I’m a leftover hippie sustainability nut. In my day, we only had one pair of shoes unless we were athletes of some worth. I am not an athlete of some worth. I am the opposite of an athlete of some worth. When I played basketball in school I was told on more than one occasion, “Man, you’re funnier than The Cosby Show.” And that, in those days, was about as funny as it got. I was so bad they invented a trophy just to show how hard I tried—“The Coach’s Award.”
“Hey, Jack, chuck me a trophy. I got a kid who really sucks this year…but she shows up three hours early shooting foul shots, and once in a while, thank God for gravity, one hits—got an award for that?”
Bad athlete, good student, and now, I teach. I never realized athletic footwear would be a major part of my professional success. Shoes make the man.
Even though I am an “athlete of no worth,” I did have shoes specific to the sports I tried hard to play. They were worn only for that sport. They were not matched to outfits, and everyone pretty much wore the same pair of shoes, well, every day. Teaching in an urban school is very different. You have to know your footwear.
I tell my students how we only had one pair of shoes, and they gaze at me like I grew up with one pair of underwear. Inconceivable. “One…pair…of…shoes? Naaaaahhhhh!” Really, it’s true. I have bad late 80’s yearbook photos to prove it.
To teach well, you must own shoes. You must own shoes, and you must rock them—correctly. Not just random shoes, but THE shoes. I fell into my first pair of Jordans accidently—I needed a new pair of basketball shoes. I couldn’t play in the Reeboks I wore when I ruptured my Achilles tendon playing against really old people. That would be bad luck.
Sneaker Guy fitted me with some of the ugliest blue and white shoes I’d ever seen. Hideous though they were, I knew to trust him. He was clearly the expert. If you’re from the sticks, you might not understand this completely—maybe you worship the Tractor Guy or someone else—Sneaker Guys hold the respect of a minor Roman Catholic saint or a lesser Greek god. When asked, he said that they didn’t really make a classic “high top” anymore. Apparently those died in the 80’s along with bad hair. “Try these. They just came out—they’ll be good for you.”
I wore Ugly Blue and White Shoes to school on Casual Friday. The hallway stopped. Silence filled the air. There is never silence in the urban school. Apparently, I had the new-release 12’s. Right after they came out. Students waited in line for these shoes, skipped school for these shoes, bought extra pairs to sell at a profit—this was big. Release day for Jordans is so important that the company got wind of truancy issues and changed their releases from Tuesdays to Saturdays solve the problem. I had scored. Light a candle in front of Sneaker Guy’s shrine of greatness.
When I actually hustled a game of ball in those shoes, tears filled the air—street-smart guys who could take ten fists to the face without blinking sobbed uncontrollably. “Miss, you can’t play in them shoes… they’re gonna get creased!” Just to show them I could play in “them shoes,” I bought a pair in another color and started matching them to my shorts. Just like them. And I played. And they cried. Street cred. Instantly.
When you want to be the best, you find the best and you copy them. I had this thing down. Just one small problem. One day, a particularly kind soul took me aside, “Miss, what are you thinking?” asked Kind Soul.
“Um, nothing—maybe about how much homework I’m going to give?”
“Nah, about those shoes?” Kind Soul shook his head sadly.
“Well, Karim, I’m thinking they’re on my feet?” Wrong answer.
“Miss, let me lace them for you.” And he took me aside with the degree of respect you’d use when helping a fragile, nerdly kid with a major flaw, like post-gym BO or a zit the size of Texas, and gave me the proper instruction on how to lace my shoes. Because if you’re going to rock the shoes you have to know the rules. Which are as follows:
- They must be laced correctly. Nobody cool has tied shoes for fifteen years. (And cool went out in the 70’s. You’ve got to be “G.”)
- Brand must match clothing—if you are wearing Jordans (Nike), you must wear a warm-up suit or shirt that matches in color and brand.
- You should do everything possible not to crease the shoes. A good suggestion is to buy them several sizes too big, then stuff a plastic grocery bag in the toe, so your feet won’t go all the way down and risk a crease. Be careful, because if you play like this, sometimes the shoes slip off and fly across the court at inopportune times, which is dangerous in a real game, because Coach will beat you later.
- Save the box. You will be able to resell the shoes on E-bay later, especially if they are the “OG” (the original, not re-released). You’ll make more money than a day trader. I’m proud to admit, I have done this.
- If you scuff your shoes or get dirt on them at any time, you must immediately stop what you’re doing, pull out your sneaker cleaning kit (available for approximately $10 at most stores—Sneaker Guy can hook you up) and repair the damage on the spot.
- If you step on anyone else’s shoes in a crowded area you are required to apologize to the degree with which the step occurred—a small bump may simply require a nod of apology, but a full-scale stomp, even if you were jostled and pushed, commands that you supplicate yourself and give a significant apology. Possibly even daps of forgiveness.
- Always watch out for small kids. They want to chase you and step on your shoes and get rides on your feet and stuff. Stay clear.
If you follow the Seven Rules of Shoes, you should be good to go. Again, coming from an environment of shoe deprivation, I was grateful to get the proper instruction in shoe etiquette and now, I am uniquely qualified to be a “highly effective” teacher. Those Jordans have taken me further, I’m afraid, than 1.5 overpriced graduate degrees, three evaluation systems, and professional experience in two different career fields.
It’s been a long time—I no longer need fashion, nor do I have it. I still pull out the well-preserved boxes and “rock the J’s” playing some tough-D, though never sinking a shot, when called upon to revitalize my street cred. But I’ve crunchified into my hiking shoes and REI athleticwear again. A well-worn pair of Keens, while horrifying to the average high school student, is my shoe of choice. And I can get away with this now.
Because my cool transcends the shoe.