In total, I own 38 pairs of shoes. This includes six pairs of boots, not including my rain boots, eleven pairs of heels, four pairs of sneakers, five pairs of sandals and five pairs of practical-borderline-ugly-maybe-someday-I-will-get-that-dress-casual-position-and-I-will-most-definitely-need-these shoes.

I think I am making up for all the years I only lived in one pair of shoes; usually generic black sneakers, from the local Payless, modeled after the then-style of Vans skateboard shoes. My dad would buy my brothers and me each one pair of shoes for the school year. Unless I managed to somehow cosmically burn a hole in mine, they would be the ones that would complete my outfit by process of elimination day in and day out.

I remember one summer saving up a good chunk of my summer lawn mowing money to buy a pair of black Airwalks in junior high. When returning home, and wearing them around the house in their shiny and new-suede stage, I managed to spill some bright purple nail polish on them. I was devastated, especially when I could not initially get any of the staining out. Sixty big ones down the drain. I continued wearing them, though some of their magical newness had worn off for me.

For sixty dollars today I could buy almost six pairs of shoes at the thrift store. Last week I found the perfect pair to match a dress I will be wearing to a friend’s wedding. I placed them next to my bed, the way we always did as children when we received a new pair of shoes, something my mom used to do as a child.

My mom is Puerto Rican and my father is Dutch and, though both my parents are college educated and my dad made a good living for our family, they both came from working class families. My maternal grandfather worked on an oil refinery and my paternal grandfather was a vegetable farmer; so neither of my parents were very frivolous or strangers to hard work. If we wanted “fancy” clothes we were encouraged to save and buy one or two things ourselves, but also warned to save as much as we could for more responsible things.

In hindsight, I appreciate it.  My parents were right, and much cooler, for not indulging us in expensive clothes when what was functional was just as good. I feel so much satisfaction now knowing I spend so little money on clothes, mostly at the Goodwill; I’m able to buy brands I never could afford in the past, and it goes to a good cause. I never buy anything that shows a brand and only buy things for quality and for how it fits, not for the style. I wish I could encourage my teenage self to desire to be less of a lemming! Though I guess that’s the nature of being a teenager.

-Ambar de Kok-Mercado, Seattle, WA

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The great dilettante George Plimpton—I think I’d like to have walked in some of his shoes… And I’d have a kick wearing those big ol’ dragon boots that Gene Simmons used to wear in KISS, or if I knew that Elvis’ blue suedes could make me dance from the hip, or—wait: GENE KELLY! Yeah! If I could put on shoes that would make me do something I couldn’t otherwise do, it’d have to be Gene Kelly or the great skateboarder Tony Alva. I’d probably get more girls with Gene Kelly’s though, so if we were just speaking hypothetically and it has nothing to do against my much-beloved wife, I’d pick Gene Kelly!

Philip Shaw, Seattle, WA

As I child, I had horrible judgment. Not cut-my-own-bangs kind of judgment or touch-the-hot-stovetop judgment but monumentally, grossly reckless judgment. I defecated in our backyard when it seemed too tedious to get the house key from under the geranium pot. I melted three-quarters of a pillar candle into our shag carpet. I hid sugar cookie dough in my dresser drawer for an entire year, blew my nose on a pair of extra-large women’s underwear in JCPenneys, and taught our doxie-poo to lick my pits when I sweated. When caught and punished, I never felt remorse. I actually felt wronged, convinced my parents were killjoys.

Then came the Saddle Shoe Incident.

My saddle shoes were something of a dream. Unlike their 1950s black-and-white counterparts, they were butter-soft and pointy-toed white leather with saddles made of mauve suede. I wore them every day for months, until the white was rubbed raw and the suede was the color of dirty dishwater.

But eventually, sadly, it came to pass: The sole of one shoe tore almost completely free. It flopped as I walked the two blocks home from my bus-stop. All the way, I worried over how I might save them—they couldn’t possibly be replaced!—and by the time I reached the door, I’d come up with the perfect solution.

The tip of the Super Glue bottle in our family’s junk drawer was a little shellacked over. I snipped it with scissors, causing the glue to gush forward as I shuttled it over to the shoe and applied enough glue to hold a trailer to the ground in a tornado. The glue also dripped onto my hands, and suddenly I could feel my index and middle fingers becoming one. Setting down the shoe, I ran to the sink and feverishly scrubbed. I could only get the glue to harden, not clean, and when I turned off the sink and returned to my project, I found it firmly stuck to the floor. I tugged and grunted and finally yanked so hard that the shoe came flying loose—bringing with it two half-dollar-sized chunks of our white kitchen tile.

I don’t know what clicked in that moment, but after years of reckless decisions for which I’d pretty much never felt real remorse, I all at once realized what a terrible thing I’d done. I ran about the house in a frenzy trying to find something to cover the holes. Ultimately, I settled on watercolor. Yes, watercolor. In tears, I wet and dabbed at the little oval tray of paint and tried to cover up the holes.

When my mom’s engine roared in the driveway, the holes were merely filled with translucent white puddles. I ran out to her sobbing, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry! I ruined the floor!” Considering the candlewax fiasco, this was hardly the first floor I’d wrecked, but for some reason, it was the first time I remember feeling real remorse for my foolishness. I understood that in trying to save something important to me, I’d ruined something important to my parents.

After surveying the scene of the crime, my mom hugged me into her legs, holding back laughter (I now know), and (she says) forgiving me immediately. Then she pulled out the trash from under the sink, and I lay the shoes on top of food scraps and junk mail. Everything was going to be okay. I’d been forgiven. And I would never shit in the yard again.

Jenny Fiore-Jensen, Madison, WI

It’s Christmas, 1974, somewhere in the wilds of the Los Padres Mountains, and I am in the middle of one of those situations that, if it doesn’t kill you, will make a hell of a good story some day.  You see, I’m not from around here—California, I mean.  I’m a naïve, 18-year-old east-coast girl who came west to spend Christmas with her father, got invited on a day-trip to the beach at Santa Barbara by a girl she knew slightly from her college dorm—and somehow ended up on a hike with the girl and a van-load of her acquaintances through the aforementioned Los Padres Mountains in search of some legendary hot springs where we will all spend the night. And boy, am I not dressed for this excursion! On the way down the long, steep, switch-backed trail I wear those 70’s icons: the Earth Shoe.

Normally, I love these shoes—like everything else about the 70s aesthetic, they’re proudly, ostentatiously ugly—but they’re not meant for serious hiking. With every step, my feet slide and slam into the hard leather toe-box. I’m carrying someone’s old Boy Scout sleeping bag tied to my back with a piece of rope. The only coat I have with me is an old corduroy jacket of my father’s.  During the night it sleets. The sleeping bag is sodden. My clothes are soaked. The only warm place is in the springs themselves, where I spend a wakeful night evading the gropings of strange boys who don’t bother to ask my name. In the morning, my clothes are so drenched I can’t get them on—the only dry thing I have is my father’s coat, so that’s all I wear. My feet are so bruised and battered by yesterday’s scramble down the trail that I can’t get my Earth Shoes on again. Hence the size 13 Converses, kindly leant me by a boy whose name I never asked.

It takes four hours to hike out from the springs, and somewhere along the way I jettison the sleeping bag. I feel bad about that since it’s not mine, but in its waterlogged state it weighs almost as much as I do. The soaked jeans and work-shirt soon follow, but I hang onto my Earth shoes.  Eventually, I make it back to the van where the others have occupied the time waiting for me with eating all the food and smoking joints. I stop feeling guilty about the sleeping bag.

Sometime just before Midnight on Christmas Eve, I am deposited back on my father’s doorstep. I don’t know what ever happened to the girl or the Converse sneakers, but I kept those Earth shoes until 1981. They joined the Peace Corps with me and died an honorable death in Morocco.

-Alix Wilber, Seattle WA

Tell your story.

I was wearing a pair of bright orange patent leather clog-type shoes in college in the 1970’s when, entering a bathroom in a Boston restaurant named Ken’s (famed for chopped liver sandwiches), I missed a step and sprained my right ankle. After plying me with scotch and painkillers all night, my friends took me the next day to the emergency room of a hospital where I was so loopy that I almost fell out of the wheelchair. I vaguely remember a look of disgust on the faces of some of the hospital personnel. More than thirty years later, my ankle remains compromised. Though I do have fond memories of the shimmering orange color of my shoes. They were slammin’.

-Evelyn C. White, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

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If I could walk in someone else’s shoes, I would choose the shoes of the person who I feel least understands me. Right now, that would be my brother, Marc, who hasn’t spoken to me for six years, I assume in response to his inability to embrace my announcement about my bisexual orientation. I would like the opportunity to inhabit all his life experiences which added up to a way of being that seemingly makes it more reasonable to end communication with his sister of 40 years than to be curious about who it is that I am.

-SS, Seattle, WA

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Tell your story.

I was in junior high and wanted a pair of heels along with a pair of nylons and garter belt. You are probably too young to know about nylons and garter belts, but they were all the rage in the late ‘50’s when I was in junior high. I bugged my mother to let me buy a pair of heels. Being a mom with EXTREME CONCERN for my feet, she was not excited about fulfilling my request. Eventually, we went to the department store—Woodward and Lothrop’s in Washington, D.C.—and I tried on several pairs of shoes. I wanted the red pair—one-inch heels with a bow. They were not my size exactly, but I wanted them so I lied and said that they were perfect. I think I wore them twice because they gave me blisters.

-Lorelei Eickelberg, Seattle, WA

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