This is a story about a date.
It begins like this. I drive my car to the store to buy shoes.
I usually bike everywhere, which I think myself dogged and subversive for doing, though I admit that if I lived anywhere but the bike capital of the West coast, I wouldn't care as much about tenacity.
But shoes come in a box, which is difficult to carry on a bike. So I drive my car to sports stores for running shoes, thrift stores for dress shoes, the hippie dance academy on Broadway for tailored silk salsa slippers (which I did not, in the end, buy).
I also drive my car to the post office to send packages to my friends around the country and world for their birthdays or whenever I see their love-me faces peering from the face of the perfect gift--Minnesota, Managua, Micronesia have been recent destinations.
And I drive my car to the bank when I'm too tired for bikes on Saturday mornings. I deposit money into an interest-earning account. If I live long enough and keep working hard enough, maybe I'll retire early and own a cottage on a lake near a mountain. Maybe then I'll be happy, says the footpath of my ingrained societal psyche.
My parents bought me a car when I was a sophomore in college. To me it seemed reasonable. My thought process went something like this. I am their daughter, I attend an urban university reasonably isolated from public transit, and I am an early-twenty-something from an affluent background. Also, I'm an only child, I've earned straight-As as long as I can remember, and I've been called by many a good girl, deserving of the best in the world. I glittered like well-polished, well-hidden gold, once.
The best in the world, at the time, in an easily swallowable, hardly conscious way, was a car.
A long white Mazda Protege that my surfboard would fit in. A $500 teal fiberglass longboard. It's in a shed now.
I recently biked to a cafe to meet a young man whom I met while salsa dancing. We watched an Argentina-Iran World Cup game together. He's from Mexico. On the dance floor, he noticed my red hair, and I noticed his smile, and shoes.
I don't usually notice men's shoes, but his were screaming. Slick, black, of one fabric with his hair, shirt, slacks and eyes. Conspicuous and intentional.
Every time I see him, he's wearing a different pair of shoes. All of them look new, and he always talks about how happy they make him. Some of his sneakers even looked polished. When I mentioned that I wished Messi hadn't cut his hair, he mentioned he didn't like Messi's shoes.
As I sipped a Tao of Tea vanilla chamomile fusion in a porcelain mug, wearing the same pair of thick-strapped practical sandals I wear everywhere all the time, I finally chortled, "What is it about you and shoes?"
Behind every question, you can find the pearly gates and an atom bomb.
As a young boy he grew up in a pueblo five miles from the nearest secondary school. When he was an elementary student in this tiny pueblo, he'd attend class without shoes. His parents told him that they could not support him financially if he continued to seek an education. The only thing they could give him was one pair of shoes per year.
So he walked five miles to school barefoot, and wore his shoes solely (HA) during class. As a seventh grader, his parents bought him a second pair of shoes. He wore his old shoes to walk the five miles, then put the new shoes on during class.
He was never smart, he said, merely a hard-worker. His teachers noticed (which is a rarity), and told him he had a chance to go to high school.
"We cannot help you much, but we'll give you what we can," said everyone who loved him. It was enough to get him to "Deh-Efeh," or Distrito Federal, the capital of Mexico, where, as a thirteen-year-old, he began washing windshields to pay for school. There wasn't enough money for a home, so for the first six months, he slept on the street. He told me with a giggle that in those months of his life, he'd only find a shower every three or four days.
I am a woman who doesn't sweat much and lives in a rain zone. I shower that much only if I'm exceptionally dirty.
The rest of his story I don't have yet. I know somehow he earned a scholarship to study English in the United States, and has been here at least eight years. He has fallen for punk music and can afford a storage closet, where he keeps a guitar and memorabilia from Mexico. He works sixty hours a week as a bartender at a Mexican restaurant and a taco restaurant in one of the wealthiest neighborhood of Portland, where they hired him for his smile. He's taking accounting classes at the local college in the mornings.
Once, he was arrested, detained for being undocumented, and threatened with torture if he didn't sign his deportation order. He was released when he refused to sign, saying such a threat violated his human rights.
In his spare time, he pursues women, plays video games and soccer, and dances (his words). He says he doesn't have enough money to visit family in Mexico, or to go on vacation, or take women on the sorts of dates he'd like to, but he finds money for shoes.
Now, within reason, he can have all the shoes he wants. And he stores them in a (used) dark green convertible, which he bought and touched-up himself.
And he can also afford to sit with me at a cafe, watching the World Cup, heating my privilege and fate-of-birth to boiling point with every discrepancy between his story and mine.
My parents bought me a surfboard.
His parents couldn't buy him shoes.
My parents bought me a car.
He obtained for himself a rag wet with spit and a few dented multicolored juggling balls to entertain passing drivers for a few pesos.
And now he buys tea for me. Behind every tea, you can find the pearly gates and an atom bomb.
I still believe the human race is asphyxiating itself with habits like watching global sports on flat screen TVs, video games, shoe-buying. I still praise my bike over all other material possessions.
I would never trade his life for mine, but I believe his footprints sink deeper into soft heaven.