Emily Parnell —This facade of coolness is built on a foundation of sore feet

09/10/2013 4:57 PM

09/10/2013 4:59 PM

It turns out, I’ve been on the leading edge of “cool” since 1999. Are you surprised? Believe me, I’m as shocked as you are. But I’m telling you straight, teenagers (and their parents) have been approaching me to ooh and ahh over my footwear. And me? I’ve become an evangelist on the subject.

I first learned of about my awe-inspiring coolness at a family gathering. Several generations had gathered, including a handful of teenagers.

Teenager: “Are you wearing Chacos? OMG, are those the real thing? We went to camp in

[insert far-off state]

and everyone who was anyone was wearing them.”

Parent: “They are soooo expensive.”

Me: “My Chacos changed my life.”

I know, this sounds like melodrama, but it’s true, and not just because teenage girls now like to talk to me.

I didn’t pick out my Chacos for their cool factor. Or for how they looked. In fact, I didn’t pick them out at all. They came into my possession in 1999 through a slick Dumpster rescue move by my brother, ever the up-and-recycler.

He called me, talking fast with excitement. “Emily, what size shoes do you wear?” he asked. I told him my size. “I’m going to bring you a pair of shoes. A lady came in and wanted a different color, and she asked me to

throw them away

. But they’re Chacos, and you can have them. And they’re black. Why would you throw away shoes because they’re black?”

“You’re not supposed to wear hand-me-down shoes,” I protested. The women in my family handed me a legacy of foot problems. My grandmother would take me foot shopping at the shoe stores full of Dr. Scholls and SAS and other less-than-stylish shoes, and fill my ears with wise tips for owners of bad feet. Number one, don’t wear hand-me-downs.

“You don’t understand, these are Chacos. Plus, the lady was old, her feet probably don’t sweat much.”

So I tried them.

They don’t look like much. Chunky black rubber soles with high, molded arches and simple straps that zigzag across your foot. But when I put them on, “Ahhhhhhh!” sang the angel chorus.

I wore them virtually every day for years. YEARS. In the winter, I pulled on toasty wool socks with them. Eventually, the soles wore down and split across the bottoms.

“Send them back, get them resoled,” said my brother. This company intends for their customers to wear these shoes for life and revives them with tender loving care when necessary. I couldn’t bear to part with them long enough to send them back, though. But they got so bald, I threw them in my closet.

About that time, my foot went south on me, an injury where my Achilles attaches to my heel. It was awful, I couldn’t walk comfortably and often collapsed to let my throbbing foot rest. I started avoiding activities that required walking. I spent hundreds of dollars on shots, shoes, orthotics and x-rays, desperate for relief.

One day, I spied my Chacos in the bottom of my closet. I put them on, and once again, the angels sang. I hurried to the post office and sent them off for new soles. They were back in a jiffy, and my foot finally began to heal.

We went on vacation, and I was able to do awesome things like walk. On a trip through the woods, we spied a beautiful photo opportunity, I dropped to the ground, holding my foot in the air.

“What are you doing?” my husband asked.

“I want my Chacos in the photo, because without them, I could not have made it to this magical place.”

So, you see, I am not cool for cool reasons. It’s because of bad feet and sandals that I wear with socks that were rescued from the dump 14 years ago. But I do feel pretty cool again, now that I can walk and all.

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