Topic: Why Choose Shoes? by Alan McCabe

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

I am a man of habit. After gardening I leave my shoes with my orthotics intact at the backdoor cleaned and ready for their next outing.

Shoes! As a boy I rarely wore them until my high school days when it was discovered I had flat feet.

“You’ve a good hold on New Zealand,” the army doctor smiled during the medical for my entry into compulsory military training. Hence my early introduction to orthotics.

When, on a fine spring morning, with seeds in hand, I reached for my gardening shoes anticipating a satisfying couple of hours planting our spring garden - only to find the right shoe was missing.

“Not lost,” I told my wife. “Just missing.”

I’d swear I left both shoes on their box following yesterday’s digging.

After a thorough search of the back door area I recalled my wife.

“Are you sure you haven’t shifted my shoe or, worse still. thrown it into the rubbish bin as you’ve often threatened?”

“I should have. They’re a disgrace, an embarrassment when visitors come; only useful as a subject for art classes.” She added, “I’ve caught you throwing those old shoes at the neighbour’s dog. Maybe someone’s getting their own back.”

We both searched the backdoor area; or rather, I searched while my wife went through the motions until she threw up her hands saying. “Why all this fuss, this mucking around for a clapped out shoe when you have an equally scruffy pair ready to wear for this so called emergency?”

She held up my well-worn walking shoes.

They’ll have to do.”

I grabbed them both, and then while pulling them on I complained about their ill fitting qualities. I completed the sowing of the seeds; the operation I explained to Pat took longer because of the dodgy footwear, which dotted with holes let in half of the garden.

A few days later the other shoe had disappeared, and although it was of no use without its mate I made another extensive search of our section without success. I had ensured the front gate was fastened that night, and Pat and I were convinced that we were having nocturnal visitations, but from whom? Could it be the local wag? Nothing of value had been taken nor was any damage to our property evident. I guess at the worst it was the irritation of the wasted time, and the audacity of the trespasser who apparently wanted to annoy or confuse us seemingly out of cussedness.

I suppose I should have been proactive in pursuit of my missing footwear, not for any intrinsic or financial reasons, but from a curiosity angle. I refused to secure my remaining gardening shoes from further theft by clinging to the age-old adage, that an Englishman’s home is his castle, and should be exempt from invasion.

The invader, our nocturnal intruder had no such scruples, as to my amazement a third shoe went missing, just disappeared, but where to remained a mystery. When the fourth shoe vanished our surprise turned to annoyance, as this saga appeared to have no logical purpose or conclusion except to challenge our sanity, as we continued to provide the opportunity for further theft.

To rub salt into our festering wounds our intruder removed a heavy gumboot away from under an outdoor seat and shifted it about fifteen feet across our lawn.

It seems that the thief found the gumboot unsuitable, or not being in the shoe category, conceded defeat and probably sulked all the way back to its lodgings. Upon examination I noted that gumboot had small holes in the rubber below the front top. At this point I should have taken the initiative and consulted some of our many neighbours who were possibly being similarly robbed. Of course I didn’t!

The following mornings I was relieved to see our Saturday copy of The Press unmolested on our lawn.

It was while I was collecting the newspaper paper that my neighbour approached me. After the usual pleasantries he looked hard at me before asking a direct question.

“Have you seen a left-footed boot on your property? One of a new pair I bought last week for two hundred and twenty five dollars is missing. I’ve only worn the boots twice. I always leave the footwear I’m currently wearing on our doorstep; you know, for convenience, and to make sure I know where they’ll be.”

I felt by his insistence he may have sensed that in some way I was involved, but he immediately scotched my line of thinking.

“Of course, I’m not suggesting you’ve found it, but you might have heard some gossip.”

After I explained our losses Theo was surprised.

“And you’re saying you’ve done nothing about retrieving your shoes? Our neighbours may be suffering too. Haven’t you heard about advertising?”

I don’t think he understood that the disappearance of my footwear was an inconvenience, an annoyance, but not a financial disaster, or a clip for national news items.

“Well,” Theo said, standing tall. “I’m not going to stuff around while half the neighbourhood walk around bare footed. I’m going to get my shoe back even if it means telling the world.”

That night he compiled a ‘Help Me’ note and distributed a hundred copies of these, one to each householder in the neighbourhood.

His plea read:

 

Hi. Can you please help? Recently removed from 11 and 13 Noble Place several old shoes and one near new brown boot. Do you have a light-fingered lad, a dog or any other animal that could be taking them? Phone Theo at No. 11. 322 7314.

 

A final reconnaissance of his property, particularly the fence lines brought a reward. There at the bottom of his back boundary fence was his missing boot, lonely but none the worse for its short exposure to the weather.

The return of the shoe was not good enough. The culprit had to be nailed. The following night Theo left outside his front door the inner sole of a shoe, and attached this to the end of his fishing reel.

Sure enough the mystery thief returned that night content to get away with the light inner sole. In doing so of course the fishing line unwound, and following its direction next morning Theo was able to identify the property and its tenants, who just happened to know the culprit: Charlie, a grey tabby cat with a flash of white on its chest.

Later the cat’s owners, when approached, were embarrassed with their feline’s activities and more so with their lack of action.

Theo returned my two pair of shoes with a dry, “That cat has poor taste. Are you sure you don’t want me to put these in the rubbish bin?”

He accepted the apology from the cat’s owners who took ownership of their animal’s night raids. They had no choice as their Puss in Boots had snared at least two dozen assorted shoes and boots. Yes, they released a neighbourhood newsletter apologising for their cat’s waywardness:

 

MISSING ANY SHOES???

Hello, neighbours. We live at 18 Townsend Crescent and have a cat with a fetish for shoes. There will be a box at our doorstep containing a selection of these trophies for your inspection. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.

 

When we went to see the young lady, the owner of the offending cat, she asked, “Did you really want those tatty shoes back? I could have dumped them for you.”

Ignoring her comments I asked to see the mischievous cat. The lady brought forward Charlie who was a littler larger than the average city moggy, a tabby with a blaze of white on its chest.

I felt the owner of the wayward cat had had a gutsful of the neighbours claiming their footwear, or more so of the visitors who came out of curiosity to see in the fur Charlie the villain.

The young lady, the tenant of No. 18, Townshend Crescent felt that too much was being made of her miscreant’s cravings.

“There was barely a decent shoe or boot among the thirty or so Charlie dragged home. Charlie wasn’t into fashion.” She looked closely at me. “I reckon it was the tacky smell of feet that set him going.”

I reddened when she added while pointing to the box still filled with shoes of many colours and sizes, “Some of the men’s shoes were really high, but I guess that’s how our Charlie gets his kicks.”

Charlie, who I’m sure is an addict, has not given up on his hobby, as last night, January 16th Pat and I watched the shoe thief wrestling, no, tugging at my right gardening shoe. Yes, I had top dressed our soil with animal manure that day, but I’m not sure whether our visitor has a perfume preference for sheep, horse, cow or fowl droppings, or maybe a hankering for the good old toe jam still found in some men’s footwear.

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This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: https://perma.cc/28UY-8RJT

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