When I bought the shiny black leather shoes
with the flat front toe and zip-up tongue
for my high school play at the 4 Dudes
shoe store downtown, the salesman proclaimed
slowly and seriously, “Those are some bad shoes.”
I looked down at the flashiest shoes
I’d ever had on my feet, and three other
salesmen came over, looked at my feet,
and said, “Yeah, those are bad” and I thought,
Oh, man, that’s cool and Man, these are bad.
But I didn’t ask, “Will my wearing them make
me a bad dude?” Because even though they all
seemed nice enough, I didn’t think they had it
in them to lie and say, “Oh yeah, and you’ll be
a bad dude in those” because I knew I wasn’t
anywhere close to being bad like that, not yet.
I was just a kid, maybe somewhat cool but
not particularly cool, and I was at least a decade
or maybe two from any kind of badness. And
I knew enough then not to try to be bad, because
being bad had to just happen somehow—you
became it, you grew into it. Badness was sort
of like Kafka—waking up one morning
after fucked up dreams, but instead of now
being a cockroach, you’re bad, like that, like
you’re so frighteningly cool you even scare
yourself sometimes. And all those people who
tried to be bad just became assholes or dickheads.
I took the shoes home and tried them on again,
then a week later I wore them for my high school
play where I played one of the waiters in Hello Dolly,
and where I sang songs like “Call on Dolly” and
“It Only Takes a Moment” with the other waiters—
all of us wearing black shoes that showed to anyone
who was paying attention that we had potential.
The photograph of me was taken in the senior lounge of my high school in 1975.