A friend of mine was driving past a cemetery with his 4-year-old daughter one day and noticed her looking closely at it. “Do you know what that place is?” the dad asked. “Oh sure,” she answered casually. “That’s where the dead guys live.”
Kids do seem to have an uncanny awareness of things most adults figure they wouldn’t have a clue about. That’s why I recently assembled a group of neighbor kids to get their take on the greatest of modern-day mysteries – one that probably began shortly after Alexander Graham Bell came up with his big invention. I’m not talking about the telephone specifically, but the telephone wire. Not only did the invention of the wire make long distance phone communication possible, but it also made possible the phrase, “Wire, wire; pants on fire.”
But those wires also are the resting places for a phenomenon so pervasive, so vexing and – well, so dumb – that I have tossed and turned over it for years. Mostly I have tossed salad and turned eggs over easy, but still I have been perplexed.
I am talking, of course, about the question of why – from sea to shining sea, and all across our fruited plain – shoes are seen hanging from telephone lines!
Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed them. They’re everywhere, except Mercer Island. The shoes range from Chuck Taylors to Keds, tied together and dangling like participles. Why are they there? Why are they there? Why did I repeat the preceding question twice?
I know I’m not the first to wonder about the suspended shoes enigma. There are endless discussions in books and on Web sites. There are probably think tanks puzzling over it at this very moment. No one actually seems to have ever witnessed someone throwing the shoes up there. They just seem to be there, simply appearing one day as suddenly as a long-lost cousin after you’ve won the lottery.
Tennis shoes are almost always the footgear of choice, although there have been reported sightings of laced wedgies, wingtips and loafers. A guy in Anchorage claims to have once seen a pair of snowshoes hanging off a power line, although he later admitted he was rather inebriated, so they could have been tennis rackets.
So what’s the deal with the dangling footwear? Urban mythology offers endless theories:
• They’re put there by farmers to scare crows away.
• They’re put there by crows to further annoy farmers.
• Tennis shoes hanging on a power line mean you can buy drugs there.
• Tennis shoes hanging on a power line mean you can buy sole inserts there.
• They’re a gang sign.
• They’re a podiatrist gang sign.
I thought the neighbor kids might have better hunches than any of those, so I recently brought a bunch of them together over Mountain Dew and Pop Tarts to discuss the hanging-shoe question. Here are some of the actual thoughts the youngsters offered:
“My dad says that Nordstrom puts them there so people will subconsciously think about buying shoes.”
“When shoes are really, really smelly, the angels put them up there so they can air out for a while.”
“People hang the shoes on the telephone wires so that birds can see the wires better and won’t fly into them and get shocked.”
“Crooks throw them there to get the police mad.”
“Some guys are just too lazy to put their old shoes in the garbage.”
“My brother threw his shoes up there so the dog doo would wear off.”
One kid, Justin, had this notion: “They’re all that’s left of sky divers. If you could get those shoes down, you’d find that the feet are still in there, too.” Justin’s parents are worried about him.
Maybe the truth will never be known, but I think Sean might be on the right track: “People throw the shoes up there because hats and underpants won’t stay.”