[Ben: I couldn’t decide what to do here, so I brought in an old friend to make the decision for me – and turn this contest into a bit of a poetic comedy at the same time.]
So Ben IMs me at work and asks me to judge a shoe contest. This is the first time he’s contacted me directly in months. I really know that what he means to say is “I have to leave for someplace important. I picked a boring idea for a post. I know you’re good for at least one insulting rant per day. Would you like to piss off my readership while I spend 20 precious minutes offline, packing and planning?” I say “sure” (it’s not like I was earning a salary working for a legitimate employer and contributing meaningfully to the economic ecosystem, right?) and he sends me the password to his website, asking me to — and I’m gonna quote him, here — “keep it clean”.
So here I sit, with the keys to the kingdom in my sweaty fist and a captive audience of all 12 of Ben’s regular readers (hey Collins family!), my shaky sense of morality the only thing keeping my tongue in check. Judge a shoe contest? He’s gotta be kidding.
I mean, let’s be honest. Do any of you actually need new shoes? You’re triathletes, right? In my universe, there are three groups that people tend to fall under:
- People who have money.
- People who have time.
- People who have nothing.
The majority of the world’s population falls firmly into group #3. For the rest of us, we find ourselves trying to strike a healthy balance between #1 and #2, although, if we live in the West, it’s fairly typical that we spend all the cash we earn as members of group #1 on crap we don’t need, putting us deep into debt (see group #3) and requiring us to slave away for the man until the useful years of our lives are little more than the wispy tendrils of our long-dead dreams (cheating us out of membership in group #2).
But you’re special. You’re triathletes.
Triathletes have both money and time, by definition. I mean, you all participate in a sport that demands that you buy the specialized gear of three different sports, and you spend an inordinate amount of time and energy pursuing this silly enterprise (you’re reading a blog about another lifeless triathlete just like you, for Pete’s sake… only on the internet could such navel gazing be considered anything other than perversely narcissistic). You are, economically speaking, the lucky ones, and this is reflected in your hobby.
So, you’re winning the game of life and you’re still asking for a handout?
If you need a new pair of shoes so badly, why don’t you just fish around in the back of your Escalade or Honda Element for some spare change (you know, those silly little $20 bills your kids use to pad their bras before heading out to the upscale mall to catch a $50 movie and shop for diamond-encrusted cell phone cases with Japanese anime prints) and buy a pair?
Surely there are people more deserving of a new pair of shoes than a pile of overpaid, underworked, chest-thumping alpha dogs. Aren’t there poor kids out there who could do better with these shoes than treat them like crap for 6 straight weekends, then leave them in the foyer for the help to dispose of once they’ve seen a speckle of mud? Does nobody here know an inner city kid with an overabundance of talent and a painful lack of resources?
Neither do I.
In that case, let’s give some rich white folks some free shit!
Entry #1: Nice try Loren, but the Barbies do nothing for me. I like my ladies full-figured and immodest. It’s also hard to avoid the obvious fact that these shoes are brand new. If I had to don my Sherlock Holmes hat and cloak, I would be forced to conclude that the owner of these shoes is an obese shut-in pretending to be a triathlete. He blogs a lot, and I bet he whines. He most likely burned more calories installing those hideous race laces (time saver my ass) than he ever did actually using the shoes.
Nevertheless, had the booze been hand-delivered, you would all be looking at the winning entry.
Entry #2: Shocking. Loud. Appallingly bright.
And I’m not talking about stockings and shoes.
The shoes and accessories are clearly a desperate attempt to stand out from the crowd, but I maintain that they are totally unnecessary. In fact, the stockings are actively hiding what is, perhaps, this person’s most defining characteristic: Sickeningly pale skin.
I mean, I’ve seen cave salamanders with a deeper tan.
If you think about it for just a second, how often would you be able to conclude the heritage of a person, given only a photo of the lower half of their knee? I’m not an anthropologist, but the owner of these shoes is clearly (get it?!) descended from the same pack of sun-fearing northern Europeans that gave us red hair, hemophilia, and curiously upturned noses.
Oh yeah, and the shoes look practically new. Next.
Entry #3: Finally, a viable entry! And, in a vain attempt to score brownie points, this entrant opted to pose the shoes on that symbol of rich hippie oneupmanship: the homemade compost bin.
What I like the most about this pair is how over-the-top abused they are. These are the unwashed-orphan-with-a-black-eye of shoes. Let this be a lesson to the rest of you. If you’re gonna go panhandling outside a Starbucks, you don’t wanna show up with nicely combed hair, a perfumed neck, and bedecked in khakis and a stylish polo. You’d have to play up your poverty if you ever want to wrangle those quarters from a tight-fisted suburbanite (who, incidentally, spends more money on overpriced coffee in a given year than they do on taxes, but do they bitch about the high price of coffee??).
In the world of charity and begging, pity is your leverage. These shoes are pitiful. I like that.
Entry #4: These are dirtier, which is a welcome change from the opulence of the first two and the relative cleanliness of the last one. But, aside from the fact that they look as though they were gingerly dipped toe first into pig manure, they don’t look particularly well-worn. A trip through the washing machine (or 10 minutes with a decent hose) and these shoes would look new. You people can do better than this.
Entry #5: Ok, we have another person who understands the value of the sales pitch, here. These shoes are the equivalent of the whimpering street kid standing in the rain, begging you for a bite to eat or maybe a dollar or two, if you please. His face is a little smudged with dirt, and his hair looks a tad ratty. He’s cute and ragged and vulnerable.
But he hasn’t quite got it down, yet. Something’s not right with this picture. The glint of gold on the kid’s wrist hints at a watch priced above his apparent pay grade. That’s when you realize that the little shit is a scam artist, and your once-softened heart slams shut almost as hard as the front door in his dirty little face.
Nice try, but come back when you actually need some new shoes.
Entry #6: Dammit, people. This is not a contest to award new shoes to the person with the nicest shoes. Ben is trying to feel charitable by giving something of modest value (that he received for free) to someone he deems deserving. That means that you have to at least pretend like your shoes are crap, and that he would be doing you a favor by giving you new ones.
I get the sinking sensation that some of you people would stand in line at the food bank, eating foie gras and caviar from a hand-carved artisan lunch pail while bitching about how hard it is to survive in this down economy on only $20,000 per week.
Entry #7: Paydirt. Literally. Entry #5 can learn a thing or two from this pair of shoes. Anybody can look miserable and soggy in the rain, but by taking these shoes out of their natural, filthy element and transporting them to a reasonably clean backdrop, this entry achieves a little something called contrast.
And these shoes aren’t just superficially dirty, either. The toe box and laces show off that well-worn grey, like the collar of an indigent regular at the Union Gospel Mission. These shoes cry, in an modest voice, “I’ve had better times.”
But, if I was ladling out the soup and assigning beds, I’d still tell this guy he can only stay for one night. His posture is too straight. His hands are strong and agile. He may be dirty, but he can still do an honest day’s work. These shoes have more life in them, so I’ll check my charity with counsel and move on to a more deserving candidate.
Entry #8: Bingo. I think we have a winner. While not as obviously abused as entry #3, these shoes embody the ideal of a tool that’s served its master well. Their lack of style speaks to their advancing years, and, while they haven’t aged with the grace of, say, Courteney Cox, they seem to have retained their workhorse image. Grey, lightly tattered, and crushed at the heel, these guys are broken, but fight on. They prompt the proper mix of pity and respect.
These shoes deserve to retire with dignity.
Entry #9: Oh please. We’re not here to subsidize your bad taste. So you bought not one, but two pairs of crappy shoes and, despite the fact that they show only light wear (and, let’s be honest, terrible craftsmanship), you want us to reward your idiocy with… more shoes?
Entry #10: C’mon! Those laces are WHITE. One wet run doesn’t warrant new shoes. Wipe that dirt off and go run.
I think I’ve seen enough. It was a tight race between #3, #7, and #8, but the wizened old gaffers of #8 take first place. Ben will handle the distribution of prizes. I’ll go back to pretending to work.
Congratulations to #8. The rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves.
[Ben: The winner was Lee Drury – nice job. Figure out what flag or color you’d like – I’ll be in touch. . . ]