Posts For The End Of The World: Sneaker Tags

Image courtesy of Kim Greening.

When I was about nine, a girl got on our school bus wearing new sneakers—with the tag still on. They were red with black detailing and the tag may have been white, or may have also been red and black. This was the time of Michael Jordan and the Bulls dynasty and we were in Chicago, so maybe they were Air Jordans. I can’t remember. What I do remember, though, is staring at her shoes as she stood in the aisle of the bus, debating whether I should say something to her about the tag. After all, it still had the price on it.

You get me? The shoes still had on the tag.

Now, I was a weird kid, but I was also aware enough to realize that I knew more about Scottie Piper’s assists than fashion at that point (respect to Scottie). My clothes came in a cardboard box my grandma assembled in Florida at a thrift store and then mailed once a year. My fanciest dresses were bought on layaway at a store in a strip mall, and there was nothing more exciting to me than an outlet mall followed by a trip to Sbarro. So I knew I should stay in my lane. Sit back. Go back to staring at the lake just starting to thaw out the window.

But another part of me just couldn’t let it go. I mean, who keeps the price tag on their shoes? I couldn’t wrap my head around this idea. A tag, still on your shoes? They would be impossible to return if she was wearing them to school, so what other purpose could this possibly serve? Or what if she didn’t even know and someone else teased her before she could take them off?! I knew that particular hell. My third grade teacher once asked if I wanted a comb for my hair in front of the whole class—in such a ringing voice.

So you know what I did.

Yup, I quietly leaned over and pointed out the tag to the girl as we shot back onto Lake Shore Drive from the 31st Street exit. You can probably guess what happened. She laughed, and looked at me like I was exactly who I was. Then she sat down with her friends to talk smack about my ass, and I stared out the window at the lake in confusion and a certain amount of wonder. I mean, price tags on shoes. Who wouldn’t thought?

I think about that moment a lot. Not the getting laughed at part—I’m 41, I don’t care if you laugh at me (unless you’re offering to pay me money for the pleasure, in which case, call me). Instead, it’s that long moment before reality firmed up and snapped into truth that comes back to me more often than I would have expected back at age nine. That disorienting feeling when your mind is trying to process two completely contradictory realities, one comfortable and one seemingly impossible—with your gut telling you the latter is truth. You know you’re on the cusp of understanding something fundamental about the world. That the Bulls would not be on top forever. Sob. That you wouldn’t even know the name of the basketball team in the city you live in decades later. Cough cough cough

I think this is the limbo that many of us are in right now as we come to grips with the idea that we will never go back to the way things were before Covid-19. We think the world is one, known thing, but in fact, little of it was permanent or sustainable. So when we do have a vaccine and measures in place to make it safe to be fully in the world again, we will be returning to something fundamentally different--if we are lucky enough to survive.

If this is true, I think our job now is to be okay with this profound discomfort and disorientation. Particularly if we're comfortable in our homes. Be okay with the fact that yes, we want to complain about the new constraints, the sometimes profound discomfort of upending our lives, losing our jobs, having to try to teach our kids at the same time as working and cleaning and cooking and magically not losing our minds. We don't storm the capitol buildings, demanding that our previous reality be restored. You can't shoot at a virus.

Instead, now we sit with that discomfort as best we can. And then we step into the new reality with grace and as much wonder as we can muster, helping others come along with us. We don’t insist that sneakers can’t be worn with tags--clearly, they can, and they were a whole lot better looking than my sorry moon boots or whatever. I really had no style game back in fourth grade. Let's be happy to just have some goddamn shoes.

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