#20 Lloyd Brodnax King, GUMBO CONTRARIANS

Lloyd Brodnax King, 

Green All Stars
“Hey King! Whachoo doin with them Chucks?” Keith, who, in eighth grade was already six-four, two-hundred and fifty pounds and sprouting whiskers, was sweating me in the school hallway. “Ha! He wearing Chuck Taylors,” said Carlos, pointing. “You know you get jumped in my neighborhood for wearing them corny-ass shoes.” Then Keith put his gigantic, Puma-clad right foot on top of my left foot and started to press down. Pain shot from my foot, up my leg and straight to my fight-or-flight amygdala. “How you like that,” said Keith? “Not much,” I winced. Carlos, continuing to point, cracked a barbaric  smile and said, “corny-ass shoes!” Then Greg, who’d been coolly observing, put his arm around me and sang, “Don’t wear the shoes that slip and side, wear the shoes with the stars on the side. Converse. All Stars.” Carlos laughed and so did Keith, easing up on my foot enough for me to wriggle free. Then Greg, with his arm still draped over my shoulder, walked me down the hall toward the salvation of our teacher, Maryann, an ex-nun-turned-hippy. Maryann had seen the incident and she yelled down the hall to Keith, “You’re penis is small, that’s why you’re such a bully!” Maryann was my favorite teacher ever. I don’t remember what kind of shoes she wore, but I’m thinking sensible-yet-stylish brown boots, something to go with her fringed brown leather jacket. Greg, my new hero, wore white leather Pumas with red trim.

By the time I entered high school in 1972, kids had dropped canvas gym shoes altogether in favor of leather Pumas, or leather Adidas, or K-Swiss. Then Nike’s were introduced. Then even Converse started making leather basketball shoes. When kids teased me about my throwback Chuck Taylors, I’d invoke Greg’s dulcet cadence and chant, “don’t wear the shoes that slip and slide, wear the shoes with the stars on the side. Converse. All Stars,” My detractors would chuckle and I’d smile and walk down the hall toward salvation. The more novel my forest green Converse All Stars became, the more I treasured them. By the time high school ended my shoes had evolved from an object of derision to a unique fashion statement, and I had transformed from a skinny nerd to one of the cool kids. I sported an enormous afro and played in a rock band called Anarchist Picnic. On gigs, in school, at formal events, everywhere, my green canvas gym shoes were my statement of rebellion. I wore them to prom. I wore them to graduation. I wore them all through college. After college, I wore my Chucks to friend’s weddings. I wore them with my tuxedo when I played jobbing gigs. I vowed I’d only wear green All Stars until the day I died.

Then my feet went bad. Planters fasciitis. Walking in my Converse hurt so much it was like big Keith from eighth grade was crushing them all over again. The doctor told me I couldn’t wear canvas sneakers anymore, as their soles weren’t supportive enough. The moment she said “sneakers” I knew she wasn’t from Chicago. But hey, doctors orders. Now I walk around in leather Doc Martens. Only I couldn’t entirely hang up my Chuck Taylors. I keep a pair in my closet and pull them out once or twice a year to wear on sit-down gigs, when there won’t be much walking or standing. I still feel cool in my Converse, but the novelty is gone. When I look at all the feet of all the hipsters dancing to Funkadesi’s banghra beats, I see they’re all wearing canvas Converse All Stars, every last one of them, and I’m saddened that my throwback shoe rebellion turned out to be so successful.