I mean, red is not a typical shoe color. Sparkly red shoes aren't sold on every street corner like day-old baguettes; they aren't even catching on like fads like Toms or Sperry's or even, you know, Reef flip flops (anyone remember the Reef/Teva flip flop phase? I DO!). So why wouldn't Dorothy freak out when she saw Glinda take those fire engine red shoes off the Wicked Witch's feet and hand them over?!?!
If you can believe it, this is what I was thinking about this morning on my way to work. You see, a few weeks ago I made a fairly significant purchase: my annual "trendy" flats. I usually buy them during this March break sale at a boutique on Newbury St. called LF, but I am unfortunately in DC in October, and Newbury St and my beloved pumpkin doughnuts from Dunks are far, far away. So I went to Urban Outfitters in Georgetown with my roommates after stuffing ourselves with great Mexican food at a little place on M St. And lo and behold, when I arrived, my eyes were immediately drawn to a beautiful pair of hot pink canvas flats, with perfect, slightly pointed toes and sides that scooped down a little bit so that the cute arch of your foot can be seen.
I was madly in love, and I bought them. It was only when I put them on my feet in the harsh light of my bedroom back on 8th St that I realized, "Woah. I just bought blindingly pink shoes. Where am I going to wear these?" It was a moment of sadness, even bordering on my usual dramatic devastation. These beautiful, beautiful shoes and nowhere to take them. I bet Dorothy worried about that too when she first saw those ruby slippers (which weren't even slippers. They were high heels and she wore them with silly little blue socks).
But today, readers, I put on the neon pink shoes. I walked confidently through my apartment, making my lunch (which was really just leftover asparagus, Italian seasoning and shredded cheese... I know, sounds bad, but it was actually quite tasty), gathering my pens and keys and cell phone and walked out the door. I walked to the bus stop and that's when I realized it. Everyone I passed looked down, looked up in shock, and then tried to pretend nothing had happened by quickening their pace in the opposite direction. As I waited for the bus, everyone at the bus stop kept looking at me with mild concern to downright nervousness. I could almost hear them saying, "Does she... does she know that her shoes are on fire? Does she see that she is blinding the elderly woman sitting on the bench? Should we... tell her? Take the offensive shoes by force? Make her wear black for the rest of her days in penance for her bright colors? Are those... clown shoes??"
I was self-conscious of my shoes all day. I even took them off in the office and changed to more demure, black pointy high heels. But I kept thinking about my pink shoes. I love them. I love that they are a bright light in a city full of blacks, grays and navy blues. I love that they make people a little uncomfortable - I mean, they make you look at them AND then you don't want to admit you were looking at someone's shoes, so you literally begin to run in the opposite direction. When you stop and think about it, it's hilarious!
One of the things that isn't talked about often when traveling is the clothing culture. In Washington, DC, clothes are almost more important than looks. It's a sea of suits, some tailored better than others, some pinstripes, the occasional red sheath dress, lots of patent leather skinny belts or shining cuff links. People here are groomed. I can picture some of them at age 4 wearing a clip on bow tie with green polka dots grinning charmingly into the camera. A man I saw at Farragut Park this afternoon when I went to edit my paper had slicked back hair, aviator sunglasses, a light gray suit, a white collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the jacket slung over one shoulder. His shoes were the kind that they scuff for you in the store and then charge you $187 for (and at that price, I vote you buy a pair at Payless and scuff them yourself on the sidewalk). It's funny - I can describe his clothes on this blog but I can't describe his face. I can't tell you his eye color or if he was tall or short, or what his smile looked like.
As you walk down the street in Washington, DC, your eyes can be blinded by the monochromatic, polished, put-togetherness of everyone you see. You begin to miss people's funny expressions, the way someone's left eyebrow is slightly higher than their right, or the way someone's dimples appear when they smile. You miss the unmistakable "you-ness" that we see in other people's faces, and instead you just see business casual, business professional, and occasionally formal wear (once I saw a woman walk out of a Starbucks in a full evening gown!).
So when I wear my Pink Elephant Shoes, as I have lovingly christened them, I hope it makes people look up in shock and see my face. I hope it jolts the eyes of my early morning commuting companions, even if their expressions are not utter adoration for my footwear. And I hope that wearing the shoes reminds me to look at people's faces in this city: to look beyond the suit, beyond the posture, the walk... I hope my trendy Dorothy-esque slippers force me to see that, while there is no place like home (be it Boston or Kansas), Washington, D.C. is full of people waiting to be known, waiting to be loved, waiting to be heard.
And for you, wherever you are, in whatever city, I hope you see a pair of Pink Elephant Shoes soon. I hope they jolt you awake. And I hope you have something that you can put on (a funky hat, a beautiful scarf, a bright red dress or a pair of mustard yellow tights) that makes you feel more awake to the liveliness of the world around you.