I remember how truly shocked Raul was. "You don't have any black shoes?" Believe me, it sounds much more aghast with a heavy Mediterranean accent. I was supposed to be opening doors for guests arriving at the Art Deco Ball. I was doing it as part of my initiation in to the Society of folks who preferred to live life in another time, or at least in another mode of dress. I wore the tuxedo, and for the record, my cuff links and studs matched the maroon high tops that I was wearing. But these did not pass muster with the fashion police, and so I received a secret number of demerits and began wondering how my life with my wife, who reveled in such costume chicanery, would ever be the same.
My father had black shoes. And brown shoes. He had lace-ups and loafers. He had a closet full, but not overflowing, with dress shoes. I learned to shine shoes from him, even thought I was in high school before this skill paid off. It was then that I was required to keep a shine on the black shoes I wore in marching band. It was long about this time that I traded in my Buster Browns for a pair of Frye boots. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I made a conscious choice to avoid having a closet full of dress shoes, even if it wasn't a fully conscious one.
In college I kept a pair of uncomfortable shoes in my possession at all times, but just one. These were just in case I was asked to a wedding or a funeral or some function that would not allow me the freedom of footwear choice. I wore a pair of brown suede Earth Shoes for most of my tenure as a manager at Arby's. When my career path bounced to unloading trucks at Target and then to running a video store, sneakers were perfectly acceptable.
And so the years passed until I moved to California and into the belly of the beast: The Art Deco Society, where even if I had vintage athletic shoes, I would be ridiculed and scorned for my poor taste. One of the first fights I had with my new roommate and lady love was about dress shoes. How hard would it have been to simply accept the wing-tips she bought for me in hopes that I could just fit in? Alas, for her and me both, it was an issue of absurd proportions.
When we were married, I wore a pair of black shoes, all black Converse high tops. She understood. She has made room in her life for my lack of shoes, the snappy polished sort anyway. I saw a pair of business-types walking to their car the other day, in their suits and ties, dress shoes sparkling in the sun. I wondered what I must be missing. Even my everyday teacher shoe is the comfy walking shoes preferred by NBA referees. How long can I keep up this charade? Don't tell Raul, but I hope it never ends.