Shoe Bliss

Buster-Brown-Comic It’s a stereotype that women love shoes, and like so many stereotypes, there’s a kernel of truth in there somewhere. It isn’t just Imelda Marcos. We’ve all seen those episodes of House Hunters, where she either has a room dedicated to shoes. Or she need a room in which to put her collection of shoes. There’s usually a  smiling, indulgent-looking man in the mix somewhere. When a box of shoes arrives in the mail for me at my house my husband gets that look too. “More shoes?” They’re not Manolo Blahniks. No Jimmy Choos in my closet. I have a tendency to twist my ankle when walking, even in bare feet. I don’t have any clothes that go with that sort of shoe. I sure don’t have the body to wear them naked anymore. But if you love Christian Louboutin, if that’s your shoe groove, all the more power to you. They’re works of art, those shoes. So beautiful. Just not on my feet. Yes, I am the girl of the sensible shoes. I started out in Buster Browns. Once when I was 13, I traded a family heirloom for a second-hand pair of red platform shoes, like something out of  Aladdin Sane. (Weirdly, the other shoes I remember from the closet of my early adolescence  were Earth shoes, blue Adidas court shoes and riding boots.) Mostly my shoes are solid. Save one pair of kitten heels for grown-up occasions, I could sprint after a dog in every pair of shoes I own. il_570xN.331660452 Physical therapists like my shoes. Now, don’t go away thinking my shoes are boring. In my closet, at one time or another, you could find flocked floral black and white Dr. Martens. Pale-pink leather lace-up paddock boots. Black Mary Janes with purple flowers. Yellow clogs with ladybugs. Cobalt blue Beatle boots. At least six pairs of Dr. Marten’s combat boots– and I still want the ones with the Union Jack toe. Not a fan of running shoes, (or running) though I did get a pair of Merrells the last time I went on a fitness thing. I loved them. They were black, modern, sleek, almost elegant. They were designed for “natural running.” They nearly ruined my feet and left me with a year-long misery of plantar fasciitis. Right now as I sit at my desk in my jammies, my feet are toasty and warm in Stegmann boiled wool clogs. Sexy? Ooo-whee, let me tell you. One afternoon I went into a shoe store in Santa Cruz with my friend, Christy. Christy is not just my wonderful friend, she’s my astral twin, my sister from another mother. We walked into this shoe store and our mouths dropped. We clutched each other’s arms. “Look at those shoes!” she whispered. It was a whole store full of our favorite sort of shoe: fun, sensible, playful, comfortable, zany shoes. Cute shoes you could wear running after a dog. Thank God they weren’t having a sale. The right shoe makes you feel like anything is possible. You can slay dragons, talk people off ledges, catch the thief, land the contract, get the guy, get the girl, grab the brass ring. (And this is true whether the right shoe is a five-inch stiletto or a Bass Weejun.) The wrong shoe is as bad as the wrong foot. Best not to even start. I get a new pair of shoes and I fall in love. I hate to wear anything else. I wear those shoes until the seams are falling apart. (Like that last pair of crimson red Naots. God those were great shoes.) Then I’m heartbroken and I have to go shoe shopping again. But shoe shopping for me is a bit complicated– they just don’t have my shoes at Payless or Shoebilee, or Shoe Carnival. My shoes make themselves the object of a quest. And when they arrive, finally, at last, generally through the mail, all is bliss at our house for awhile. This is my perfect shoe. I really appreciate a good black Mary Jane (named after Buster Brown’s sister, did you know that?) and I’ve had lots and I hope I have many more pairs of comfortable, sturdy, sensible black Mary Janes in my life ahead. Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 12.04.41 AM But a red Mary Jane. That is something else altogether. Hans Christian Andersen’s grim tale notwithstanding, that is the shoe that speaks to me. I never had red Mary Janes as a child. My mother was sensible and bought me the brown ones. I’m making up for that now.

Oh I used to be disgusted And now I try to be amused. But since their wings have got rusted, You know, the angels wanna wear my red shoes. But when they told me ’bout their side of the bargain, That’s when I knew that I could not refuse. And I won’t get any older, now the angels wanna wear my red shoes.




I am the Queen of the Sensible Shoe. From the time I was a little girl in patent leather Stride Rites, to this very day, I have chosen flat shoes. Well, there was that period in 1975, when I was thirteen and traded some of my most precious possessions to the daughter of a family friend for her David Bowie style platform-soled shoes, but that was just a passing phase.

Even in those days you would mostly find me in Earth shoes (remember those?) and yes, Mother, in retrospect I agree that they were the ugliest shoes ever. And unlike my somewhat more glamorous stepsister, I wasn’t drawn to three-inch stilettos either. Mind you, Hannah was blessed with beautiful feet, like those that grace the paintings of William-Adolphe Bougeureau. I don’t have beautiful feet. I have very serviceable feet that look crudely sculpted and  stuck on the end of Very Sturdy Legs. 

Even if I could walk in them, I would look absurd in sexy shoes.

This is not to say that I have a closet full of Old Maine Trotters. Indeed, my husband is amazed at the variety of shoes I have acquired. Stegmann clogs. Doc Martens of many varieties, including the pair pictured– a birthday present to myself when I turned 51. Penny loafers. Riding boots. Sperry Top Siders. Fisherman sandals. Merrell barefoot running shoes. (More on those in a minute) And Mary Janes of every description by half a dozen of my favorite shoe makers and usually in black.

Last year, when I took up the Rehabilitation and Remodeling of Myself, I did a lot of research on running shoes. I have always found big, over-padded  athletic footwear (in white) uncomfortable in every way; not fun to wear and besides, they made me self-conscious. I was curious about the move towards “barefoot running” and I found a pair of Merrell shoes that were designed for the task– not the freaky looking ones with separate toes, just nice slender lightweight athletic shoes with a zipper. In black, of course.

I loved those shoes. They were incredibly comfortable. I wore them all summer long. And then one day when I took them off, my feet were really sore. It had been an active day, with a hike and a brief run at the end of it– and I just thought I’d overdone it. The next day my left foot was intensely painful. It was actually my neurologist who told me that I’d probably strained my Achille’s tendon after I nearly leapt off the table during a routine neurological reflex exam. She recommended RICE: rest, ice, compression, elevation.

It was really aggravating to be sidelined when I’d been making such good progress, and as soon as I was able the old shoes were back on and I was at it again. I was still having some pain in my feet, but I figured it was just a little tendonitis, nothing to get too concerned about.

I started to notice a pattern. In the morning, when I got up, I could hardly stand. After I’d been working at my desk for a while, it would be excruciating to walk into the kitchen for another cup of coffee. This was not tendonitis. This was the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis, where the fascia that runs the length of your foot becomes inflamed which mostly manifests itself as heel pain, but also general foot swelling, which would explain why some of my favorite sensible shoes no longer fit.

Strangely, the longer you walk, the more it eases off. But if you’ve been on your feet a lot, and then you stop, or sit down, or go to bed– as we all must do– God help you when you try to get back on your feet the next time. It seems so unfair. I mean, I know that my sensible shoes have helped me escape bunions, corns, Haglund’s deformity, hammertoes and sciatica– but I never expected to end up lame anyway.

My weight has a lot to do with it. My serial monogamy for shoes– when I find a pair I really love I tend to wear them exclusively until they are totally worn out. Showing dogs– which involves lots of standing and running on concrete floors. The spectre of menopause. It is mostly my left foot that is affected, and it was my left foot that had the Achille’s tendon issues. And it was my left foot that sustained numerous hairline fractures when a big hunter mare stood on it 35 years ago.

Though the prognosis is nearly  always that it takes more than a year to recover from Plantar Fasciitis, there are exercises to do, and shoes to wear and inserts, orthotics and padding to consider. This is when I really miss having health insurance, because perhaps it would be nice to have a little guidance in these matters. But free clinics aren’t interested in your sore feet and orthopedic specialists just aren’t in the budget right now.

So, I soldier on doing what I can. After all, I need these feet to carry me through another 40 years of treasure hunting, puppy training, making photographs, dancing in the kitchen and visiting zoos, museums, slums, waterfronts, burial mounds and crime scenes. I don’t have time to be lame.

One, two, buckle my shoe.