Sole Mates


I had 30 pairs of shoes. I was 31 years old. I needed one more pair to bring balance to my world. It wasn't about gluttony; it was about harmony in the universe. Since my feet had quit growing at least 12 years prior, very few shoes were going to their graves. So, my population of footwear multiplied with each glorious sandal season, boot season, and party season, as well as the never-ending just-because-they're-cute-and-I-can-always-buy-an-outfit-to-go-with-them season. Like eating dessert first, shoes should always come first in the shopping process.

I had a shoe shelf in the closet, an over-the-door shoe holder, a space under the shoe shelf, and the remaining square footage of the house in which to store them. When I still lived at home, my friend Rosebud commented one day, “You have so many cute shoes. And they’re all in the living room.” Hmmm. Some people don’t appreciate creative genius when they see it. But, yes, even during many of my married years, my shoes often congregated in the living room. It was clearly a case of somnambulism by restless footwear. But now I’m reformed – or stifled creatively – and my shoes manage to journey to the closet most of the time.

Flash was mid-eye-roll in response to my proclaiming, “I need another pair of shoes to match my age.” Then I realized Mr. Pot was calling Mrs. Kettle black.

"Flash, you have more shoes than any man I've ever met."

"No I don't. What are you talking about?"

"Look at your shoes."

"I've got sneakers and dress shoes."

Okay, dear reader, the only "sneakers" I knew were small children who skulked around and quietly took candy from its hiding places right before dinner. But Flash was referring to what normal people call “tennis shoes,” even though few of us play tennis.

"Flash, you've got seven pairs of tennis shoes. I've never known a male with seven pairs of tennis shoes."

He sighed heavily, as if he were about to explain something I obviously should have known. "One is a dress pair, one for yard work, one for working out, and then I have a black pair." I could only assume the remaining three pairs were for grocery store runs, putting gas in the car, and walking the dogs once a year.

I was stunned. Who knew men categorized their tennis shoes? I have categories for my sandals, but not my tennis shoes. Because tennis shoes are my least favorite kind of shoe; they feel bulky and less carefree than my other shoes. But then, why would I like a shoe that screams “I was made for exercise,” with every step I take? Suddenly, I had more respect for Flash; he put thought into covering his feet. Surely he could understand my shoe-to-age ratio imbalance.

But, instead, the only imbalance he saw was in my thought process. Our sole-mate camaraderie crashed and burned.

What did he know? His repertoire was lacking. His two pairs of men’s dress shoes were black and brown. How boring. No maroon? No burnt orange? No dove gray? His sandals with the Velcro back strap were his singular pair of open-toe shoes, which is a sinful neglect of fashion. The only flip-flops he has owned since I’ve known him was the pair I gifted to him on his 50th birthday. They were labeled "Left" and "Right," to remove any confusion; they remained untouched until I gave them to Cowboy.

“I don’t like flip-flops,” Flash explained.

How absurd. Toes are meant to be seen. When I hear the slap-flap-slap of my flip-flops on the pavement, it takes me back to the days of my youth; we all wore them to the swimming pool. Community pools were our only oasis in the desert known as Houston summers. My friend Lylas, and her siblings as well as her mom, all had flip-flops to wear to the pool, so I had to have some, too; their family was my second family, and we often went swimming together. But we called those rubber shoes “thongs” back then, before “thongs” meant something quite different and much more uncomfortable. But despite the blisters those flip-flops rubbed between my toes during the first days of summer each year, I loved them. Eventually, calluses built up, and walking was no longer excruciating.

Over the last few years, I’ve neglected all categories of footwear. Somewhere along the way, my shoes began deteriorating. The only reason my shoes ever leave my life is because of holes in the soles or materials. Although, one year, Flash surprised me by taking my black fringed boots to have them resoled. He spoke my love language, and I wore them for several more years before they went to that Big Rodeo in the Sky. Boots are my second favorite kind of footwear. When the weather in Houston gets cold, I put my sandals into hibernation in my closet, and pull out my boots – the only closed toe shoes I like. Of course, the transition often lasts a mere 24 hours, and then I awaken my sandals again. Decades of living in southeast Texas weather has taught me to never pack away footwear.

Today, my shoe-to-age ratio is in a sad state of affairs. The breakdown is as follows: Tennis shoes, 3, including an old pair of Keds, my favorite kind of tennis shoe; I wear those worn Keds when I paint the house. Dress shoes, 4, which include a pair worn once during a bridesmaid gig, and the pair I wore in my own wedding 25 years ago; the other 27 pairs of bridesmaid dress shoes were given to the Smithsonian years ago. Flip-flops, 2. House shoes, 2, including the leopard print Dearfoam sandals that I wear 99 percent of the time. Water shoes, 1 – they are oh-so-ugly, but good for lakes and sometimes water parks. Boots, only 3. And my first love, sandals, 4, including a pair that is ready for shoe heaven, God rest their soles.

That’s a total of 19 pairs of shoes. And I will be 56 years old in 12 days. You see my problem. This explains my general disorientation, lack of motivation, and crankiness over the last too-long-to-admit years.

By contrast, Flash has 4 pairs of tennis shoes – dress, workout, yard work, and blue. The latter, because he loves blue. Dress shoes, 6. Four black pairs, two brown. Why? Why does anyone need four black pairs of dress shoes? I see no variation in the shade of blacks. Casual boat shoes, 2. House shoes, 3. He rarely wears house shoes, but, you know, if he ever wants to, at least he’ll have a choice. Hiking boots, 1. Because the last time he hiked was the 12th of Never. Fur-lined boots, 1. Much to his chagrin, he has no normal boots, aka Western boots. He’s wanted to find the perfect pair of for years, but so far, they elude him.

Now, let’s stop right there. You are wondering, dear reader, why on earth a man living in Houston would have fur boots. Those were purchased for the Great Russian Trip of 2012. We made sure Flash would be warm and cozy during his 15-day work trip overseas. And he did stay warm, complete with a Dr. Zhivago-style hat, worn with the fur flaps down over his ears. It was only as he walked around Moscow, that he realized nobody wears those anymore; Flash was the only one displaying yesteryear’s fashion. Every other man on the street wore a knit cap, like we wear here.

Back to Flash’s inventory. Water shoes, 1. And, sandals, seldom worn, 2.

That’s a total of 20.

Yes, he has more pairs of shoes than I. Oh sure, it’s only one more pair, but it’s the principle of it all. A man should not have more shoes than his wife. Period. He can have the upper hand on the Greatest Number of T-Shirts in a Marriage, my least favorite type of shirt; shoulders are meant to be seen. But I should take the trophy in the shoe count.

And so, this is my quest. I realize it will take 37 more pairs of shoes to reach my age. And another closet built onto the house. And less groceries bought to feed my family. It’s okay. Flash and I can finally shed those unwanted pounds; we’ll just feed Cowboy and the dogs. I’ll walk everywhere, in my clunky tennis shoes if necessary, to save money on gasoline. My next pedicure will have to wait until new sparkly sandals are ready to display my toes. We’ll skip that trip to Bora Bora for our 25th anniversary, and put a hold on all birthday gifts, except for mine, of course.

I’ll conquer Flash’s shoe count, come hellish pavement or high water puddles, and in spite of this Boomerang Winter we’re having. I’m taking charge of my life, beginning today. Right now. I heard that Payless ShoeSource stores in the United States are going out of business. There’s nothing sadder than an empty shoe store. But before I grieve, I must shop. If I hurry, maybe they’ll still have some black sandals, to keep my other two pairs of black sandals company. Or another pair of brown ones. Or gold, like I used to see ladies my age wear back in the day. I need something that screams “I was meant to be worn by a classy 56-year-old.” Or, better yet, I’ll find a pair that screams, “56 is the new 30, so buy me.”

It’s time to do some sole searching.