Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pointing the way

I bought a new pair of hiking boots for my trip to Yosemite, but the process wasn't exactly smooth sailing. I took back four pairs before settling on a fifth, which I bought in desperation—we were leaving the next day. On the trip, those boots caused me so much pain that at one point I had to walk barefoot: my toes felt like they were being stung by mud wasps. By the third day of hiking, with new socks, I finally broke them in. Still I'll need to buy another pair if I'm ever to go hiking again.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with shoes. I'm a Pisces after all. But come to think of it, what does that have to do with anything?—fish don't have feet.

Once, I made a dance, my first choreographic effort, where I carried a suitcase full of old shoes and laid them out toe-to-heel on stage; I proceeded to dance along the lines of shoes, as shown in the first frame here (until I come to an explosion of emulsifier used in the printing of this contact sheet): 

I also yelled into my shoe (last frame). 

Those shoes seemed significant at the time, i.e., following them would point the way—to a new boyfriend or career, or to my destiny. In retrospect, they didn't point to anything, only to the fact that I had a bunch of old shoes. But at least one person was enthralled with my performance. A strange man with a thick Italian accent called to tell me the "Toronto Italian Businessmen's Association" wanted to present me with an award for best new performer; I thought about it, worried that it was the Mafia calling—who else gave out cash awards to dancers?—and graciously declined. (I often wonder what would have happened if I'd accepted, would I have become rich and famous?...but that's another story.)

When I moved to NYC I bought a pair of expensive ($75, a fortune at the time) pink and purple 6-inch heels because I thought they'd make me attractive to a guy I was dating named Jefferson. I should have known with a name like Jefferson to run the other way, although in those shoes I could hardly walk, least of all run. This is how I remember them:

I never wore those awful shoes, not once. And Jefferson, well, the less said the better....

There were the shoes that made me cry on the cobblestones of Rome; the plastic boots I wore during Toronto winters; the El Naturista shoes (all organic) that nearly killed me. 

It seems whenever I buy shoes, I take them back within the week. In the store they're fine, but once home they're too small, too big, don't support my arches, hurt my feet. I sometimes think that if an FBI agent were following me, he'd pin me for a mule carrying drugs, the way I transfer shoes in such predictable patterns.

My favorite shoes ever were the ones I wore when I was four or five. My mother bought me a pair of red oxfords. I loved those shoes! They were the most beautiful things I'd ever known. I was so proud, trying hard to keep them shiny clean, but soon forgot and scuffed the leather off into dirty strips. I ran those shoes into the ground, and then like all good shoes, they were retired. Here's a facsimile of those beloved shoes:

Maybe there's hope I'll find a good pair of shoes like those early ones.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remembering the Cone Heads of 9/11

It's impossible to get through this week without hearing the cries and screams of the office workers who saw the Towers crashing, those on the ground who witnessed their fall, their breathless running to get away, the confusion, the chaos, the news commentary which was so pitifully meager—but then again, what words could have described what they were seeing? Every time I hear that clip on the radio of the towers falling, my stomach clenches, remembering that morning. 

Tom had gotten up early for work; around 6:15 he was shaking me awake; I called L to turn on the TV and then hung up to watch what was unfolding. As the morning progressed, we listened to news reports that couldn't describe what was happening because there are no words for the unthinkable. I called my friends in NYC but couldn't get through. I woke up my children, unsure if I should take them to school. Time had thickened with the unknown and the shock. 

I drove my son to school without incident but on the way back as I merged onto Eagle Rock Blvd., I saw six men in a foreign car, crammed together, shoulder to shoulder. What caught my attention was that all six men had pointy heads like the Conehead family on Saturday Night Live. I stepped on the gas to see if I could get closer to clarify: six, slightly stooped men wearing hats perhaps, pressed against the roof of their car. But no matter how fast I drove I couldn't keep up with them. They couldn't be cone heads, I reasoned, but I knew instinctively they weren't wearing hats.

Later, I went swimming at the Aquatic Center, keeping my head under water as long as I could to block out the images of planes crashing into towers. The sky was bright blue, nothing was in it. Children were swimming, making loud noises and acting like children do. I swam and swam but I kept hearing the roar of an airplane engine, even under water; I checked above me to see if a plane was near, but there was nothing, nothing in the clear blue sky that day. 

I think for many of us on that Tuesday, and for many days, weeks and months after, we kept looking up.