The final lace-up: My last pair of high tops

The writer’s last pair of high-top sneakers.   PHOTO BY SCOTT OGLESBY
The writer’s last pair of high-top sneakers. PHOTO BY SCOTT OGLESBY

BY SCOTT OGLESBY  |  They had to be plain, simple and white, like me. And my new high tops fit the bill — all leather, a discreet logo and a minimum of stitching. Not a whoosh in sight to remind me of sweatshop gals toiling in Bangladesh; and none of those trendy lime-green / hot-pink combos with wild stripes and swirly windswept patterns that remind me of muscle-car paintjobs. No plastic doohickeys or wedgy inserts to pump up for more bounce. Just a humble pair of tennis shoes, thank you very much.

I had another requirement — they couldn’t look like walking shoes, a screaming sign of old age. Now, I do still walk and I’m undeniably old, but I think like a senior athlete, not a senior citizen.

I need athletic shoes, not some overdesigned foot mattress to pamper my bunions. Something for biking, tennis and basketball. And by all means, spare me the bright fluorescent orange or yellow running shoes, for visibility at night, I guess. Shoes not to be caught dead in, let’s call ’em.

I think of jogging as a pure form of torture for the nonathletic. (The indoor version is Pilates.) Myself, I reserve running strictly for loose balls, closing subways doors, scribbling meter maids, and to escape anyone in the street approaching with a clipboard.     

But yeah, I make sporting attempts at sports and qualify for Medicare, as well. Not a big deal these days; practically every elder I know is a gym rat or die-hard sportster of some sort. We toil, sweat and suffer for health and status, hoping to avoid the reaper, dementia or the worst — invisibility on the street. This current crop of kids won’t see you, that’s for sure. They’ll look right through you if they bother to glance up from their little screens. And forget the big screen — except for an occasional Redford flick, British telly and movies are the last outlet for actors with wrinkles. 

All these thoughts are buzzing in my head when I begin to ponder that my new high tops could be the last pair of shoes I’ll ever buy. My closet is already piled with footwear for every conceivable occasion, past and future. Wedding shoes, wingtips and loafers, Earth shoes and Roots; hiking, biking, beach and pool shoes, snowshoes and deck shoes, moccasins and cowboy boots. The more I accumulate, the less likely any of them will ever wear out, right? 

Last week I was shocked, walking into some old geezer’s apartment to find it in total disarray — old books and mags stacked willy-nilly, root-bound primeval cacti, hundreds of dusty LP’s, and a faint odor of cat urine. Then suddenly I realized it was my apartment, I was the old geezer! Weird, because in the mirror my bushy hair still looks blond, so I’m always surprised by photos where it shines white as Arctic snow. Talk about an old fool. 

And just this morning on Bleecker St., I saw a gray-bearded cyclist on a road bike, fitted with dental-size mirrors on his handlebars. He was in blue and yellow spandex, and looked like a skinny Big Bird.  O.K., guy, I thought, whatever works, I’m an active dude too. But realistically, how many more half-court games do my splotchy old legs have in them? I have no deep desire to be an octogenarian, but if the only other choice is a doornail simile, then bring on the ball court.

Pacing is the secret enabler for senior sports: Except for golf, too much physical activity can be dangerous. And as my physical therapist loves to repeat, “Ice is your new best friend.” For-ev-er. Even then, morning stiffness is a major bugaboo — hard to play ball when you have trouble lacing your sneakers. I’m convinced it was a creaky, aging God who invented velcro. 

My current wife (who hates that reference) accuses me of trying to be the kid I never fathered. She might be onto something — four barren marriages are prime fuel for my insomnia, along with the car parked legally, and my poor choice of college majors — sociology and elementary ed. Please!  Saucer-eyed in the wee hours, I become a dedicated re-hasher of life’s unfinished business. Wait till you have 70 years of loose ends wrapped around your brain. 

Another factor is my invisible, sometimes shady career history. But at least I’ve been consistent, honing skills all my life that would rarely earn me a legal dime. Call me the original crowd-sourcer. More about that never. 

Lately, I’ve been prone to pronounce that I’m retired, having worn out the “living the writerly life” ruse — the busy work of self-publishing, submitting stuff, sulking and shredding rejections. No wonder most of my friends laughed. “Retired from what?” they sneered. I admit my retirement looks remarkably like my life before. 

One thing’s for sure, exercising for longevity demands a richer long-term care plan than mine. In every senior home I visit, the folks manning the wheelchairs are jawing mushy food, sipping cold coffee and sporting warehoused stares. Medicaid ain’t springing for hot yoga, Jamaican companions or nails — unless they’re in your coffin. Fact is, we’ll be treated a lot differently in our golden years. It’s inevitable as Western culture keeps focusing more money and attention on ever-younger citizens. They’re “branding” four-year-olds, for God sakes.    

So why bother staying fit, you might ask, if it’s only going to get harder? Especially the hearing faculty. I read an article about how some oldsters decipher only about every other word in conversations (those damned consonants). We’re forced to improv — using intuition, learning to read lips, bodies and minds. And God help me, movies and TV are still a bitch to follow. Try reading instead, my wife harps, sick of repeating (Occupy style) every word the actors say. It’s not my fault that they all mumble, I mumble. And it takes forever to read a book — I get in bed and three pages later I’m zonked out. I’ve been reading “Infinite Jest” for eight years now, sadly the depressed author checking out before I could finish.

There are possibly worse things on the way. Sometimes I’m afraid that I’ll inherit “neuralgia,” a main complaint of my late grandmother. Whatever it is, it sounds terrible and untreatable. Or my Dad’s nasty demeanor that I dub chronic sardonica. (It’s similar to ironica, but edgier.)

Stairs bring out my most secretive behavior — if no one’s around, I’ll drop to all fours and waddle up those suckers. Don’t laugh, those chimps know the ropes, or vines, whatever. And sparing the details, my immediate future requires either ditching java or suiting up in adult diapers. Come to think of it, given the coffee boom and the growing boomer bubble, both might be smart investments.

There’s always low-impact sports, like the elder hobby of ogling young girls, but fading lust is tiresome to keep up, so to speak. Not sure which is more oppressive — the compulsive chase of eye candy or stifling the guilt of my inner dirty ol’ man. At least I haven’t gotten addicted to The Weather Channel. Pried away from their Doppler radar, my oldest friends are always calling up, warning me about the latest storm front. Better stay home, they plead, head for high ground; it’ll hit your area in five minutes. Get a life, I wanna yell and slam down the phone. 

I understand that most of these thoughts are just senile panic attacks and they usually pass, but eventually something kicks them off again. Last summer it was an invite to my 50th high school reunion. Surely they got the wrong guy, I figured, but I sent a donation anyway and received a class annual with photos of former classmates. Who are all those old people? That was my first reaction, but it quickly morphed into fascination at how different their lives were from mine.

I must apologize for all this — my thoughts are like confused old people, they tend to wander off.  This week it was to the courts in my new tenni’s.  Remember the new high tops, my last pair of shoes? And believe me, I’m aware there’s something sadly hilarious about a 70-year old guy bouncing around in high tops. For millennials this can be especially disconcerting. But you can bet they’re never going to “like” us ancients having sex either. Maybe I’ll really gross ’em out and hit the streets in my favorite old footwear — Birkenstocks…with white socks, of course.

More from around NYC