April 9, 2012

Cool shoes

My fashionista phase which, though diminished, has never really ended, began in second grade with a
helpless stab of admiration for Jimmy Hopkins’ saddle oxfords. They may have been hand-me-downs;
they were retro even back then, and unusual for boys. But they were cool shoes anyway, heightened
by the panache of their owner, a third grader, the kind of little leader whom girls want to marry and
boys want on their team, and on whom I had a crush. No, I didn't throw words like panache around in
second grade. That didn't start til fifth.

I must have made inquiries about the Jimmy Hopkins phenomenon, shoes and owner, among my
friends, because he came up to me one day on the playground, accompanied by his ubiquitous little

“I heard you think I’m cool...” said Jimmy.

“Yeah, I do,” I said, with the candor of a second grader. “Your shoes are really cool, too.”

“Well,” said Jimmy feigning modesty, but frankly trolling for affirmation, “I’m not that cool.”

“Yes you are,” I said definitively. Whereupon he invited me to join him and his friends, the awesome
third-graders, in some field hockey. The saddle oxfords, I noticed up close, were scuffed, which added
to their cachet.

I was to transfer to another school the following year, but we remained friends for the remaining
semester, even after I debuted the saddle oxfords of my own that I had cajoled my mother into buying
me in the next round of shoe buying. I couldn’t wait to scuff them, and seal their cred and charisma.

Jimmy was impressed, and perturbed. We’re wired, it seems, to appreciate the power of the mojo, and
begrudge its infringement. But where two or more are gathered in saddle oxfords there is an alliance,
and Jimmy had an inkling, and appreciation, of that too. Now random kids were calling me cool.
Once even to my face. Which I received with a mixture of excitement, inevitability, and huh? "I'm not
that cool," I was surprised and pleased to hear myself say. "Yes you are!" said the kid with the same
fervor that Jimmy must have heard. But the moment had arrived, and the imprimatur received. My
cool was a fait accompli.