Thursday in the Writers' Bloc, Gerri Hirshey analyzed a phenomenon that has amused her for some time -- guys and their sneaker lust.

Today, the men (read: eternal boys) of the WB fire back, mostly by rolling over on their backs and proving to Ms. Hirshey how right she is. For a new definition of the phrase "feeble defense," read on.

Tom Friend
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

A chick may be able to steal your oversized Oxford in the morning, but she can't fit into your sneakers -- so she'll just never know.

But don't worry, Gerri, your son'll outgrow it. I did. I was prepubescent long before MJ showed up, so I had to have my adidas Superstars. Lowcut. The whole NBA back then wore lowcut (only Gilbert Arenas now?).

Thirty years later, I look at the zippers on Karl Malone's purple-and-gold game shoes and wince.

Know what? The sneakers today are butt ugly.

No fetish here. We go barefoot in SoCal.

Eric Neel
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

You're crossing streams, Gerri. Shoes for fashion and shoes for balling are two different things.

Will Smith? Those beefy guys on the soccer sideline? They're posing.

But your son? He's a player. His aim is true.

I wore navy blue Chucks to play YBA in 1977. Scrubbed the sides with a toothbrush and a mild soap-and-water solution and washed the laces in bleach before every game. They were part of my kit, my uniform, my soul. I wore Dr. J-style knee pads, tube socks pulled up to the top of the calves, and the Chucks, and when I wore them, I felt faster, stronger and bolder than I ever did in street clothes and simple kicks.

You have to get to a certain place to play. You have to leave who you are a little bit and become who you might be. You need special shoes for a trip like that.

In the early summer of 1981, I had my heart set on a pair of adidas Top Tens. White uppers with a blue sole, three blue stripes and a plush blue collar that wrapped around the ankle the way case velvet wraps around a guitar. They were spendy, though, and my mom said I'd have to earn them. So we struck a deal: I'd weed the yard and turn the nasty, overgrown big garden to get it ready for planting (usually her job), and when I was done, she'd spring for the shoes. I hated weeding. Hell, I was 13 -- I hated work of any kind. But I loved those shoes. And with dirt under my nails I loved them even more.

I still remember playing in them for the first time. I remember wearing them to eighth-grade practice and knowing my heart was in my feet and my feet were built for speed. I felt the same thing when I laced up my first pair of Jordans five years later. I feel the same thing when I put on my New Balance 800s for my Wednesday-night over-30 game now.

It ain't about lust. Lust is impulse. It's deeper, more abiding, than that.

Steve Wulf
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

I don't know if shoe obsession is gender-based or generation-based or both. All I know is that my fellow foot soldiers and I took pride in the wear and tear our sneakers accumulated. To this day, I measure a shoe's worth by the mileage and consequent fragrance. Currently in heavy rotation in my closet are my Air Road Kills (2001 New Balance 338s), Air Cheese Shops (1999 Jordans) and Air Farm Countrys (1992 Chuck Taylors).

Ah, the sweet smell of excess.

Alan Grant
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

This shoe thing most definitely crosses gender lines. But with women, it's one-dimensional. Beginning with their very first pair of Mary Janes, women are slaves to the latest style and they'll wear what they're told, even if it hurts.

But with men, it's an evolving interest with two distinct phases. First it's a status symbol among the fellas: My senior year in high school coincided with the premier of the original Air Jordans. Though they sold for $100 (a truly ungodly amount at the time!), I had to have them. Oh, but only the red, white and black ones, not that drab black-and-red version. But let it be known that this was a shoe made to be seen, and not one with practical purpose. I'm fairly certain that the shoes MJ wore when he dropped 63 on the Celtics weren't the same I took onto the court, because I had to wear at least three pairs of socks to keep them from sliding off my feet.

I played in them just once. After that they were to be admired at the movies, the bowling alley, or the arcade. Girls thought they were ugly because they said things like, "Those shoes are ugly." But such aspersions mattered not. It wasn't about them anyway, though, as one matures, one discovers that an expansive shoe collection doesn't hurt in one's efforts to demonstrate a fashion sense for those same girls. So when I became a man, I put away childish things. Let's face it, if you're a thirtysomething male, and you're not a wildly successful hip hop artist, but the bulk of your footwear still comes courtesy of the Foot Locker, it's just, well, sad.

These days, the boot selection at the Aldo store gets my attention. And the large toe box gets the attention of the ladies. I know this because they say things like, "Hey, that's a large toe box. Nice." Both attractive and practical.

Tim Keown
To: Gerri Hirshey

I can still remember placing my new Puma basketball shoes circa 1976 on my dresser drawer for optimal viewing while awaiting sleep. They were low-top, white, and poised for a big CYO season. I seem to remember having to Magic-Marker the black stripe myself. So when I see my 13- and 11-year-old sons aligning their AndOne Something Or Others in a spot that ensures they are the first vision upon awakening, I feel strangely proud.

Probably more strange than proud, but still. In these uncertain times, it's important to preserve strong family traditions.

Robert Lipsyte
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

I'm not ashamed at growing misty over memories of what I could do in my golden suede Pumas. But the pair of sports shoe that once made me bigger were gray-scuffed Hush Puppies. This was 30-odd years ago, when adidas was taking the Jock Sneaker Wars public. The old Running Doc, George Sheehan, advised me to stop jogging in combat boots (I was over-identifying with the boxers I was covering). He thought I should wear the Pups to de-mystify the burgeoning shoe culture before I joined it. The man was truly holy before he became famous.

So I tried it one day and ran much farther than usual, ending up at a stretch of handball courts I'd never played on before. One-wall was my game at the time. As I walked past the court, play stopped. Yuppies in white leather Heads and ghetto studs in sockless wingtips just stared at my feet. They could see by the gloves hooked to my shorts I was a player. I could hear them thinking, "Who is that masked man?" I had trumped their shoe psyches. Who would wear Hush Puppies into combat? Finally, a knotty, bow-legged old park rat in no-name tennies held up a ball and said, "Eleven?" I was tempted, but it had to end badly even if I won. "Some other time," I said and kept going.

But I had learned the secret. Some men are so insecure they judge each other -- and themselves! -- by their shoes. You can disregard the pathetic jerks who wear the kicks they are told to wear. Nike, Bruno Magli, flips, all the same. But watch out for the guy in really lame shoes. You can never tell; he could be a blank, he could be bluffing, he could be fixing to eat your kids.

Patrick Hruby
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

As usual, color me clueless. In all honesty, I couldn't tell an A3 Electrify from a Cdubbz Diamond Plate Supreme, an RJ Chin Checka from a Trunner Smash. In fact, if I ever find myself chin checkin' or "trunning" -- that has to be the silliest bit of hybrid sports dubiosity since Tae-Bo -- I suspect one of the trainers at my gym will tell me I'm doing something terribly damaging to my lower back.

Likewise, I haven't cared about the particular sneakers worn by particular NBA players since junior high -- back in the Mesozoic Era, when Air Jordans were simply known as Air Jordans, without the addition of pretentious, Super Bowl-aping Roman numerals. Moreover, I can't see myself collecting $100-plus sneakers for the sake of filling a walk-in closet, any more than I would amass sports cars I didn't drive or Elvis stamps I didn't lick 'n' send.

(Attention, wealthy celebrity shoe fetishists: Please start collecting art, already. Don't be that person who really wants to have a child but ends up getting a lapdog, only to dress Fido in $500 Burberry sweaters and cashmere booties. Thank you in advance).

Don't get me wrong: As someone who buys basketball shoes to -- get this -- play basketball, I am quite grateful for the advanced technology that has made today's kicks lighter and more comfortable, even if 99 cents out of every $1 spent by Nike goes to support our nation's premier ad agencies (Buy American!). That said, I'd be a lot happier if modern technosneakers didn't look like something Roger Moore would have worn in "Moonraker." But what do I know? Like a set-shooting fogey in a beat-up pair of canvas Chucks, I just don't get it. Unless canvas Chucks are cool again. Perhaps the stylish, trendsetting likes of Ashton Kutcher and P. Diddy can fill me in.

Oh, I should probably note that I wear a size 14. Really. So maybe I just don't have, er, "compensation" issues.

Dan Shanoff
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

With just slightly more financial discipline, I ogle shoe fashion with the same passion as Sarah Jessica Parker's Carrie Bradshaw -- that's right: "Kicks and the City."

She says "Manolo," I say "Huarache." I've never heard the TV character actually explain her mania, and similarly I've struggled to figure out why I pause at every sneaker store I pass.

Some of it is anthropological: Figure out what kind of kicks the cool kids are wearing these days (or, better yet, how they wear them), and you can pretty accurately forecast future mainstream trends.

Some of it is nostalgia: A few weeks ago, after my endless wait, the beloved basketball shoe of my hoops-frenzied freshman year of college was finally "retro'd," more than a decade after I lost the original pair. I haven't even put them on; I just keep them on display, like any other piece of personal memorabilia.

Nevertheless, from this discussion, apparently I'm the only WB'er that leaves early for meetings at ESPN the Magazine's Manhattan office -- so I can wander the greatest single block of sneakerdom in the world: 34th St. between 5th and 6th Avenues. Dr. Jay's should be as much of an NYC attraction as Broadway.

Chuck Hirshberg
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

Gerri, you've been reading too much Freud and watching too many of those Snoop-Dog-Meets-the-Girls-Gone-Wild videos. Both are riveting, I grant you, but even when evaluating the American male, it is possible to place too much emphasis on schlong-ology. Sometimes a shoe is just a shoe.

I know what I'm talking about, because the sneaker revolution hit Palo Alto around 1970, when I was about 10 -- long before it ever occurred to me that the Little Emperor in my pants needed any improvement whatsoever. (Ah, how I miss those young and innocent days!) Anyway, I remember the exact moment: It was during a routine neighborhood game of 12-on-12 at the La Enterada Middle School playground. Frequent tramplings, in all sports, had given me many opportunities to observe footwear trends up close, but in those days, they weren't much to look at. I'd watched a smattering of Keds, and the occasional pair of Red Ball Jets, give way entirely to Chuck Taylors. And that's where it stood: Chucks came in white and black and neither shade was cooler than the other.

But then, one day, as I lifted my face up from the blacktop, I noticed that Martin Block -- a rich, only child resembling Eric Cartman -- was shod in what looked to me like white ballet slippers with red stripes going up the sides. During a break in the action (somebody had heaved a "shot" over the backboard, and the ball had rolled down a steep hill), I pointed out Martin's new shoes to my big brother Matt, seeking his permission to make fun of them. But Matt explained three things to me:

Martin was wearing "adidas";

adidas were intensely cool;

and I was a "dumbhead."

Now, as far as I was concerned, when Matt issued a fatwa on the subject of cool, the Lord had spoken. Really -- that's all it took. I knew that very instant that Matt and I needed adidas, fast, and I never paused to wonder why. This, I'm certain, is the dull secret that explains the great, sad public sucker-fest known as "fashion." Little boys, and girls, want desperately to be cool, and most kids never grow up.

So: How to get adidas? Clothes-wise, almost anything that was cool was out of reach for Matt and me. Our frugal parents were scientists and though scientists doubtless have many good qualities, self-adornment is rarely one of 'em. If their sons wished to be cool, they could damn well be cool in high-water Boy Scout uniforms. Theoretically, there was no way in hell that we would ever get our tootsies into these adida-thingies.

Or so we thought, until Matt returned from an exploratory expedition to Alex's Discount Emporium with the remarkable news that adidas were actually cheaper than Chucks! You see, Converse shoes were made in the good old USA, which, in those days, permitted factory laborers to form collective associations called "unions." Adidas, on the other hand, were made in far-off civilizations where such things were known to be unnecessary. So by September of the following year, we were cool! Or at least our feet were.

Well, thank God almighty, Matt and I have seen the light and today, we are almost as uncool as our parents. Teenagers start laughing at us at the mall long before they get around to noticing our shoes. Why? Simply because we have learned to stop listening to the voice of Big Brother -- by which I mean, that media hydra whose thousands of heads are screaming into Gerri's son's ears, every freakin' second, telling him that he will be socially defective if he fails to wear the right shoes. Some of these heads scream that he will be sexually defective, as Gerri notes. Others wail that he will be athletically defective. But most simply remind him that shoe-ignorance will give his Big Brother the opportunity to call him a dumbhead.

Luke Cyphers
To: Gerri Hirshey
Subject: Sneakers

I suspect the roots of this are more Marxist and redneck than Freudian, but sometime in high school I decided my main career objective was a job where I could wear tennis shoes most of the time.

As a sports hack, I have achieved that goal, and believe myself to be a man in full.


Writer's Bloc: It's gotta be the shoes

Writer's Bloc: Dumb and Dumber

Writer's Bloc: Double-Crossed?

Writer's Bloc: Do they care in Dubuque?

Writer's Bloc: Baseball vs. NFL

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