When I was in fifth grade it was decided by a committee of my teacher and my parents that I could graduate from Velcro sneakers to footwear with laces. At the time these canvas sneakers that went high up on the ankle were very popular. It was like all the kids wanted to pretend they were in the 1950s and helping Marty McFly get back to the future.
The canvas sneakers that I bought were turquoise in color, and after the newness of the sneakers wore off I indulged in the custom of writing on your sneakers. Along with laced sneakers, I had also graduated to pens instead of pencils, which was good because it is hard to write on canvas sneakers in pencil.
Most other boys my age who wore the same style of sneaker had written on their sneakers “I love” and then the name of their girlfriend, or “I” and then the shape of a heart and then the name of their girlfriend. I, being far too absorbed in my quest for the lowest common denominator, had no time for girlfriends, and so wrote on my sneakers “I love toxic waste.” Somehow my parents, who had paid for the sneakers, did not appreciate my use of irony.
The following year ushered in the reign of the Nike Air. This was a sneaker made of leather but with a little plastic bubble in the side that was allegedly filled with air. I was sure that the sneakers would make me float and deliver me from the clutches of the gangs that roamed the hallways of the middle school kicking the backs of students’ feet while they walked. Oh how I was disappointed to find that the Nike Airs respected the law of gravity, although the gang members were impressed by my insecure obsession with fitting in.
And then came the Reebok Pump.
Yes, my first understanding of the word “pumps” in relation to footwear was not high-heeled women’s shoes, but rather sneakers that had an inflatable pouch inside the tongue. There was a bright orange rubber button at the end of the tongue that one would push repeatedly, particularly during class, to inflate the tongue, giving a more snug fit and greater basketball dunking capability.
The price of the sneakers was even more impressive than the inflatable tongue. At well over $100 a pair, perhaps even as much as $200, the Pumps were as unattainable for me as Z Cavaricci pants. I remember writing my Bar Mitzvah speech on the Exodus from Egypt, while fantasizing that I would receive enough money to buy a pair of Reebok Pumps and Z Cavariccis, and then stroll the hallways at my school and earn the kind of superficial respect of my peers that you see only in B-movies from the 1980s.
But the Reebok Pumps were not all fun and games. There were reports of people who pumped the Reebok Pumps so much that they cut off the circulation to their feet, which then had to be amputated, and replaced with Prosthetic Pumps.
And there were reports of people being mugged for their Pumps. How difficult it must have been to deflate and untie one’s sneakers at gun point, and then have to hold the gun while the mugger put on the sneakers and pumped them.
For me, however, the Reebok Pumps remained a fantasy. At first I told myself that the price was too high, and that I was much better of selling my family’s cow for beanstalk beans than a pair of sneakers. But I think the real reason was that I did not see myself as a pumper of sneakers. In fact, it turns that I am not even a fan of high-top sneakers at all. Today I walk the Earth in a pair of low-top loafers that can be removed easily at the threshold of my home lest the freshly swiffered floor be smudged. The shoes are dark brown and non-descript, and say absolutely nothing about their wearer except that he loves toxic waste.