Late autumn had arrived. The Crimson King maple's burst of red and the sun-kissed yellow of the quaking aspens had long turned brown and blown away. It was a gray time when our bodies fold and curl under like the nobbled cane of Old Man Winter himself. 'Twas then I saw them — those strange and hideous hybrids. What evil boat from China had brought them, this wedge/sport, Jekyll/Hyde, town-dwelling, dwarf sneaker subspecies? The boat must have been big, because it seemed that within a few weeks you couldn't bend down to pick up a fallen hanky without having wedge-clad cloven hooves clatter by.
Outside of Napoleon, Tom Cruise and a handful of short, sporty people, surely these abominations could attract only the 45-to-65 crowd. You can imagine one patron, in skinny jeans and cashmere hoodie, cruising down the byways in a sporty 1 mpg forest-green SUV because "it makes me feel so safe and powerful on the road."
But when I saw our Italian neighbors' gorgeous 17-year-old daughter wearing them, I could not rest. Immediately I closed the door on my screaming children to embark upon some world-changing, investigative shopping.
An intense 90 minutes confirmed my worst fear: The next generation had probably a 90 percent infection rate. Nike, Marc Jacobs, Topshop — like a new strain of an old avian virus that no amount of anti-bacterial hand-washing can stop, the dwarf-pump was everywhere. Were there rats on that shoe-stuffed ship? Quarantine was no longer possible.
Suffer the children. A toddler size 11 was even available from Ash, a "very cutting-edge, Franco-Italian brand," as I very much needed to be informed. Delightful. My 3-year-old can wear them for Halloween, since surely he will want to dress as a latter-day Truman Capote. But then, at 135 greenbacks, I figured those preschooler squeals of delight would have to be uttered by some oh-so-lucky celebrity scion. Mercifully, there is a Target version for a more modest $24.99.
Those tiny toe-holders turned out to be freebies compared to the pricey adult sizes. Of course, I had to try a pair, not just to maintain my journalistic integrity, but also to perhaps unlock the mystery of their success. I had been close-minded. Perhaps they are divinely comfortable, filled with cotton candy and shvitzing a therapeutic, mood-enhancing aroma with every sylph-like step. Just the same, I felt a little guilty asking the gal to go get my size, knowing I was just a thrill-seeking shopper with a chip — or wedge, as it were — on my shoulder. But she was young, paid and wore a pair of sensible flats.
She handed me the box. The business of readying the shoe for the wearer had a distinctly Louis XIV flavor. There was the un-Velcro-ing of the three Velcro strips, followed by the whir of much unlacing, followed by the de-stuffing of the royal tissue paper wads. But at last, with a mixture of excitement and slight terror, the shoe and I were ready. Down, down, down went my foot before the "klonk" of my squished toes ending their dizzying fall.
Immediately I recognized an old enemy — the high heel — though it had cleverly disguised itself with a corset. A first try left my ankles bloated and puffy, looking very hungover. Leaning against the wall, the young sales person shifted her weight from one comfortable sole to the other and tsk-tsk-ed me. She kindly explained that I was actually wearing a high heel that had been cleverly disguised as a hybrid, sports/wedge objet with shiny bits of stuff stuck all over it as well as netting and bunches of Velcro and laces, the assembling of which required unprecedented technological advancements in manufacturing generally performed by young hands (again, suffer the children) in airless factories located throughout the Asian subcontinent. A flurry of cacophonous Velcro rips and taxing lace tightening left me breathless. But like a freshly minted Frankenstein, I rose up — and I mean up — letting one heavy tread fall after the next. Once this fashion's 15 minutes are over, these could have a whole new shelf life with the orthopedic rehabilitation community.
Interestingly, all these shoes have names. The wedge high-top nomenclature runs brief and guttural, with style names like "Beckett" and "Kisha." Perhaps it's normal. Homo sapiens tend to classify everything from trees (Crimson King maple) to lipstick (Breakfast Kisses, which was pale pink, by the way). So I dare say that's why all clothes seem to get names nowadays as well. But these well-intentioned classifications ultimately confuse me as to how I should put together my outfits — color, pattern, genus? For instance, there was a Thelma sport wedge sneaker. Should I wear that with my Louise dress even if the Thelmas are a green neon and Louise is a grey houndstooth flannel? Can one dare to wear a Tippi sweater while watching a Hitchcock film? Should I alphabetize my closet sartorial item by blessed sartorial item?
But the most profound question remains. How many months before women tire of this trend and put their shoes on a slow boat to China destined for a landfill? I'd better put on my Flora shrug and think about it.