Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fit to be Tied

By Jonathan Quist

I'm delighted to join Murderous Musings as a new regular. Specifically, a forty-eight regular.

I'm also a bit terrified at the prospect of joining this august body. Unlike my esteemed colleagues, I am not yet a published crime fiction author, though I am working on it. I'll chat about that from time to time.

But more than anything else right now, I am thrilled to announce to the world that I bought a decent pair of shoes.

Okay, that’s not particularly thrilling news to most of you. Honestly, any clothing purchase is really outside my normal celebratory sphere. But this pair of Skechers Shape-Ups is the first pair of shoes I have purchased in quite a few years that has not presented immediate danger to life and limb.

I blame it on the U.S. penal system. And street gangs. And the police. The fashion police.

I suppose full disclosure demands I take my share of the blame as well, and that requires that I reveal something of myself to those of you who do not yet know me.

I am a cheapskate.

I come by my frugality honestly, from parents who came of age in the Great Depression, and perhaps a bit of a stereotypical boost from some Scot ancestry. I don’t like to spend more money than I have to on basic necessities, and I tend to keep things until they wear out or fall apart.

I remember spending $8.95 at K-Mart for a pair of Trax sneakers in 1976. Back then, there were three kinds of shoes: dress shoes, work shoes, and sneakers, unless you were buying them for school, in which case you’d call your sneakers “gym shoes”. For whatever reason, $8.95 is the price point that has stuck in my mind, and the one I strive for when buying a pair of shoes.

With the exception of some two-dollar thrift store loafers purchased for inclement weather, I have not met that price point in quite a while. Even “regular” sneakers are difficult to find under $39.95. Heck, they're difficult to find at any price. And I wouldn’t venture a guess at the price of designer pneumatic Air Jordache athletic shoes, even if they are pumps. (What happens if your pumps get a flat?)

It's bad enough that I can't get a decent pair of sneakers for $8.95. To add injury to insult, for nearly ten years, the sneakers I have purchased have been dangerous to wear, right out of the box. The laces are too long.

I’ve heard theories on this ranging from the needs of advanced lacing techniques to the supply-chain economics of 3rd-world footware production. I don’t believe them for a minute. I never had a problem with lace length until sagging.

Sagging is the fashion style characterized by baggy pants riding low over exposed underwear. It started as an emulation of the prison look. Jailors confiscate articles of clothing like belts and shoe laces, to prevent them being used to inflict bodily harm. This results in fewer prison suicides and strangulation deaths, but it also results in a lot more inmates whose pants have fallen to their ankles to pool over loose shoes. And, I suspect, laughing prison guards. The BBC was good enough to document the trend in photographs.
I still don't understand sagging as a fashion trend. But the fashion police took note, and issued a memo to clothing manufacturers to get with the program.

That, I think, is the problem.

It’s pretty easy to avoid buying baggy pants. You just don’t. And if you try, there is some protection in the old rule of thumb which says that friends don’t let friends wear waistbands at thigh level. But there is no rule about shoe laces. And the low-priced shoe industry’s response to the fashion police was straightforward. If it’s the fashion to wear long, baggy pants with long, slack shoe laces, then the solution (to them) is to sell shoes with long, slack laces.

Shoe lace sizing is not rocket science. The shoe lace industry has had a good handle on it for over a century, and standard sizes are manufactured to fit standard shoes, and to make selection easy on the consumer, the package labeling generally specifies what shoes they’ll fit. For example, 27-inch laces for a shoe with 6 lace holes. 30-inch laces for sneakers with 10 holes. (The number of holes is another thing entirely; I have had several pairs of sneakers, er, excuse me, “cross trainers”, that had extra unexplained lace holes up at the top. They were never quite punched through, and the literature explaining all the advanced features never explained the purpose of the holes, or the loops on the top of the tongue or anything. One pair had 18 holes. I didn’t know whether to lace them or yell “Fore!” And why are they called “cross trainers” in the first place? That name would more logically apply to medium-height heels for neophyte transvestites.)

With the long, stable history of shoe lace sizing, one would think it would be a simple thing. If you manufacture a shoe with 10 lace holes, sell it with 36 inch laces. But since sagging, my shoe laces have all been at least a foot too long. They’ve been long enough to drag in the dirt when fully tied, to get caught underfoot while walking (leading to frequent stops to retie). Long enough to get caught in bicycle chains, and yes, long enough to trip me. All in the name of fashion.

I might agree with the one-size-fits-none approach, if it were restricted to appropriate shoes – like that class of sneakers with wild designs that look like the international warning logo for something toxic. But why, oh why, was the rule applied to every shoe? Unlike saggers, I wear more than just sneakers. I also wear the occasional dress shoe or work shoe. And those shoes were afflicted, too. Including a pair of leather dress shoes, and several pairs of work shoes I purchased under the label of a famous podiatrist, whose name rhymes with “sole”. (This would be moderately funny, but one of those pairs were “safety” shoes, with non-skid soles, and the stated purpose of preventing workplace accidents due to falls. That’s nice – but when the laces are a foot too long, you eventually trip over them or catch them in a high speed punch press, no matter how non-skid the soles may be.) I even had a pair of brown wing tip shoes with laces that were long enough to require double knotting. That’s pretty sad. (My daughter tells me the sad part is the brown wing tips, not the laces. I told her to be glad I don’t wear them with black dress socks and bermudas while mowing the lawn, like my father before me.)

A note to the shoe and shoelace industry: You missed a great opportunity. Instead of supplying incorrect laces that annoyed most of your customers, you could have spent the last decade selling fashion lace upgrades for your regular shoes. Then instead of charging forty-nine cents for two pair of laces, you could have sold single pairs of extra-long laces for $20 each. I mean, look at the customers who actually wanted the baggy pants and trippy laces! You could’ve sold them anything!

I’m sure some readers are about to say, “Enough with the rants! Buy yourself a different pair of shoe laces!” Well, as I said, I’m cheap. I often shop discount stores. And I learned something about discount department stores in general, and discount shoe stores in particular. THEY DON’T SELL SHOE LACES. Nor shoe polish, shoe trees, shoe horns, socks, or any other common item associated with shoes. Go figure. And that’s not the point any way... when I buy a pair of shoes, I expect them to work, out of the box, no assembly or phone calls to customer support call centers required.

And that is precisely the shoe-buying experience that the good people at Skechers gave me, and why I have killed the fatted calf. After ten years of frustration and disappointment, finding a basic item that once again works as it should, without drama, is worth a celebration.


Mark W. Danielson said...

I laughed at this one:) I have a couple pairs of shoes with laces too long and it drives me nuts. Then again, should I ever need to escape from a hotel window on the seventh floor, they may come in handy.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

They also come in handy if you're trapped in a Viet Kong POW camp, and you need to tie up your guards. Just ask them to sit back to back, and tie their thumbs together.

Hey, that's what they did in the first treatment of The Deer Hunter. The Russian Roulette that made it to the shooting script was due to diligent lobbying by the special effects coordinator.

Or so I've heard...

Jean Henry Mead said...

Welcome to Murderous Musings, Johnathon. I love your shoe lace commentary and couldn't agree with you more. I love Sketchers, especially the ones with stretch tops that don't require shoe laces. I tie the ones that do in a double knot like I did for my kids when they were small. Hey, whatever works. :)

Unknown said...

Laughing my fanny off. Good one, Jonathon! I have a terrible time buying shoes, because mine are size 16 and narrow to boot. Speaking of boots, I have no arches, so need inserts. And of course, some inserts sit inside the boots I must wear differently in various pair. So I have to continually experiment, because I can't feel my feet (peripheral neuropathy) because of Carpal Tarsal Syndrome. I stumble a lot because I have no idea where my feet are, but I can ride a bike like a devil, as long as I periodically glance down to see where my pods are. Argh. And I always seem to buy laces too long, so I end up scissoring them, which makes eyelet-sticking a bitch. Then, I pull the match-trick, which leaves the ends ugly but functional...just like me. :)

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Ben, I used to work with a fellow who wore 17AAA. He was more or less average height, and maybe 170 pounds. We called him Tut behind his back, because he could walk like an Egyptian...

I place the shoelace thing in the same category as the hot dogs per package vs. hot dog buns per package problem.

Yes, Jean, I'm enjoying the Skechers. I simply don't buy name-brand shoes (and when the New Balances I got, see the second photo, had overly-long laces that confirmed my position). But my wife had a no-name pair of shoes like the Shape-Ups, and convinced me to try them. The heels are rounded, and the soles squishy. They're supposed to simulate walking in wet sand. (They're also supposed to shed the pounds, straighten my back, and freshen my breath, if I remember the product information correctly.) All I know is they're comfortable.

Jenny Milchman said...

I have a certain husband who would agree with you on all this, Jonathan! Good luck with the publishing pursuit--I suspect I can relate more on that level than in terms of the shoes ;) And congrats on joining the great folks on MM...

Unknown said...

Jonathon, my nickname used to be "Gunboat."

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Ben - I think "Gunboat" is probably a better nickname than "Love Boat".

Jenny - I'm glad you have a certain husband - uncertainty can put a strain on a relationship. Thanks for stopping by!

Bill Kirton said...

Great start Jonathan, but I'm not going to get drawn into personal confessions about shoes ... Oh, OK then, just the one. In a moment of what must have been total lunacy, I paid £150 for things calling themselves MBT (or MTB or something) because they had TECHNOLOGY. That's way way over three times as much as I've ever paid before. They're comfortable etc. but the price tag still hurts.

Helen Ginger said...

The real question is...does your butt look firmer yet? Shape Ups are supposed to do that.

Jonathan, my son wears a size 17. He's 6'10", though. Try finding shoes to fit those boats.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Well, Helen, I'm afraid I can't answer that question.

I came close to looking at my own butt once, but I was just beside myself.

Earl Staggs said...

Jonathan, as usual, your observations are profound -- and hilarious.

Carola Dunn said...

In Springfield, Oregon, across the river from where I live, a robber in baggy pants held up a store (or it might have been a bank). As he ran away, his pants fell down and he tripped. He got up and fled, and was found by the cops hiding in his underwear in the bushes.

Oh well, at least he was wearing underwear...

Jaden Terrell said...

You are so right, Jonathan. Double-tying is a big help. Also, the extra holes and/or hooks at the top are good for using up lengths of string.