Golden hair so fine
Lady Cortez on your feet
Taken by sunset
Oh Farrah, we love you.
And we miss you.
But this blog isn't about you. It's about the shoes you're wearing. That pair of Lady Cortez, nylon with suede trim.
Wait, what's that Farrah? Why do I want to talk about your shoes? Why don't I want to talk about you? I will talk about you Farrah, in another blog. I promise. But right now I'm talking about your sneakers.
"But Chris," Farrah asks, "why do you want to talk about my feet? Do you have a foot fetish?"
"Well," I say, "I wouldn't exactly call it a fetish..."
"A thing for women's feet?"
"Well, if anything, men's feet..."
"What's the difference?"
"Night and day."
"But a foot is a foot. You know, like, toes, an arch, the heel...the ball..."
"Farrah, we're getting off track. Why don't you study this chart and we'll talk later?"
"Fine. Be that way. I have a hair appointment anyway."
"Dont' be mad Farrah--"
But Farrah's gone, to that great beauty parlor in the sky.
However, Maria Pecorino was no goody-two-shoes. And it was Maria Pecorino who delivered some extremely immediate life lessons to me. I think she was put in my life for just that reason. To teach me some lessons. But our lives over-lapped. Maybe I taught her some things too. What they might've been escapes me; but it's possible.
Kids can be mean. Shit, they can be downright sadistic.
When Maria first arrived in our class, she was the "new kid." Actually, she was our first "new kid." I think we all know that the welcome wagon isn't generally wheeled out or the red carpet unfurled when kids encounter a new (read: strange) kid. The New Kid usually has to go through some kind of hazing or shunning before being let into the status quo, elementary school social-strata. Maria got raked over the coals for being from East Boston. She was a dirty city kid. Why didn't she go back to her smoke stacks and concrete wasteland? I actually said that to her; the part about the smoke stacks. Maybe I wouldn't have said anything at all if I'd known at that time that my own mother had lived there when she was a little girl. Or that I would be the New Kid at my high school in East Boston and be the initial object of scorn. I still feel ashamed of myself over that. Actually, I did at the time. But the other kids were doing it, and I wanted to fit in. However, Maria leveled the playing field a few years later.
I don't recall what was said or exactly why what happened, happened; but Maria went first and when she raised up from the fountain, she stared me in the face and then full-on slapped me across it. Hard. It was the kind of blow that could've gotten her expelled. It was a true bitch slap. But I didn't say anything. Nobody seemed to witness the event. I returned to my desk and sat with the burning sting for the rest of the afternoon. Was it her answer for me, when two years earlier I had asked her why she didn't just go back to the dirty city?
That is a pair, of course, of the classic Nike Cortez shoe, first introduced in 1972. I didn't gaze on it until 1978 when Maria strutted down the hallway. The shoe, in white with red and royal blue trim was officially deemed "The Disco Nike." So, if you wore them, you were "Disco." I loved disco; but I also loved a lot of other musical genres. The shoe spoke more to my aesthetic tastes than my musical ones. I don't know what it was about them. They were some kind of perfect storm of design, fashion and culture. I must've not been alone in my love of these kicks, 'cuz if ever there was a cult around a certain shoe: the Cortez cult was it. They cost $40.00 in 1978. That's like $170 dollars in today's money. Which is kind of shocking. How I was able to acquire a pair, in retrospect, seems miraculous. I reeeeeaaaallly wanted those shoes and must've struck a bargain with the devil to get them. I mean, we weren't poor; but we didn't have that kind of money to throw around on sneakers. But I got them and I was kind of obsessed with them. I remember ritualistically cleaning them with saddle soap once a week.
What you wore on your feet at school was of the utmost importance. No, it was more than that. What you wore on your feet could make or break you, socially. I can remember agonizing over certain shoe choices, including the Cortez. Did I want to officially be identified as "disco?" Disco Chris. Disco Chrisco. Go Disco Chrisco Go! I remember the first song I danced to in public. It was "Le Freak" by Chic. Karen Champalillo pulled me onto the floor and showed me the moves.
Here's another moment when Maria set me straight (so to speak). And it's another moment of shame. One I'm not proud of. And one I've never forgotten. So, I will share it with you. We were in the same homeroom. Our desks were next to one another. Since we had gone down decidedly different social paths since grammar school, we didn't really talk. But one day we did. Maria told me I had "perfect" eyebrows. I thanked her. You see, Maria knew about eyebrows. She had a pair that would've made Brooke Shields look over-plucked. Maria's were thick and lustrous and meticulously groomed. I had never given a second thought to my eyebrows. It just wasn't something boys thought about back then. Not even gay boys (unless you had a unibrow, which some girl would inevitably try and vanquish). I said, "Oh, really? Thanks..." Then she said, "You have really nice lips too..." And then I said something. I remember weighing in my mind whether I should say it or not. Sage advice: if you're having that thought, the answer is always "NO." I grew up in a casually racist environment. There were no black people in my class. I don't know if I said this because I wanted to seem "cool" or that it would give me some street cred; and I knew it was wrong even before it was coming out of my mouth. "I have N-word lips." But I used the actual word. An unexpected aggregate of micro-emotions passed over her blank face. She sat back in her chair. I tried to back-pedal: "Well, someone said that to me once--"
"I think black people have beautiful lips." And then she cast her gaze elsewhere. The conversation was over. And I had been schooled once again. The thing is, the sad and ironic thing, is that I wasn't really racist. Not in my core, anyways. I had been bitch slapped again. And deserved it again.
In ninth grade, I found myself next to Maria in a study class. She had a Trapper Keeper. It was green.
"What's a rhythm stick?" I asked.
"It's from a song."
"'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.'"
"Who sings that?"
"Ian Dury and the Blockheads."
"What else do they sing?"
"Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3."
"I don't know that--"
"Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll?"
"That I've heard."
She shook her head. Clearly Maria had some eclectic and sophisticated musical tastes. In a way, this was another lesson, because I sought out the songs.
My mother worked at a department store that was a small Northeastern chain. Caldor. Caldor was kind of like a cross between Woolworth's and Sears.
And then, many more years later, Maria married a guy from my high school class. I mean, what are the odds of that? There were only about 90 guys in my whole class.
When my sister and her kids came to visit the States some time ago, my nephew, Jack (who was around seven or so) wanted to go to "Hungry Jacks," which is what they call Burger King down-under. While we were there, we were at a table in the front of the dining room, the order counter behind us. Now, the building had four entrances, one on each corner. You'd think someone coming to get food would go in to the place through one of the doors closest to the counter. Right?
So, we're sitting there, eating our burgers and a woman comes striding up towards the door which we were right next to. I was facing the door. Guess who it was. Maria Pecorino. It was like the Universe marched her right up to our table. We were adults now. Pleasantries and brief chit-chat were exchanged. Warm smiles, sincere ones, were given on both sides. I was happy to see that Maria's eyebrows were as magnificent as ever.
I wonder if Maria still has her Disco Nikes. I do. Not my first pair. But the pair I bought right after Forrest Gump came out and Nike brought the shoe back. Again, I had to have them. And I paid full price. Again, I couldn't really afford them. I blame Tom Hanks. Oh no Chris, not Tom Hanks again! Yes, damn it. Tom Hanks.
I wonder if Tom and Maria have ever met?
So, what's our take-away here? Well, we opened with a haiku, so let's close with an aphorism:
"Do not judge someone until you have danced in their Disco Nikes."
Sounds like sage advice to me.