The shoes of San Francisco

There are a lot of curious things about this town.  For example, questions like the following frequently enter my thoughts: if I see someone in costume every day, are costumes still costumes, or form of regular attire? Lately I’ve been preoccupied by the incidence of something I see strewn across the city: shoes.

It started on my morning walks – looking up, I noticed that several houses had shoes hanging from (what I presume to be) electrical wires outside their upstairs windows. Why?!? Art? Ventilation? Cramped living quarters? Incidentally, isn’t that a fire hazard?  I began seeing shoes everywhere.

[Disclosure: for those of you who don’t live in SF, there’s a lot of random crap on the streets – I could do this post on mattresses, but that would be way less interesting, not to mention gross.]

I haven’t investigated whether any of the shoes have explanatory notes, like messages in a bottle, but I presume that they have been left – for garbage, for the intrepid – for someone to create new stories in them.  I didn’t pick any of them up, so instead I’m going to tell you the stories of what led them to their perches in the corners where I found them.

late nights on MUNI

late nights on MUNI

For Muriel, it was the end of a long day.  She’d taken the waitress job to pay for a cramped room in what amounted to a frat house.  The kind of place filled with things that none of the inhabitants had brought and that were treated accordingly.  She’d had twenty Craigslist interviews to earn the right to come home to beer pong and the suction of her shoes sticking to unfamiliar substances on the kitchen floor. Taking a look around the bus, she caught a glimpse of some grubby looking teenagers eating out of a bag of white bread.  Their hair locked in the dreads that come naturally if you give up combs for long enough.  Screw it, she thought, and took her left shoe off, pressing the pad of her thumb high into the arch of her foot. Her mind wandered, If everyone has one foot a little larger than the other, then why don’t they let you buy each shoe in a different size? The muffled voice of MUNI announced her stop.  Or did it? She looked up – it was.  Shit, three months and I always miss it! Scrambling to get off and save herself from having to walk an extra block in the kind of neighbourhood where you should probably  be running after dark, she hopped off the bus.  First, elation, then the familiar feeling of suction on her left foot. Fuck it, those shoes were killing me anyway.

Folsom Street Shoes

Folsom Street Shoes

Tom had been dating Sarah for three weeks.  She was tall, with a casual coolness that let her pull off things like high-waisted pants, even though as a rule, no one looks good in high-waisted pants.  ‘Living’ was what she filled into the space next to occupation on her OK Cupid profile.  Aren’t we all? was his first thought, followed by wait, are we?  He sent her a message to find out.  The met at a bar in the Mission, just dim enough to be inviting, just expensive enough to assure her he had a job.  She looked him right in the eye when she answered his questions, and he found it both electrifying and scary.  At the end of the night, he couldn’t bring himself to kiss her and instead pulled her into an awkward hug. On the way home, he berated himself for his lack of courage.  But the next day, she texted, leading to a sun drenched afternoon in Delores park – and another chaste hug.  Walking up to her house the following week, he psyched himself up – she kept agreeing to see him, right?  She messaged that she was running late, so he waited, leaning up against the staircase, absent-mindedly scrolling though his phone.  He looked up when he heard a click.  You looked like you were in a picture, so I took one, she said.  She walked over, looped her hand through his arm to the small of his back and kissed him.  No shoes in the house.  He scrambled to get them off, accidentally leaving them in his wake.

The early bird catches the shoe

The early bird catches the shoe

Maria had spent the entire afternoon in her garden.  In the months since her mother had died, gardening was the only cure she had found to the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that replaced her mother as a constant companion.  Sometimes, without warning she’d stop breathing and then gasp for air, her pulse racing.  But as she ran her hands along the edge of the flower bed, its coolness soothed her.  She could spend hours contemplating the arrangement of the different varieties, imagining the future through the seasons of the garden.  The riddle of what was killing her orchids gave her something to think about when she went back into the house, the echo of her footsteps amplifying its new emptiness.  What she couldn’t do was start to sort through the hundreds of inconsequential objects left behind. Finishing in the backyard, she walked straight through the house, avoiding gazing into the room across from the kitchen that substituted as a bedroom when the stairs became too much.  Out the front door, down the steps and onto the sidewalk, where someone had neatly left two pairs of shoes.  They could easily have been her mothers, practical, but not without style.  Keep going, she imagined they said. She did.

Same, but different

Same, but different

Maria has become convinced that her mother is communicating with her through these shoes.

Monday morning shoe

Monday morning shoe

This is cheating a bit, because the picture is taken in front of my house, and it’s my roommate’s shoe.  But what you can’t see is that the shoe was in a bag, filled with old clothes and shoes that I left on the curb for someone to pick up. Free. Old. Stuff. So why was one shoe left behind?

It was 2 am, but Will was still on the move.  Sunday nights were the best in this neighbourhood because a lot people only take their recycling out once a week.  To get your pick of the bottles, it was important to beat the regulars, who began collecting just before dawn.  Street sweeping was an added bonus, you never know when you’ll find something useful.  As he pushed his cart through the tiny pocket of streets before the highway, he stopped periodically, looking up.  You can still see the stars.  He sometimes wondered who else was looking up at the stars at the exact same time.  Was it significant to be looking up at the same time as an old lover or friend? So much time had passed, he had trouble remembering either.  Suddenly his cart came to a halt, dislodging one of his bags of bottles, spilling them out onto the street.  Crouching to pick them up, he spotted a brown paper bag, whose contents had made their way into the thoroughfare and upset his cart.  A bunch of random clothes, worn, but useable.  He scooped them up, lodging the bag between the others, heading home.  Sorting through the bag in morning, who gives away just one shoe!?!

There are stories everywhere. I hope you liked some of these.


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