out of an old brown metal portable closet and dressing
in the bathroom every morning. How I reveled in the thought.
As I waded into my soon-to-be closet, I quickly found myself knee
deep in about 20 pairs of sneakers……..wondering how
many of these she could possibly wear at once.
My wife looked at my expression and knew that a main steam valve
was about to rupture, so she tried to relieve the pressure before
the entire closet became engulfed in moisture.
“Remember those sneakers we used to wear?” she said
trying to mollify me.
“Yes, we had one pair, two choices of color, P. F. Flyers
or Keds. How can you tell these things here on the floor apart?
They all look the same. I would be hard pressed to match any of
these sneakers. They all look the same with some minor variations.”
“Well…. some are for dress; and some are for walking;
and some are for exercising.”
“Sure for your good pair of jeans.”
“All my jeans have paint stains on them. I have no dress
All of a sudden I felt my anger sapping as the closet started to
spin. My time machine had begun taking me back to Newark in the
1950s. When the dizziness abated, I was standing in line outside
the auditorium in First Avenue School. Mr. Blasi was standing there
eyeballing a student.
“Mister! Where is your tie?”
“I forgot it Mr. B.”
“Go get one of the paper ties from the office and put it
on. Make sure you get a big ugly one. I guess you have no sweater
or jacket to wear either? Don’t you know Wednesdays are assembly
day, and that means a tie and either a sweater or jacket?”
“Got up late today, sorry.”
As the poor chap heads for the office, Mr. Blasi almost pops a
”Freeze, Mister! Lift up your pants legs. What are you wearing
on your feet?”
“S-N-E-A-K-E-R-S !!!! Is it gym time now, or is it assembly?
Who dressed you this morning? James Dean or Marlon Brando. You are
a bum, a delinquent, and most likely a slacker headed straight for
jail after high school.”
“I told you I got up late, Mr. B. I’m sorry.”
“You see me after assembly.”
Oh, it was a terrible offense to wear sneakers back then. Bums
wore sneakers. Burglars wore sneakers. Drunks wore sneakers. Students
wore uncomfortable dress shoes, like the limping legions before
them. Men teachers wore dress shoes, jackets, and ties; and women
wore high heels, skirts/dresses, and had their hair done. No exceptions.
You brought your sneakers to school, usually tied together, when
there was gym class. They were worn only in the playground or the
gym—no exceptions. And they came in very limited styles and
colors. You would never step on the gym floor in leather shoes,
so you never stepped on the school floor in sneakers---so went the
How many times have you seen sneakers hanging from the telephone
wires near the school? Someone would steal your tied together sneakers
and pitch them over the wires and then you would get to visit your
sneakers every day on the way to and from school.
“Son, where are your sneakers?”
“They are not here Mom.”
“Where are they?”
“Near the corner of 10th Street and First Avenue”
“Go get them then before someone steals them!”
“ No one is going to steal them.”
“How do you know?”
“They are 20 feet off the ground.”
“Just resting there!!!”
“Wait ‘til your father gets home!”
How many times did you get a nail through the sole of your sneaker!
You remember what that meant, especially if it broke the skin and
started to bleed….the dreaded lockjaw or Tetanus…..instant
death if not treated with a huge shot of stuff that came loaded
into one of those big glass doctor needles.
Ah, but it was worth it all to float through the air on those
glorious high jumping sneakers. There you are, taking those big
bows with the game winning basketball shot, or zooming past the
finish line to win the track meet. The crowd roars, the gym smell
is overwhelming…..you reel in sports glory…….
I’m back in my daughter’s closet again, still knee
deep in artificial rubber.
My mind does a fast calculation……20 pairs of sneakers
at $50 per pair……$1000 in sneakers! I feel like I have
to go to the bathroom. There goes the main steam valve—Bloohey!!!…..steam
and profanity everywhere.
“I don’t have enough shoes to cover half the floor
of this closet, and this kid has 20 pairs of sneakers. I could get
a hernia if I have to help her pack up her shoes. What is she a
charter member of the Imelda Marcos shoe fan club?”
“Things are different today dear. The kids like to be coordinated.”
“When we were kids, coordinated meant we could walk and
chew bubble gum at the same time.”
“Now don’t spoil the wedding with all sorts of foolishness.
Stay calm and be happy for your daughter…..sneakers and all.
Besides if you still have room in this closet, I can put some of
my stuff in here.”
“Hey, you already have every other closet in the house loaded
with your stuff—that’s not fair. Say….how many
pairs of sneakers do you have?”
“Put a sock in it and help your daughter pack her stuff!!”
It was so much simpler back in the 50s.