My neighbor's kid has a new pair of sneakers. Air Jordans.
Snazzy sneakers for a fourteen year old, I say to his mother.
Air Jordan 12 Retro's, she replies, Two hundred and fifty dollars.
Why? I say to her. Looks like your basic canvas and rubber crap sewn together in Bangladesh by a starving female child.
You don't understand, she says. It's not about the sneakers. It's all about the brand. I don't want him to get teased at school because he's wearing cheap-ass sneakers.
She's right. I don't understand.
In my fourteenth year we teased other fourteen year olds for being fat, or having red hair. Or zits. Zitty kids always got ragged on. But sneakers, not so much.
In my family, we wore KKK shoes. Keds, from K-Mart and Korvettes. Four dollars and ninety-seven cents, unless the parental unit found a sale elsewhere. I got slightly oily Keds pulled from a bin, held together with a plastic tie, and I liked them just fine. Why? Because my mother said so.
My mother was the final arbiter of all purchases. She chose the Keds from the bin. "Put these on," she would demand. One glance, and she would decide that "They fit fine" regardless if they were a size two big or two sizes too small. If my mother said they fit, they fit.
My neighbor's kid, at fourteen, is six feet something and weighs at least two hundred plus pounds, give or take a few Big Macs. It is difficult to imagine other children at Middle School 51 teasing Dominick about anything, without getting a severe thumping in response. Rumor has it that Dominick has been known to hit up the other kids, not for their lunch money, but for their lunches. Kids like this, they can wear saddle shoes on their size 18eee's and no one is going to give them any shit.
My neighbor says to me, You're lucky you don't have any children. You don't have to deal with any of this.
Luck has nothing to do with it, I think to myself. My mother may have been the gatekeeper of my footwear choices, but nothing else. I chose the kidless path. I have no debt. I wear Converse Allstars, hightops, with laces, and if anyone looks at me funny, I stare them down like I'm about to deliver them a holy thumping. I inherited my mother's nasty attitude, and it fits me well.
Dominick's a good boy, I say to my neighbor. You're the lucky one.
My neighbor looks down at my high tops, and she smiles.