IT AIN'T BOOZE. IT AIN'T WEED. SO WHAT IS IT? IT'S GOTTA BE
Sex? Drugs? Rock 'n' roll? Nah, it's gotta be the shoes. Which leaves our writer with just one question: Guys -- whaddup with that?
The 'sole' of a shoe fetishist
Twice this week, I caught my 13-year-old son drooling over his favorite internet porn sites. They're all leather and laces: Nike and Eastbay.com. The kid is a shoe freak, can soliloquize on the neoprene nuances of last year's T-Macs versus the pair due out next week. His whole middle school posse is like that. When an Eastbay catalogue arrives, Sam and his pal Billy retreat to his room with the door closed for hours, lusting, plotting, arguing Converse Weapons versus Dada Monarch bSupremes and Nike Zoom Flight Turbines. They bawl the lyrics to Nelly's rapped tribute to Nike Air Force Ones:
The last person who touched 'em I damn near shot em..
Alas, these tricks are not just for kids: Last month, The New York Times reported that over 100 young men camped out on Lafayette street overnight to score limited edition Nike Supreme Dunk High shoes for $178 (resale value, $400-$700). One hopeful admitted to owning 70 pairs of sneakers and "just starting" his collection. And Slam magazine's Kicks section (full frontals of the latest models, with specs) was so popular they spun it into a separate 'zine of shoe porn.
Ballplayers are the shoe lust supermodels - what Tyra Banks is to Victoria's Secret, Tracy McGrady is to Adidas. And never mind LeBron James' rookie stats for the Cavs - breathless Nike execs await sales figures on his debut red-and-gold signature shoes, the rollout for his $90 million Nike contract. Beyond endorsements, there's another, outer celebrity ring of sneaker lust. Jerry Seinfeld is said to have over 500 pairs of pristine white ones (obsessive? nahhhh). A few years back, when I interviewed Will Smith at home in California, he insisted I see his closet overflowing with shoe company largesse. "I get the new Jordans before Michael does," he bragged.
I think it's time someone exposed the truth: Women no longer rule as footwear fetishistas. Despite all the boldface exemplars of legend, from Imelda Marcos to Starr Jones to Sarah Jessica Parker's masochistic capering in strappy Manolo Blahniks on "Sex in the City," I think we're being outpaced by the sheer volume and voraciousness of male sneaker lust. Just walk into any sporting emporium and check it out.
These pump or what?
Man, check out that tongue.
What are we really talking about beneath it all, gentlemen? Think back a few years: Spike Lee had something when his nerdy character Mars Blackmon asked Michael Jordan, in those legendary Nike spots, "Is it the shoes?" Ostensibly, Mars was asking about Jordan's court prowess, but I think we might stretch the metaphor, since Mars began life as the pitifully horny hero ("Please, baby, please") of Spike's first film hit, "She's Gotta Have It." (Nola, the flick's heroine, labeled Mars and her other panting suitors Dog No. 1, Dog No. 2, etc.)
Since then, Spike has turned into quite an ad titan, trading on his understanding of certain male insecurities and appetites. Spike's Foolproof Subliminal: Maybe a dog doesn't have to beg - if he's wearing the right kicks on his dawgs. Reebok was onto the same notion early on when they sent out actual size versions of Shaq's T-Rex proportioned shoe for in-store displays. We all gathered around in awe: If his foot was that big ...
Yes, boyz-to-men, I do suspect that the new versions of athletic shoes, so aggressively stuffed, molded and in-your-face, may be the modern equivalent of the codpiece. The biggest, baddest shoes can be ... uh ... compensatory. Some of the more extreme models have the proportion and aerodynamic design of those other macho boy toys - 'Vettes and muscle cars. And there are certain come-hither ways to wear them: artfully unlaced, with fat tongues lolling out. Lace 'em as stylishly as Nelly (who now has his own Nike model, Da Derrty Version) and you got some sexy semaphore going. Or as Nelly puts it:
There's something bout dem dirty that's why I got em.
I don't think my wonderment is merely a case of gumsole envy. I, too, have known sneaker lust, but in a far milder version. And I understand the sting of having one's sporting footwear dissed. This past summer at an Ohio amusement park, my kids gently informed me that a gaggle of multi-pierced teens were sniggering at my footwear - a venerable pair of black Converse high-tops (classic Chuck Taylor model). I won't reveal the exact age of my Chucks (Connies to some). Let's just say they got me airborne at Madison Square Garden when a Knicks fan could still leap up screaming, "Bernard is God!" Let's say that during one rare courtside outing, those rubber toe tops were anointed by Dr. J's flying sweat. I'll even admit I might have bought them, back in the day, because they looked cool on real punks - the Ramones.
Now that Chucks are back in and Converse workers are in a lather producing repro versions, Snoop Dogg wears them. And Kid Rock, and Leo DiCaprio. So I am forced to conclude those neo-punks were sniggering at me, not my classics. After all, sneakers are a youth market. And I stand convicted of outliving - yet still trekking in - the fashions of my youth.
Still, my Chuck habit is hardly as unseemly as those paunchy soccer dads in blocky, moon boot Dadas, the bond traders stylin' in Vince Carter Raptors. They join the legions of younger males who gotta have it bodacious - in Size 10, three colors - kept pristine with the growing roster of sneaker buffers, cleaners and macho colognes disguised as "fresheners." Let's face it: You guys have grabbed onto the swoosh and flown to another planet. Will those two-toned Nike Terminators get you to first base? I offer no odds, just amused bewilderment. Seeking further enlightenment, I throw it back to you:
Guys -- whaddup with the shoes?