Tennis Shoe Thomas


“They’re nice, don’t get me wrong,” a kid named Thomas said of the shoes I wore, “but why do you insist on wearing tennis shoes?”

Thomas was the only son of my dad’s friend, and his question came so soon in our introduction that it was almost a part of his greeting. He said the word tennis shoes with such disgust that I felt like a second-class citizen in them, before I knew what a second-class citizen was.  His question was framed in a manner that suggested he had known me for years, but this was the first time we met. His question also laid a depth charge that would detonate throughout the course of this evening in the form of a theme: There was something I had missed out in this whole definition of the pre-teen years, and in the preparation for the life beyond.

imagesThis kid’s confidence was difficult to mirror, and I didn’t.  I was caught off guard.  Had I been better prepared for his assessments, I would’ve mentioned the fact that I had no say in the matter.  I didn’t pick these shoes out, and I’d never given much consideration to preferences. I was a kid, my parents bought me tennis shoes, and I wore them. Second, I didn’t place much focus on what other kids wore, and I didn’t think anyone else our age did either.  That would’ve been wrong, of course, for there was always a “cool factor” to the shoes one wore.  The idea that tennis shoes were now deemed uncool as to be a tired element of the kid ensemble, however, had never occurred to me, or anyone else I knew for that matter.

It wouldn’t be the first time that my identity would be challenged, nor would it be the last, but this kid did a masterful job of placing me in a state of flux.  As soon as I formulated some half-hearted answer to one of these questions I had never been asked before, he was onto something else.  The purport of our conversation was that he had little time for me, because I was a kid, and even though I was only one year younger than him he preferred speaking to adults.

I took it as a personal insult that he preferred to speak to my parents, and that he gave the impression that my parents were more his speed, until my parents asked him how he was doing. I can’t remember the exact question my parents asked him, but it did not divert much from the typical “How do you like school?”  “Do you have a girlfriend?” questions adults ask pre-teen kids.  The typical response to such a question, we learn from our cool contemporaries, is to be polite but dismissive, with a heavy dose of the latter.

Not only was this kid respectful, he appeared to prefer the company of my parents before knowing anything about them. He also appeared to want to have them approve of him. It was so out of the realm of my experience that I was fascinated, after I determined that this kid was in full control of his facilities. His answer to my parents’ typical question consisted of a verbal flowchart of his path for life, built on various contingencies that he could not foresee at that point. It was impressive in a cute kind of way that suggested that his whole life had been geared toward getting his father to muss up his hair with pride. The tennis shoe question became clearer in that light. I thought he was trying to impress my parents to impress his all the more. Until, that is, he commented on my hairdo.

“That bangs thang isn’t working for you anymore,” he said after his mother all but shoved him out of the room. There were no adults around when he said that. He was the first boy I recalled meeting that had a hairdo. As I said, he was one year older than me, and I wondered if this kid was emblematic of what I’d be facing in a year.  He also had a girlfriend.

The girlfriend thang damaged the whole profile I had been building on him. I had been planning to tell all my friends about him, so we could laugh at this kid, and they could help me believe that he was the aberration that I thought he was. I knew the girlfriend thang would damage that presentation, for in the pre-teen world, having a girlfriend nullifies all prior deficits of character, unless he cherishes her.

If a kid our age was lucky enough to have a girlfriend, he was to be dismissive of her.  She was to be a fait accompli.  No one wanted to hear about the process you had to go through to get her, and those revelations often did more harm than good.  Her role in a young boy’s life, was one of adornment.  She should be nothing more than a badge of prestige that that boy wore on his sleeve.  Saying one had a girlfriend was more important than actually having one, in other words.  This Thomas kid loved having one.  He cherished her, a fact made evident by the fact that he enshrined her love letters in a central location, on a dresser, in his impeccably clean bedroom.

“She must really have it bad for you,” I said, looking at the size of that stack of letters.

A dismissive “yeah” may have been called for at this point to keep it cool between the fellas, but this Thomas kid didn’t say anything of the sort.  He said those letters were mostly responses to his love letters, and his plans with her. He informed me that the two of them were in love. He said he thought about her all the time, and he had a smile on his face when he said that, that my Great Aunt Mary Louise would’ve considered sweet.  He talked about the fact that he wanted her to be his wife one day.  He said that most of his letters detailed those long-term goals, and her letters were a positive response to that.  If that day never happened, he said in response to whatever doubts he perceived from me, he informed me that he would be just as happy with one kiss from her.

He had a deeper voice that he reserved for conversations with adults, a voice I presumed was an affectation he had developed to garner more respect from them.

“I prefer Thomas,” he said when I asked him if he went by Tom or Tommy. “My birth certificate says Thomas,” he said when I asked him what the fellas at school called him. “So, I prefer Thomas.

After his mother had all but physically pushed him out of the living room “So, the adults could talk”, and he was forced to play with me, he informed me that he did not want to play with his Atari 2600.  He then shot me a glance that suggested that I shouldn’t be so reliant on it for my entertainment purposes.

Thomas was such a violation of everything I held dear that I couldn’t tell if he had something I had missed out on, or if he was stuck in the same quadrant of self-defined cool that all the nerds in my class were.  This Thomas kid’s violations of everything I held dear went deeper than the nerdiest nerd in my class however.  He basically stated that he thought it sucked to be a kid.

Kids I knew hated being subjected to authority, going to school, eating vegetables, and some semblance of the idea that we weren’t older, but this kid hated everything about being a kid, even the good stuff.  This kid envied maturity, and the greater responsibilities that come from being older, and the whole idea of being older.  In me, I thought he saw all the trappings of being a kid, trappings that consisted of wanting to play, laugh and have fun.

I never saw Thomas after that day, so I have no idea if one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, but we spent most of that evening discussing how much Thomas had going on, and how much I’d missed out on by being such a kid.  My guess, now that I’m old enough to reflect on the people that shaped my life, both large and small, is that Thomas suffered from a debilitating case of only child syndrome.  My guess is that the reason the two of us focused on how much I missed out on was, in part, a defense mechanism he had developed to prevent us from focusing on how much he had missed out on.  My guess is that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, when fools, like me, may have been able to teach him how fun it was to be foolish at times, in these ever dwindling years in which it’s acceptable to be foolish. My guess is that he got so wrapped up in his solitude that he forced others out before they could approach his door.  My guess is that I was the reason that our family was invited over to their house, based on the need Thomas’ parents thought Thomas had for another kid to teach him there was another way of conducting one’s self as a child, a way other than the one his parents had taught him.  My guess, not knowing how Thomas’ life panned out, is that soon after one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, and he addressed all of the variables that he couldn’t foresee as a kid, he began wearing tennis shoes, playing Atari 2600, or whatever game system he had, to the point of immaturity, and that he began chasing all the youth he missed out on in his pursuit of responsibility, maturity, and greater impressions.

Scat Mask Replica (20)


1)  I never noticed how profoundly TV affects the culture, until I stopped watching it as often. I now hear people repeating common phrases I’ve never heard before. I hear people laughing at the same jokes, gesticulating and posturing in similar ways when they tell jokes, and they may start laughing at jokes others tell before the joke is even finished. They seem to know the same stories and the same jokes. They seem to have the same rhythm to their jokes, and they all land on the same note when they hit their punch line. It gives us all comfort to hear a story or a joke that we know, and to know where it’s headed. Our brain rewards us with a shot of dopamine when we figure out the pattern of a story, joke, or song before it’s concluded. Dopamine makes us feel good for a moment, so we all watch the same TV shows and listen to the same songs over and over again, because we know where they’re headed, and we hang out with people who say “okay, right” and tell the same jokes in the same manner and land on the punch line in the same note, because they make us feel intelligent and funny and we get our dopamine rewards, and we couldn’t do it without them, because we are the complex species who need companionship.

trout2) Movie studios spend big money to put attractive people in movie roles, and we pay big money to watch them walk and talk with one another on screen. It’s not about being gorgeous, however, because audiences often spend time trying to spot the flaws in the flawless. Those who appear on screens most often have a quality about them that we enjoy watching for 90 minutes. Part of this quality is beauty, but another part of it is that elusive, indefinable “I don’t know, but I know it when I see it” quality.

3) As a ten year old, I was able to fool most of the adults most of the time. I played the role of the innocent child who didn’t know any better. More often than not, I did know better. My peers knew that, but the adults were bent on understanding me better and being sympathetic. My fellow ten-year-olds would scoff in my general direction. We adults should be scoffing, but we don’t. We don’t because we want to be viewed as intelligent and sympathetic individuals. We want to understand criminals, but more than that we want to be seen as individuals who are trying to understand. We don’t want to believe in absolutes. We say there are no absolutes, and this makes us feel like our structures are complex. Maybe there aren’t any absolute 100% truths, but isn’t a truth that is true 50.1% of the time enough to act on? The ten-year-old mind deals more in absolutes than the progressive, complex mind of the adult, but there are times when the absolutes are a lot closer to the truth.

4) I had a friend who described himself as “very sincere some of the times.” How can one be “very sincere” some of the times? I can see how a person would be very sincere about some things and insincere about others, but how can one characterize themselves as very sincere some of the times in a general manner?

5) There is a struggle in every mind to be intellectual. There is also a resultant struggle to be perceived as an intellectual. Unfortunately, many forego the internal struggle of the latter and place too much value in the latter.

6) I’m toilet trained, but every once in a while I imagine what I would look like if I suckled breasts as big as mountains. Would I have crooked teeth and mongoloid eyes?

7) Some people complain that they have no choice in life. This is a fallacy, for the most part, but they lean on this to explain why they are not doing what they want to do in life. If it is true, in the present, the only reason they have no choice is because of the decisions they made in the past. This is true of most people, and you are not an exception to this rule.

8) Relaxing the mind during the respites of relaxation reserved for artistic venues (i.e. movies) can produce a Chinese water torture effect. What starts out as meaningless drips hitting your forehead can incrementally evolve into accepting ideas that we would not otherwise consider.

9) I’ve tried being one of those guys that changed his underwear every day. It never got me anywhere.

10) If all theory is based on autobiography, then what does it say about those who pose theories on why and how people think. On that note, what’s the most terrifying motive for slaughtering a bunch of people: nothing. We search for motive, because we need a motive, and the thought that a person could do kill people for the thrill of the kill might prevent us from leaving the home as often as we do.

11) I walk into a department store and I see aisles upon aisles of things I’ll never need, yet some of them are red and sparkly. I wonder if these products could change my life. What will happen if I don’t purchase this latest, greatest, and top of the line product that has resulted in happiness and peace on earth for those who weren’t afraid to purchase now at a new, low price. Would my stubborn decision not to purchase such products result in me being forever portrayed in black and white, with a miserable face that results in complete anguish and a degree of dissatisfaction in life that the rest of the human species was in before they decided to indulge in this incredible convenience. I need to be in color again. I need to be the guy in the after picture with a smile so bright he doesn’t mind the backbreaking work of this task anymore. This guy in black and white suggests a certain nutrient depletion that I simply can’t go back to. Look at the scowls that guy makes as he works with the product that has served me well for so many years. Was I ever that miserable? I don’t want to be miserable anymore. Look at that guy. He looks like the most miserable guy since that feller that had his chest picked at by the bird in Greek mythology.

12) Pet peeve: People who quote Hollywood stars and give that star sole credit for that quote. “You know it’s like Jack Nicholson says …” If that quote came from a movie, I want to say, it’s likely that quote wasn’t a Nicholson creation. More often than not, it was a line a screenwriter wrote for him. The primary reason this bothers me –other than the fact that few put any effort into finding the actual writer of that quote, and even fewer will give that writer the credit he has earned– is that when a naïve, moronic star (not Nicholson) says something political, we listen. Why do we listen to them, because if that star is smart enough, or lucky enough, or in the right place at the right time often enough, he can compile enough lines over time to achieve a certain degree of credibility with us that he can take off screen with him. After they deliver enough of these lines, over the years in movies and TV, our conditioning might be such that we believe that these stars are smart based on lines written for them by other people.

13) Some people look at total strangers and think they’re total idiots. Others look at total strangers and think they have life all figured out. I got a little secret for you though. Something that may change your life: Most of us aren’t looking back at you. Most of us don’t care about you. So move on. Live your life and deal with it as it is. Quit worrying if anyone’s impressed with you or onto you. We don’t care about you.

14) One of the worst things Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David brought to the American conversation is the hygienic conversation. I heard these conversations sporadically before Seinfeld hit the air, but in the aftermath of the great show it seems every fifth conversation I hear involves the minutiae of cleanliness. People now proudly proclaim to their friends that they not only wash their hands, but they use the paper towel to open the door. “Oh, I know it!” their listener proclaims proudly. “It’s gross!” I have no problem with exaggerated methods of cleanliness, but to have non-stop conversations about it? Last week, I saw two fellas form a friendship on the basis that they both used disposable paper towels to open public bathroom doors. They both respected one another’s bathroom ethics, and they are now friends. It’s all a little silly at some point.

15) Another aspect of life we waste a lot of conversational time on is cell phones. We talk about our cell phone plans in a competitive manner. We talk about the ‘Gigs’ on our cell phone, the time it takes us to pull information off the web, the portability, the horrors of our prior plan, the ease with which we can text, and the apps our service offers, and we do it all with personal pride. We tell our peers that our phones are superior, as if we had something to do with their creation. We may not know where we stand on the various totem poles of life, and we may still have no idea what Nietzsche was going on about, but we know that our cell phone is superior to yours, and some of the times that’s enough.

16) Talking head types love to be unconventional as long as it ticks off the right people. I’ve always thought there was something conventionally unconventional about that.

17) I’ve always wanted to have a name like Bert Hanratty. When I do something wrong, my boss could scream: “Hanratty!” I would then walk to the boss’s desk like a 70’s sitcom star who is always messing things up in a comical way. My current name last name has two syllables in it, and there’s nothing funny about two syllables.

18) The anti-religious don’t have to think objectively, for they are objectivity personified by the fact that they are objectively objective.

19) What would you do if you scratched an itch on the back of your neck, and your hand came back with a tiny screaming alien on it? What would you do if another alien was perched on your other shoulder, and that alien said: “Quit living your life in preparation of disaster.”

20) The other day I laughed at the antics of our local radio show’s morning program. Scared the hell out of me. I ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, and I confirmed that I was, in fact, laughing. I cannot remember what it was that caused the laughter, but whatever it was I hurried up and shut the damn thing off. I picked up Finnegans Wake and read a few pages. This is my usual punishment for enjoying the idiotic humor of zany morning radio stars.