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The Man With Two Brown Shoes Goes Shopping

How do you like my new brown shoes? Yes, they’re mine, I have the receipt. I have lots of receipts. Always keep the receipts, in case you change your mind about any of your purchases.

One day I woke up from yet another nightmare. I was at school, and Sister Petrus called on me to do a square-root problem. And I stood up, and all the other kids in the class started to hoot and holler. "Ha! Look at Payne! He’s wearing brown shoes!" I should go shopping again. Take a good look at myself, in public, where it can do other people some good. I don’t have to do it alone. I am the offending object, and my brown shoes state that very clearly. "He doesn’t know enough about brown shoes," that kind of thing. You’re thinking, "No one gives a damn about your shoes." But are you REALLY thinking that? How do I know what you REALLY think about my brown shoes? How do I know how you REALLY feel about BROWN SHOES? You don’t give a damn about brown shoes. A nightmare came true recently: a shopping expedition on Melrose. On this day, my brown shoes were exceptionally unqualified. And EVERYONE was looking at my brown shoes, incredulously, I thought. I felt small . . . No, I felt way too big. I felt gargantuan, just a big gigantic doofus clunking around in the WRONG BROWN SHOES! Mother. I wear big, stupid, boring BROWN, BROWN SHOES because my mother bought me brown shoes . . . My mother liked brown shoes. She thought all boys should wear brown, brown shoes. Are you trying to say something bad about my mother? OBVIOUSLY I’m wearing BROWN SHOES because . . . I wear brown shoes. Johnny boy, John Peckerwood, how do you like your new brown shoes? Images, flashbacks, I’m not just BUYING. If you take a walk down Melrose on a weekend day, you’ll see a lot of people wearing all the latest trends. They’re looking in the windows of the latest-trend shops looking for the latest-latest trends. Or they’re walking down the sidewalk enjoying themselves wearing the latest trends. Everyone is good-looking. Furthermore, everyone is trendy, because there are no rules anymore, aside from this one: Don’t wear the kind of brown shoes that guy (me) is wearing. Nightmare: The pine slats on the walls are undulating, I can hear them, no I can’t hear them but I can understand them. "John, look at your feet! Poor, sad sad feet! You buy more and more brown shoes, but inside your brown shoes are your feet, and they’re burning, they’re screaming, ‘I am your feet, your only feet! Your feet, your brown-shoe feet!’" . . . Hey there, baybay, I luv your new brown shoes! This is more like it. You know, you get a new, NEW PAIR OF BROWN SHOES and your whole attitude just swings 360 degrees. Why, I could never offend with my terrific new BROWN shoes. And this is just the start — tomorrow I’m going to put them on again! . . . NIGHTMARE: little boy, evil, grinning, by the cement mixer. He’s making pattycakes of cement, hamburger cement, looking at my hamburger shoes, he has bad intentions, he’s grinning, the sky is gray, he’s throwing pattycakes, cement hamburgers at the sky — it sticks — and he’s grinning, he turns around he’s looking at me grinning he’s LOOKING AT MY BROWN SHOES! Right now I’m looking down at my new brown shoes. I should be happy, but I feel sad. Because EVERYONE is envious, that’s what they are — I have new brown shoes, and all they have is their regular normal shoes. Yet I know that their only feet are screaming at them inside their shoes, too. Well . . . I paid for ’em, I should wear ’em. That’s what I’m thinking. So go ahead, laugh at my shoes. Laugh at my shoes, laugh at my MOTHER! Big doofus, that’s me. I just paid $175 for new brown shoes and I’m burning, I don’t know why, not anger — shame, humiliation, DISQUALIFIED, mystified . . . somewhere, a bell sounded . . . noontime . . . Sister Petrus has brown shoes, too . . . she’s wearing beige hosiery. She can’t hear me, though I’m shrieking: "But I don’t

want

to take off my brown shoes! I

can’t

remove my brown shoes! My brown shoes . . . my brown shoes don’t come off, Sister! . . . Sister, I

AM

MY BROWWNNNN SSHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOES!!!"   A store called Red Balls. Huh, what’s that supposed to mean? "Excuse me, any brown shoes in here?" "What kind of brown shoes were you looking for?" "I . . ." [

perspiring

] I beat a hasty retreat. Tell you why: In a nightmare I have every two weeks, I’m sailing up and down the slope and descent of a very straight road somewhere in Nebraska. It’s always a gray day, rain coming, and I’m getting more and more COCKSURE about the speed with which I zoom ahead on that straight road. Soon I’m going so fast that when that straight road drops after each hillock, my car is airborne, and I come crashing down on the downslope, barely able to control the car. Yet I go faster and faster, my foot pressed firmly on the accelerator, the engine roars . . . I know I’m going to wipe out — in my dream, I know I want to wipe out. Why? And why in Nebraska? And where is everybody? Doesn’t anybody want to be here when I finally — The last hill. I jam my FOOT on the pedal and the car howls. I’m flying up that hill, yellow grass on both sides. Gray sky, I’m flying, I’m screaming, but really I’m flying, brown shoes over brown shoes . . . "Don’t cry. I didn’t mean anything bad. But there are no brown shoes in here. Our shoes are for people who trip out, put on a show. Lots of places on Melrose have brown shoes. Don’t worry, you’ll find some nice brown shoes." Man, I just stared at her. She had no idea. I’M NOT JUST BUYING. But she was all right. Mother Brown Shoes, Sister Brown Shoes. Floating in a haze of terrible colors down the street. My feet hurt. I want to go home. I don’t qualify. I’m too big. No one sees me. I don’t care. I smell stupid incense and fresh paint and hear the dogs bark and people discussing the film industry. The sun is going down. I haven’t bought anything. I don’t know what to buy. Somewhere in the distance, rap music. Stop bossing me around. I’ll buy when I’m ready, won’t I? It’s the last day of a family trip. We’re up in the mountains, loading up the station wagon to go HOME. Why must the sky be gray? All the kids in the car. Except me. I tripped on the shoelace of my brown shoe. The ground is dry and dusty, lots of dust, but the air is growing chilly. I have learned how to tie my shoe. I’m tying my shoe. Then the other shoe. I look up and the station wagon is pulling away. 1964 brick-red Chevrolet Impala. "Wait!" I’m yelling but no sound comes out. "Wait!" The car is easing away. "Wait!" The children are waving, they’re smiling. Waving at me, growing smaller, smiling . . . I didn’t buy those brown shoes. I was lying.

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