Take a walk in my shoes.
My shoes are beat-to-shit HOKA Clifton 2s, and they are taking you down the steps of the Nostrand Avenue stop for the A and C trains in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. In my shoes you walk hurriedly, finding a spot to stand and wait, slightly concealed behind a supportive beam. My shoes are standing in a puddle of what might be piss, but you don’t care. They don’t care. It’s better than being seen.
Because atop my shoes, and around your legs, is a pair of slim-fitting, reasonably fashionable (in almost any other scenario) black jeans. What covers your torso is irrelevant. Because as you board the crowded train toward the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop, earbuds blaring something you’re not even paying attention to, your eyes are glued down at what’s going on at the confluence of foot and leg.
Deep down, you know you’re just being practical. That you’re even being considerate by not bringing a bulky backpack with a change of running clothes on the subway. But you also know that nobody else knows this, and since you are in my shoes, you live life in a state of perpetual self-consciousness. The fact that when you get to your buddy’s place in Greenpoint, you’ll shake off your jeans to reveal a modestly-cut pair of running shorts, then head out the door for a perfectly reasonable jog, means nothing to you right now.
You survive the five or so minutes (you got lucky and at least caught the express train) until you transfer over to the G. Then you have a another 20 minute ride in a car full of teens who might—but almost definitely won’t—make fun of my shoes (which you’re wearing, remember), and by extension, you.
Are you a bit of a narcissist in assuming that your not-that-weird-especially-in-this-city look is worthy of being mocked by the cruel masses? Absolutely. But your feelings are no less valid for your character flaw. And need I remind you, you are wearing extremely tattered and filthy, jogging shoes, ample in cushioning, along with the jeans you wore to work (at that point still paired with Vans or something cooler)?
You get off at the Manhattan Avenue stop having avoided any run-ins with hecklers, and walk up the steps to street level. My shoes feel good on your feet as you walk in them, so good in fact, that they hasten their pace. You’re jogging now. You don’t have far to go to your pal’s apartment. So you pick it up even more, in full flight in your be-jeaned splendor. And you cease to care.
Maybe the precious minutes saved by social-commute-jogging will enable you and your buddy to catch the last bit of happy hour or secure a half-priced burrito after your run. Or maybe it’s less tangible than that. Maybe for a moment you are free. Just a grown ass man running in jeans in a neighborhood where presentation matters. That’s liberating.
And while my shoes know (and probably hope) that you won’t be wearing them every time you leave the house. They’re ready to be taken for a spin when you’re ready to lean into your inner-schlub and favor function over form for a change.