Ode To A Shoe

by Rob Valet | 3/30/01 5:00am

Now that we are well underway with what is purportedly Spring term, somehow I imagined things would be a little more spring-like around here. Thus far I am a touch disappointed that the tennis courts I planned on playing on still have snow on them and the river I planned on swimming in is still frozen solid.

Most of all, though, I am disappointed that it is still a little too cold for my Jesus sandals. One of my favorite rituals of the spring is when it is finally warm enough to pull out my ratty old leather Birkenstocks and wear them around. I bet sandal wearers across the millennia--probably all the way back to Jesus strolling around the Holy Land in his Birki equivalents--similarly enjoyed the first day of sandals in the spring.

Most people, including my mom, do not appreciate the importance of this day, nor do they understand the value a dedicated sandal wearer attaches to his or her most comfortable (i.e. rattiest) pair of sandals.

"Have you thrown those sandals away yet?" my mom will ask, knowing what a silly question this is even as she speaks. Sometimes she will approach the question from a different angle: "Have you been going to church?"

"No," I say, "but I am wearing my Jesus sandals. Does that count?" This goes over about as well as you might imagine.

Nor is it only within my immediate family that my aged sandals are not loved and cherished as they should be. One weekend on my Mexico LSA, a bunch of us were trying to get into a nightclub in Veracruz, but my sandals were not dressy enough for the bouncer. I tried to explain something to the effect that Jesus wore precisely this type of sandal, perhaps not made by the Birkenstock company (whose future country of production was still in the Germanic-horde-versus-Roman-legion state of political organization at the time), but in any case if my sandals were good enough for Jesus, they were damn well good enough for a crappy disco. I am not sure how much this lost in translation, but at any rate we didn't get into that club.

Some people are more open-minded in these matters. In my hometown, we have a quaint old boot repair shop called, quite simply, Fred's Boots. Inside, as you might imagine, you will find Fred, selling and repairing boots. There's something rather pleasing about the correlation between the name and the function of this store. It's as if you could enter a McDonald's and find Old Man McDonald in the back, grilling up the hamburgers from the cows he raised himself on slashed-and-burned rainforest land in Brazil.

Fred has more recently branched into the sandal business, which is why he enters our story. Maybe he'll update his sign soon. At any rate, Fred is a man who appreciates the importance of a ratty old pair of sandals. Once a year or so, I will bring my Jesus sandals (which look more and more like they might potentially be old enough to have been worn by Jesus every year) to Fred, and Fred will frown at them and tell me they need new cork and new soles. Fred always says this, much as a mechanic might tell you that you're short a quart of oil. At this point Fred has installed enough dollars worth of cork and soles that I could already have bought three or four new pairs of birkis with the repair money, but this is beside the point.

The point is that some things are important enough to transcend money, or logic, or smell (in my sandals' defense, most things their age kind of smell). These sandals have been through high school, around Germany, up every pyramid in Mexico, and all over Hanover. Before they go in the trash and get replaced by some new, "upstart" sandals, you will have to pry them off my cold dead feet (I bet this is how Charlton Heston would say it, if he likes sandals half as much as he likes guns).

For now, though, my sandals patiently sit in my closet, awaiting the start of sandal season. One day soon, the year's first sandal-wearing day, that timeless joy savored by such important people as Jesus, Ghandi, and me, will finally be upon us, and my beloved, ratty old sandals will once again grace the Dartmouth campus. Don't tell my mom I'm still wearing them.