by Steven Underwood
Nothing worthwhile is found in the streets. Before this September, if I were to walk home from school, I’d assume to find the usual swaying my head low, scanning the ground to dodge the broken glass and eye contact: a used needle (Retail: $20 per pack of 100): tiny green ziplock baggies barely big enough to hold a raisin (Retail: $5.05 per pack of 100): black gum stains pressed into cement after years of tramples (Retail: brand varying, $0.75): shoestrings (Retail: $1.00).
Now, those were shockingly the most common, mostly browned with age, but always bound together with a shoe not too far off (Retail: $0.05). When I tilted my head just slightly, I could see clouds of cloth-stuffed sneakers of all colors. Some were cheap and others were expensive. I even recognized a few of them, mostly Brice’s Concords (Retail: $125), identified by a dried penny-sized stain on the black plastic toe that hydrogen peroxide couldn’t clean (New Retail: $70).
Mama used to say they belonged to boys like me, and when I asked what they were doing walking around barefoot, she simply looked at me with her soulful brown eyes. “They ain’t, baby.” she’d say and then I’d stop asking questions, before her fondness of my curiosity turned into frustration-and-anger.
There ain’t need to be explanations, neither. If they were found on the streets, they’d be picked up: whether by God or by the Devil. What use did they have for some shoes except to dangle them?
Today, I didn’t just find shoe strings. It was a whole damn shoe, brand-new, with the strings perfectly in tact if not a little strained from dangle-stress. The logo was a three-pronged weed leaf like it was plucked off one of those tacky Marijuana brand shirts — the kind Grove City kids wore over cargo pants when they came around the block to buy (Retail: $9.00) . They were hightops, with a velcro tongue dangling from the sides across from a plastic white buckle.
Retail Price: $450.
Last person to have a pair of off-white Adidas on the block was Yvone. Her mama was just as poor as the rest of us, but her step-dad had a trucker job on route from Columbus to all places south, one of the few fortunes of living in a warehouse plant like the 614. He didn’t spend his money on much that couldn’t be carried in-and-out of truck-stops, so she found it pertinent to guilt him into an early present. She wore them to the first day of Sophomore year into Mrs. Martin’s Remedial Englsh with an outfit she snatched after a raid at Eastland.
In fairness, Yvone looked cute. She bought a rainbow of ribbons from Target to tie into her ponytail (Retail Price: $2.00) and a pair of golden hoop earrings (Retail Price: $1.50 a pack). It didn’t entirely come together, but Yvone, like the rest, made due with what she had — a single luxury in a body of cheapness, made whole with personality alone.
Alex Little sucked her teeth at Yvone from across the crowded classroom as she snuck another selfie — one arm fully extended, both lips puckered, an unfamiliar joy in her eyes. It was an Obama phone (Retail Price: $50), flat and silver with a pink protective cover (Retail Price: $12.00).
“She swear she part Indian, but her Grandma blacker than a skillet bottom.” Alex said. My friend snickered, as did I, to my shame. It was just funny; she didn’t even get her shoes in her pic — just half a fit. It hadn’t occurred till after what happened that Yvone didn’t have any, not any real ones. Being friendless meant no full-body pics. Just lonely, close-up selfies down a long three-year digital archive.
They got Yvone across the street, in the alley behind the Walgreens. Alex and my friends made a game out of how many times they could knock her down or bloody her nose. Yvone’d been cursing first, then fighting her mightiest, before finally crying and then, silence. And by the time of the Silence, Alex and her friends already made the effort to snatch her her ribbons, her phone, her cover, both of her earrings and, obviously, both shoes.
She walked back home barefoot in a pair of cerulean-and-white ankle socks (Retail Price: $4.50). The last time anyone saw her, she’d turned down Brighton Rd., her tears dried into two shallow grey trains down her chin.
A month later, when the cops stopped caring to find her, Her mother dangled her shoes from the phone lines. They twisted there, with her name scribbled on the bottoms. I saw her daily in the Walgreens, a blurred picture of a colorful girl I recognized in a house I didn’t, beside an aged rendering that I never would’ve recognized even if she walked up on me on the streets. I wondered how long those strings would spin there before they’d snap.
These Adidas had no name on the bottoms. Just a blurred stain.
The clam shell color was hardened, but striking all the same.
I stuff the shoes into my all black satchel and make my way home with a dedication to my stride. The morning felt defeated with silver in the skyline of the City itself.