Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sizes may vary.

After dinner with my cousin at an O'Charley's, my ill, scratchy-voiced mother suggested that the two of us, alone for the night, use the hour afterward to do some sort of shopping before the stores closed. Even though she was beat after babysitting my cousin's son for the day and has been suffering from laryngitis and allergies all week, she wanted to take advantage of my visit and not go directly home, even though the stores were about to close.

She suggested Ross or Marshalls. I asked if we could go to DSW.

She asked why I'd want to go to a shoe store, of all places, and I pointed to the well-worn, torn-soled, two-year-old pair of black Steve Maddens at my feet.

My mother can cope with a messy house. She can't cope with messy clothes.

"Oh my God, why are you wearing those in public?" she asked me.

I put them on without socks this afternoon when I left my apartment, I told her. I was only walking to the rental office to pick up a package, so it didn't seem necessary to dress up for the occasion.

But my day's activities had ballooned from that one task. I got the package. I jumped in my car. A phone call to Kacoon put Duluth in my head, so I headed in that direction. Thinking about Duluth led me to think about the Steak & Shake there, so I suddenly had a destination and a chocolate milkshake in mind. Arriving in Duluth, I called my mother in Buford to see if she had the photos from my reading (and to see what her voice sounded like). She told me, just barely, that she could print them out for me at her house. And she also told me that she'd been babysitting my cousin's son all day and that my cousin was arriving soon to pick up the boy. And she told me that my stepdad had gone fishing for the night. Then, she coughed and coughed. So I got back on the expressway in Duluth and headed toward Buford.

It wasn't until Mom and I left O'Charley's that I noticed I still had on my bad shoes. These shoes were my once-fashionable, once-expensive, once-favorite pair that now had holes in the leather and worn-out rubber soles that caused me leg pain. These were the ones my co-worker Shalewa mocked for a couple months until I stopped wearing them. The leg pain didn't motivate me to abandon the shoes. The mockery did.

(Seriously, my shoes were so bad that Shalewa probably would've written an apt, inspirational folk song about them if I'd suffered through them at work much longer.)

My gait is uneven. My body is disabled. My feet are pigeon-toed, thus oddly calloused and two different sizes. My toenails, like every other detail of my day-to-day life, often suggest unattractive disarray. My footwear generally has a limited shelf-life.

When my mom studied the shoes on my feet, she kinda flipped out, albeit at a minimal volume.

"Those are RUINED ...," she squeaked. "Tell me you haven't worn those to work."

"I haven't worn them in weeks," I said. "I just put them on when I ran out of the house today."

She cleared her throat.


"Mom, I promise," I said. "I've been wearing the Rockports. No one's SEEN ME in these shoes in weeks."

* * * * *

My mother, like most people, is mortified, on occasion, by glimpses of how I live. My apartment, my car, my desk at work all suggest I'm a scattered mind and/or a glutton for punishment.

My car, though, is the worst. The floorboards and seats of my "white" '96 Saturn are buried in garbage, old mail, CD jewel cases, books, boxes and baskets. At this point, a team of archaeologists would be required to help me clean it. Some friends ask me if I have the bodies of old boyfriends somewhere in the back, underneath the clutter. Passersby wonder if I live in it.

I'm personally ashamed of the car, sorta. I park far away from buildings so that no one realizes it's mine and judges me. But I also consider my messy car, in some ways, a character trait and am, thus far, unmotivated to dig through it.

Another co-worker at the bookstore once asked me about the messy lifestyle. I defended my mess, using an anecdote about a known gay writer.

"I read somewhere that Quentin Crisp kept a 'famously filthy' apartment," I said.

He was appalled and said, "You consider QUENTIN CRISP a role model???"

* * * * *

My right foot is an 8-1/2. My left foot is an 8. Thus, I usually buy a size 8-1/2 pair and cope.

But, in the store, Mom kept insisting that I try on a Size 9, offering up that shoe sizes are merely a suggestion and not gospel.

"Companies vary," my mother rasped, dangling a laceless pair of brown leather Diesels in my face. "Just try on the 9."

"No," I said. "It has to be an 8-1/2. I don't trust it otherwise. And, besides, those don't have shoelaces."

"They stretch to fit your foot," she whispered. "Why do you need shoelaces?"

"Because I like tradition," I said. "And I don't like loafers."

She argued that they weren't loafers, that they were trendy "laceless sneakers," but I don't trust anything that doesn't have laces. It took me forever, as a kid, to learn to tie my shoes. It seems rude to just throw away all those hours of practice.

Besides, surviving Velcro and the Nike Air Pump, I feel I've outgrown shoe gadgetry. (I feel like I should make a Maxwell Smart reference here, but I can't think of one.)

I eventually found a pair of cool, suede, light-brown Skechers in my size, and my mom told me to try them on. I thought of my feet.

"I'm not wearing any socks," I said. "Let's just buy them."

"You can put on the temporary socks," she rasped.

"Temporary socks?"

"They're right there," she said, pointing to a box on the shelf. It looked like a tissue box, but it was filled with wadded-up, brown hosiery feet. I'd seen one before, but I had never used it.

"This just seems weird," I said, considering the hosiery. "I've not done drag before."

My mother rolled her eyes at me and said she was heading toward ladieswear.

I slipped the stretchy material of the hosiery over my feet, hoping that the vicious shards that I consider toenails wouldn't cause them to immediately run. Surprisingly the footies were light and airy against my calloused skin, as though God (or Leggs) had painted a protective glaze over my feet.

I immediately fell in love with the idea of male hosiery. Once, during an "experimental phase" in college, I kept my legs shaved for a couple weeks. The act itself was ridiculous, but the resulting bare legs made me feel daring, confident and attractive - until girls in the dorm started prank-calling my room and offering me bottles of Nair.

My moment with the footies reminded me of a simpler, more beautiful time and reminded me that my body image could change. I tried on the shoes, then switched back to my beat-up shoes while we rang up the new ones, and I've kept the glorious footies on the whole time. (Please, no one mention to me that this is either gross or bizarre. Trust me, I've considered these things.)

I've kept the footies on all night. I find odd comfort in the heavenly latex. I was wearing them when I went home with my mother. We made chocolate milkshakes and watched THE GODFATHER until Al Pacino left the gun and took the cannoli, then Mom fell asleep. I wore them when I went shopping at Wal-mart. I wore them during the ride home. And I'm wearing them while typing this.

Tomorrow, I should maybe seek some new job. Tomorrow, I should maybe clean my car. Tomorrow, I should maybe make the most of this odd, momentary confidence I'm feeling. Tomorrow, it is only definite that I will go back to wearing socks. It is practically guaranteed that I will put on my new shoes.

Because I know myself, I know that my old Steve Maddens will not go in the garbage. They will not be destroyed. They will linger in my apartment. Heck, I will probably wear them again someday, out of some old ritual or some old habit.

They hurt my feet, but they are how I see myself.

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