Someone stole my flip-flops yesterday. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal if they were cheap flip-flops, but they weren’t.
Anyone who knows me would find it hard to believe that I paid $60 for a pair of glorified shower shoes, but I did, once, in a store that has since gone out of business. I’ve always been one for gadgets, and it was the built in bottle opener that won me over. I figured these were the closest to Swiss Army shoes I would ever see, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I recall using the bottle opener only once—on a glass bottle of Diet Coke in a Cracker Barrel parking lot somewhere on a road trip between Memphis and Chicago. I wasn’t thirsty, but I noticed the old-fashioned bottled coke next to the checkout counter after lunch and remembered my bottle opener shoe. I had to try it. I drove the rest of the way to Chicago with a sticky foot. It never occurred to me that I was supposed to remove the shoe before using it.
If the company that made them were to make a commercial for the shoes, I imagine the last thing they would show was a guy opening a diet coke in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. There would probably be a beach and a lot of half-dressed pretty young people jumping around and smiling until someone gets thirsty and to their dismay finds that beverages though they have, bottle openers have they none. It is at this point that some tanned dude would grab his shoe and save the day.
Apparently someone at the beach yesterday needed a bottle opener.
There is a wooden bridge that leads from the gulf-coast condo complex where I am staying to the edge of the beach, up and over the ribbon of highway that disappears into the distance in either direction. At the end of it are any number of flip-flops in every color and design imaginable.
They tell stories, these sandals, about those who wear them. Some are arranged neatly, side by side, the sand brushed off of them, awaiting the return of their OCD owners. Others are strewn haphazardly about, wriggled out of as an afterthought, one a half a pace away from the other. Some are arranged in piles, the smaller atop the larger ones, black and purple, pink and blue, the footwear of an entire family. Some stand off by themselves, alone. They are deposited there by sunbathers and boogie-boarders, children eager to dash beyond the foam and out into the surf, sun-drunk lovers, young and old. I left my pair there—one among the many— confident from my past experiences and my faith in the unwritten social contract that protects umbrellas in lobbies, jackets on seat backs, and sandals on beaches the world over that they would be safe until my return. I wanted to continue my walk with sand between my toes, un-encumbered by my flip-flops. I returned an hour later, my trek along the beach now complete, and they were nowhere to be found.
These were the only ones I brought with me. I’ve checked at the gift shop, the spa, the beach rental stand, and though they sell flip-flops at each of these locations, none of them are for men. I’ve walked the concrete and cobble-stone paths to and from the condo and the beach a half dozen times by now—barefoot—and my feet are beginning to feel tender. But that person who stole my flip-flops, whoever he was, gave me something when he stole those shoes. It has been years since I’ve gone barefoot like this—the heat of sunbaked pavement beneath my feet, the reprieve of the cool grass when I take the shortcuts I didn’t notice were there before I was shoeless. That person, thief though he is, gave me back a little bit of my childhood, when the experiences of the world were less distant and more acute, like a jagged little rock poking your pinky toe.
But I think I may have given him more than a pair of $60 shoes as well. Tomorrow I will continue my search for him—a man poolside, or at the resort restaurant, or making his way toward the beach wearing a pair of well-worn Reefs, size nine and half, scratching his left foot.
I’ve been battling a case of athlete’s foot ever since I bought those darn things.