Monday, August 07, 2006

The Life and Times of the Jesus Sandals

If there is one thing I am good at, it is keeping clothes and footwear for a really long time. In fact—I won’t be modest—I am super good at it. Case in point. My Birkenstock sandals, AKA the Jesus Sandals.* I have had them since 1988! See what I mean by super good?

In all that time I’ve had them resoled only once. This was when I lived in Chicago. I had to pack them up and ship them to Oregon (where else?) because there weren’t any Authorized Birkenstock Repair Centers™ in the Midwest. They came back from their vacation in Oregon looking spiffy and refreshed (who wouldn’t?), almost brand new. And now I need to have the Jesus Sandals resoled again, so that I can keep them forever. I’m serious. I really do want to keep this pair for the rest of my life. According to some lifetime caluculator think I found on somewhere on the Internet, I'm going to live another 50 years (holy shite!), so that would mean that at my death the Jesus Sandals will be 68 years old. Wouldn't it be neat to be cremated in 68-year-old sandals? I think so.

Seriously, I’m really attached to them. And it’s not just that Birkenstock no longer makes the Jesus style with burgundy suede straps like mine have. And it’s not just that the footbed is a perfect match for my anvil-shaped feet. And it's not just because I love having footwear that I can slip on and off in a split second.

The Jesus Sandals sort of mark a turning point in my life. One that’s really no longer all that relevant, but still. Up until 1988, I—like many—thought that Birkenstock sandals (especially the Jesus variety) were only for granola-gobbling freaks. And the only place you could buy them was at this one particularly crunchy-granola health-food shop. A place notable for its peculiar smell. Rancid tofu? Curdled goat’s milk? I could never quite place it, but it was funky and off-putting.

Earlier that year, I’d broken up with a boyfriend—the Dumb Dummkopf—who was a militant vegetarian. Interestingly, he fit the profile of a Birkenstock wearer to a T, except for one thing. He refused to wear leather and Birks were made of leather.** Anyway, in his typical passive-aggressive fashion, he broke up with me by refusing to admit that anything was wrong, when it was blatantly obvious that just about everything was wrong with our relationship. In the end, I had to break up with him because his chilly, noncommittal manner toward me became intolerable. Freakin’ coward!

That summer I was constantly trying to come up with new ways to keep my mind off of my broken heart. One of my more inspired ideas was to take a trip to Nauvoo, Illinois, where Joseph Smith and a large group of Mormons settled in 1840 after being forced out of Missouri. I’d heard that they had re-created the town and had blacksmiths and people in period costume and all that. Possibly one of my strongest motivations was that I hoped to find out more about that sacred underwear I'd heard about. What can I say? Remember I pretty young, and I was nursing a broken heart. Cut me some slack.

I dragooned my Cure-obsessed sister into coming with me. Of course, temperatures were in the mid-90s and the humidity was probably about the same. My sister was dressed entirely in black (including black wool tights) and had shellacked her hair with tons of gloopy product, so that she could look as much like Robert Smith (no relation to Joseph, at least I don't think so) as possible. To give her credit, she actually got remarkably close. After about 20 minutes of traipsing in and out of blacksmith shops and chandler shops and barrel-making shops my sister had had it and went into full-on gripe mode. She was sweltering in those black tights and her hair was melting into a flat, sticky mass. She was hungry, too. And so far, we’d learned nothing about that sacred underwear! So I was disappointed, too.

We decided to try to find some food, so we left the ersatz re-creation town and walked to the real town. I don’t think we found any food there. But what we did find was a glass blower. Don’t all tourist traps have at least one glass blower? Maybe I was just addled by the heat, but this glass blower seemed to me to have the perfect life. She was just a few years older than me, yet she and her easygoing and winningly cute boyfriend had this no-pressure, fun business together. They had this appealing, jokey rapport with the crowd of onlookers and I could totally tell that they had a great relationship—and GREAT SEX, in stark contrast to my doomed relationship in which the sex life had dwindled to nil in the last months.

I also noticed that this extremely cool woman—this woman who had the life I wanted--was wearing Birkenstock sandals with socks and an overalls-style dress. I thought she looked un-fucking-believably fabulous—a trendsetter and an independent spirit. Right then and there, I decided that if I couldn’t have the cute boyfriend, the great sex, and the glass-blowing shop in hellfire-hot Nauvoo, Illinois, I could at least have the sandals. Maybe the rest would come later.

When I got back to Chicago, I went to the smelly health food shop and bought my Jesus Sandals. I remember hoping that I might run into the Dumb Dummkopf while I was wearing them and he would be forced to regret mightily the fact that he’d let me slip away. I really do remember thinking that. Laughable! But I felt like by buying those sandals I was doing something to defy him and in some weird, intangible way they helped me get over him and move on. They somehow helped me recognize that latching onto some guy and expecting him to fulfill all my needs was a bad idea. Yeah, I hadn’t figured that out before then. I was young and naïve. And as proof that I have gotten over that, I offer this. B loathes the Jesus Sandals. But will I cave to his wishes and get rid of them? Never!

Now, of course, I realize that Jesus Sandals are dorky, always were dorky, and always will be dorky, but here in Oregon, Birkenstocks (especially when worn with socks) and dorkiness are everywhere, so I fit right in.

*I started referring to them as the Jesus Sandals after a tough-girl dental hygienist ranted for 20 minutes about how ugly she thought Birkenstock sandals were, “especially those Jesus Sandals.”
**I’m sure you can get nonleather Birks now, but back then you couldn’t.


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