With all due respect to Paolo Nutini, I’ve got my new shoes on and not only is everything not all right, you might even say that things are wrong. I remember the first time I heard that song, I immediately knew he was shamelessly pandering to the female audience; that he couldn’t possibly mean it because new shoes are pretty much the bane of any real man’s existence.
I should clarify. When I say shoes, I am, of course, speaking of gym shoes—sneakers, knockarounds, tennis shoes—you know, the one’s Mr. Rogers changed into when he got home from a long day wandering the neighborhood. Gym shoes are the only real shoes that count in a man’s life. Sure, we own dress shoes, but it’s a function of necessity, not a matter of choice. We own our gym shoes because we want them, we love them, we need them and unlike the shiny black and browns we keep in our closets and wear when forced to dress up, our gym shoes are a part of who we are as men.
So, it’s a bit traumatic when we are forced to part with the old and wear the new. As a single man, I have it good. I can wear my shoes until they’re capable of walking themselves, but sadly, this makes them even more difficult to part with when the time comes. Today is a day of mourning because today, I had to cowboy up, say goodbye to the old and take on the shame, that is owning a new pair of shoes.
And make no mistake, a new pair of shoes are a badge of shame, our own scarlet letter calling out to all who see us that we have forsaken the old and taken on the new. There is no shame in all of manhood that rivals the indignity of a bright, white, clean pair of gym shoes. Imagine, if you will, what it would be like if every time you walked into a room, everyone in that room immediately knew that you had just recently put your beloved pet Fido to sleep, just because he was old. That is the shame of the clean white gym shoe.
Everyone who sees them knows that they are new, unbroken, that we are strangers to them and they to us. There is no bond. There is no camaraderie. There are no shared adventures. They haven’t carried us safely through adversity. They have shared no triumphs with us. They have no history, no past, they are untested, not tempered, they are rookies, virgins, neophytes.
Sadly, we can’t hide them from their shame. Only time and wear can allow them to gain acceptance. Only rain and sleet and snow, mud and puddles, grass and dirt can give them the character they so desperately lack.
Perhaps the worst part about the new shoes isn’t that they have no history with us, no past to speak of; it’s the fact that they are there, on our feet, meaning that we recently had to part with a pair that did share our times gone by, a pair that were a part of us. We have forsaken old for the new. Know this though, we did not want to do it and if it could have been avoided, it would have been.
Today, I finally caved in and bought a new pair of shoes. They are looking up at me, mocking me as I write this piece. They are a neon white reminder that in a shoe box, in the trunk of my car is a pair of shoes that I love and already miss. Sure, the rubber bottoms flip and clap as I walk and yes, the holes in the sides allow rain, sleet and snow to invade them and dampen my feet, sometimes making me miserable for hours at a time. It’s true, they used to be white at one point and now are a dingy, worn down grayish-black mixture. The Nike swish may have fallen off one side, leaving a clean spot amid the dirt and crud, but they were my shoes, my amigos, my friends.
They have been with me to Cubs games and nights out in bars. We have shared great books and fine cigars. We have walked the world together. We are not strangers, in fact we are the oldest of friends. And it’s going to take me a while until I’m ready to throw them away. I had to put them in the box the new shoes came in because I cannot bear to look at them, to have them see their replacements, but I cannot simply toss them either. They were my friends and I will miss them.
So yes, I have my new shoes on Paolo, but they don’t symbolize that everything’s going to be all right. They symbolize a betrayal, a weakness, the death of successful partnership. Every man I see will judge me because of the bright, white, shiny shoes I am wearing and the adultery they represent. I am Hester Prynne. I have sinned against all it means to be a man, and I wear my badge of shame for all to see.
Perhaps, someday this new pair will be to me what my old shoes were, but it’s really too soon to think about that now. It’s a sad day in the life of a man when he must forsake his shoes for a new pair. It is a sad day today. You will be missed my old friends. I’m so very sorry it had to end.