Shoe tossin’

Earlier today I bought another military suit jacket at the thrift. It’s navy blue and completely without sewn-on insignia of any sort. I suspect it’s Air Farce; I should cross-reference the button design to make sure. The curious thing is that the two big pockets at the bottom each have a button which is held in place not by stitching but by… small cotter pins. I’m sure there’s either a perfectly utilitarian reason for this or there is no reason whatsoever and it is just wacky Air Force tradition that has been passed down, airman to airman, for several centuries. In any case, it fits smashingly well — even better than the army suit jacket I picked up at the same thrift. Best of all, I got both of these on Mondays… the day on which their respective tag colors signified that they were 99 cents. (It is supremely unfortunate that mod-ren keyboards lack a “cent” symbol and I cannot remember the proper html c0d3z for it although it is probably something simple like ¢)

So, I put it on this evening although I first adorned it with a gold aguillette that I received my last year at summer naval camp. (You read that correctly.) I figured since it fit so ridiculously well, I ought to take a little stroll around my neighborhood to see what I could see. But first, I stopped in at some friends’ haus. They generously offered me a nightcap of Scoresby, “The Connoisseur’s Scotch Whiskey” (blended, I might add), which we bought the other evening when we were drinking hot toddies. Although I did not stay very long, I decided that it was getting on in hours and that I should just walk back home and get some sleep so that I can wake up early.

Just when I thought that my flaneurin’ was a wash for the evening, I saw some young men up ahead of me, on 11th Ave NE and NE 52nd St. As I was uphill with several large trees obscuring my vision, I saw only shadows of what looked like a street sign being jostled out of the firmament. I also heard a periodic clap as if someone were hitting a fraternity initiation paddle against somebody else’s backside, which happened to be made of balsa wood or some other marginally hard, though not too dense, surface. As I approached closer, though, I began to see what was happening.

The two men looked to be in the height of their youth and somewhere near the apex of a good alcoholic buzz. Neither of them were handsome by any stretch of the imagination. The short-haired man clutched a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade — no doubt to replenish his electrolytes. The other man, long-haired with a mane that would put Mr. Slash to shame, was holding either a cigarette or a bottle of beer. As I’m not sure which it was, let us say, for sake of argument, that he was holding a small plastic dinosaur. Both men were standing in the middle of 11th on either side of the utility wires that cross the street at this point. The aforementioned clapping happened to be the sound of a pair of shoes, laces knotted together, falling to the ground after failing to entangle themselves in the wires. Apparently precedents were set in this spot; I counted 5 pairs of shoes already up there.

I exchanged pleasantries with the short-haired man.

It was nice to finally see the process. I had, until this time, only seen the outcome of such activity. I’m also aware of the urban legends about this practice: drug-dealing spot, say, or a celebration of the loss of virginity. For example, there is a large tree in Fratville, on the corner of 18th NE and NE 47th, which contains at least one hundred pairs of rotting frat boy sneakers. I can’t imagine the vibrant microbial life, and olfactory treat, that the poor tree supports, especially after a warm rain. One urban legend about this tree touches upon some sexual rite-of-passage. This is plausible. After all, I imagine most upstanding fraternity gentleman adopt the preferred greek uniform for sexual conquest: naked except for a baseball cap and white tube socks (with the sexy grey patches at the toes and heels). In such case, they really don’t need the shoes anyway… up the tree they go!

I do admit that I was, for a moment, curious to ask the “why?” question of these young men. Several quarters ago, I remember briefly discussing this phenomenon with some of my independent study, urban archivist students. But I really don’t think that I needed to aks in this case; the facts were all there for me to fabricate an explanation should I so desire. Thus, I successfully fought off the momentary urge to kill mystery with hard fact. Some things, like the cotter pins holding the buttons to my jacket, should just remain urban legends… perhaps the results of inebriated tomfoolery in the middle of the night…

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