Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Boat shoes

I stayed home from work today, to ward off this cold and to catch up on a total lack of sleep. The douche crew was outside my window at midnight, talking and keeping me awake until about one, and then they were back after the bars closed. Can’t these people get their own living room to loiter in? Wait, they all live with their parents. Anyway, at about 8:00 AM, I heard a horrible buzzing sound, and in a half-awake nightmare, thought it was a hundred-year old fire alarm for my apartment and that my death was imminent. Instead, it was a concrete truck about ten feet from my head, making some horrible, 110 dB screeching sound as it shot concrete into some slum landlord project across the street. Probably burying a mafia hit. I put in earplugs, closed all of the windows, called in sick, and went back to bed. I woke up at noon with a horrific sinus headache, ate baloney and crackers while watching the windshield murder case on crime TV, then went back to bed. Woke up again at about four and started a day of adjusting fans, being bored of TV, and laying down but not falling to sleep. And here I am. Apartment is 90 degrees, and I can barely see in my left eye from the inflamed sinus pressing into my brain. Let me start over with a story, and stay with me for a bit.


I’ve always worn boat shoes as a standard-issue summer shoe. I wear the Nike high-tops when I’m wearing a pair of jeans, but in the summers when I wear shorts (and I’m not a shorts guy by default, it takes a good hundred-degree wave of Hoosier heat to get me there) I like to wear a pair of old, beat-up boat shoes with no socks. No mess, no fuss, and no complex lacing or socks underneath – I can put them on when I wake up from a nap and need to walk to the corner store for a two-liter or a copy of the paper. They fit well, they matched anything, and they were easy to find on the floor. Those kind of simple qualities make anything a default in my life, from my trusty leather jacket to my trusty Timex watch to my trusty grey IU backpack that lasted me ten years and then some.

I think I got my first pair of the shoes when I started working at Taco Bell back in the summer of ’87. They had a dress code, and most of it was made up of their uniform: the maroon pants, the dumb little visor, the blazer shirt that got covered with beans and cheese during each shift, and the tie-behind apron that wore every ingredient in the place. But we had to wear dress shoes, and that meant no sneakers. And I couldn’t wear the typical black dress shoes that cut off the circulation in my toes after five minutes that I had to wear to weddings and funerals. I needed something as comfortable as tennis shoes, but that looked like a dress shoe. And I didn’t know anything about shoes, but I went to the Thom McAnn and told the dude there all of this, and he produced a pair of low brown shoes with a standard tongue, a laced rim with eyelets around the back heel, and rubber soles that actually gripped the floor, unlike most death-trap dress shoes that were damn near teflon on the sole.

I wore the shoes every day I worked at The Bell, and kept them after I quit and moved on to my short career as a dishwasher and my much longer-term career as a paint salesman at a department store. The first pair wore out, and I found that Payless had the same damn shoes for about $15. (Yes, as a writer, I am irked by the fact that Payless and Pay Less are two different things, and the first one means “without pay.” Anyway.) I think it was when I had a new set in front rotation for the job and an older, more worn set of the shoes as my backup, around-the-house shoe that I noticed how comfortable the things actually were. By the next summer when I wore the old ones without socks, I found that they practically molded to my feet. My soles ground an imprint in the inside of the shoe, and the little ridges and seams and whatnot that had once itched when the shoe was new had now worn away almost perfectly. I kept these old pairs of shoes until I drilled holes straight through the soles and needed to go back to Payless for another $15 recharge.

So I have a lot of good memories of these shoes. Most of my first book Summer Rain, or at least the truth behind the fiction, was walked in shoes just like these. Almost every picture of me from back then had those $15 pieces of leather and fake leather stuff on my toes. I really do miss waking up at 414 South Mitchell, Apartment 13, after a post-work nap, slipping on my boat shoes, and walking over to Lindley Hall for some air-conditioned VAXing. I don’t wear boat shoes that much anymore, and I’ve found they are hard to find these days. In all of my days of driving to and from everywhere, and never having to dress up anymore, I found that I never wore out my one pair of boat shoes; I wore Nikes everywhere. I still had one pair, but I never had the time to wear them.

So today, I had to go to the store for some juice. I was in shorts, and I didn’t want to find some socks and get all laced into the Air Jordans. So I dug out my old boat shoes, a pair that I think I bought when I was interviewing for jobs maybe four years ago. And I put them on, and I found out… they weren’t really that great. My toes didn’t feel right, the finish was too slick, the laces seemed too wimpy or something. The thing that was so great in my head was really not that incredible.

Why the huge story about some fucking shoes? It wasn’t about the shoes. Truth is, I’m sort of pissed off at someone, someone who doesn’t even know I’m pissed off at them. And pissed off isn’t the right word; maybe frustrated, or even jealous. I guess it’s one of those things where you think that something is great and comfortable, and maybe it is. And maybe you think it was right all of those years ago, and suddenly you realize that it’s just a pair of fucking shoes that don’t fit anymore, and it’s time to go find some that do.