I was invisible and I liked it that way. Our high school loomed and brooded - old like a three-story mountain on a hill. A kid like me could stay pretty small and unnoticed here and that was my plan. I was a freshman and freshmen learned how to 'fade.' I didn't linger in those high school hallways. Most freshmen would agree that’s not a good idea. All kinds of drama and intrigues could happen in a high school hallway and also in the boys' room so most of us freshmen moved fast.
My brother David was a senior and I would look for him in the hall between classes. Usually, he would ignore me but sometimes he gave a tiny nod to me - imperceptible to most humans unless you knew what to look for. My brother was a ‘cool’ dude and his yearbook was bombed with signatures and well wishes and predictions and cartoons. I definitely respected him although he sort of hated me because I was still sharing a bedroom with him. Anyway, high school is tough for a lot of kids so this business I am describing is probably a lot like you remember too - looking in the mirror, combing hair, wondering if you were good-looking or not and what to do about it. I used to wonder what people thought about me but I’m sure very few other people do that.
We weren’t a poor family but far from rich. My Mom used to say we were rich in love so I saw that as a dead giveaway that we weren’t the Rockefellers. Anyway, for years we slept four kids in a room so I knew that maybe money was a thing…kids notice what you’re wearing and we wore hand-me-downs and the occasional new shirts to jazz things up. Now that I made it to high school, clothes were more important to me. Some kids showed up looking like fashion models. They sat at a special lunch table for the well-dressed. The rest of us were winging it. My brother Dave worked nights as a dishwasher at the ‘Round the Clock’ restaurant and brought home the big bucks for his wardrobe and motorcycle parts and Alice Cooper records.
As for me, things in high school were going pretty good - I was relatively incognito and I had a few nice friends.
I was safe in my obscurity and enjoying life as a freshman unmolested and happily average.
Then came Christmas break (Winter Break) nowadays but back then we called it Christmas break so it was during this time that I made the worst fashion decision of my young life.
My Grandmother came alive at Christmas, she was a Christmas nut, she loved everything about it and so did I but she had an agenda.
My Grandma Jenny came to live with us on and off for a year or two and this was one of her years with our family. She had the upstairs bedroom which my brother Dave had been ejected from - and sent down to my room which he hated but I’m repeating myself. Jenny would sit in that bedroom and clip and circle and plan all kinds of shopping adventures. My other Grandma Bubba was also very generous but she never visited and sent a box with mostly harmless apparel like hats and gloves and socks. Jenny was the Grandma who knew boys’ fashion. She would drag us to the mall and we hit every young men’s store in the place. By day's end, we were exhausted from trying on pants, shirts, suits, you name it. David refused to go. She took us shoe shopping and here is where this story gets interesting - to me at least because I have no recollection of trying on or buying those shoes. Maybe I am blocking it out? They say humans block out especially traumatic events and things so this could be that sort of thing. Anyway, my new shoes, my school shoes, were Blue Suede Saddle Shoes with 1 ½” heels. David was the first one to witness the unboxing. As older brothers know, this kind of thing presented a solid hour or two of teasing and he wasted no time in getting started. In fairness, he did stop to advise me to return them, or lose them or do anything but wear them to school. I have two younger brothers too but they were not involved in the mirth. My Dad said nothing of course he was not a fashion guy and my Mom called them ‘cute.’ So it came to pass that I wore those shoes for the rest of the school year. My heart was pounding as I got on the School Bus and I was already experiencing the kind of adolescent dread that only a fourteen-year-old boy can summon. How did I buy these shoes I wondered? I was mad at my Grandmother, I knew I was going to be in for it at school and I knew that my ‘incognito’ high school survival strategy was over. I would have to adapt.
Cynthia said, “I like them, Paul.” She was super nice and one of the only girls I knew well enough to discuss serious matters with. She thought I was brave which really sent me spinning. Brave!
It was over quickly. The worst of it. Lunchtime meant that I had to descend three flights of open stairways into the commons - everyone would sit and watch kids coming down those steps and it was open season for freshmen. They would lean and linger and sit there in front of the lunchroom and taunt us. “Hey, Elvis.” (haha) original. “Sing the Hounddog,” another comedian - it’s funny how you can focus all your adolescent insecurity into something as mundane as a pair of shoes but I could feel my face red and my palms wet.
Blue Suede Shoes. Elvis Presley.
Time passed and gradually I toughened up and I got used to it. Winter beat those shoes up and they were stained by snow, ice, and salt. My Dad bought me some Adidas for Track practice so I had another choice.
But I still wore the shoes and one day this happened and this is a true thing - an upperclassman threw his arms around my neck and shoulders and leaned in on me. I was waiting for a punch in the arm but he said “nice shoes” and sure enough he’s wearing Blue Suede shoes too.
People noticed. Cynthia did and she got her version of the shoes but with red suede and she rocked them. This shoe thing was catching on and things got better. School got better and kids seemed nicer and life got easier and I stopped looking in the mirror so much.
My grandma Jenny (she’s gone now) but still probably shopping somewhere…used to say to “wear life like a loose garment.” I loved that old saying but I don’t think it would apply to shoes. Nothing’s worse than loose shoes. Well, squeaky shoes are bad but that’s for next week.
Oh and best of all, I wasn’t invisible anymore and I liked that very much.