Wednesday, May 20, 2009

~ the people of the shoe

At night the elliptical cement pathway glimmered dully under the constant glare of security lights. It slowly released its heat into the air, but was otherwise inert, desolate, a sign of human presence in the past, but not the present. There were a few small indications of nearby habitation, the everpresent cigarette butts, a frayed shoelace, a lolly-wrapper. On the smaller scale, spit, phlegm and human skin flakes nourished the barren russet earth, feeding the low shining weeds.

By day the path was populated by a clade of organisms I will refer to as the people of the shoe, for it is by their shoes – or sneakers, or runners, or trainers - that you will know them.

They walk anti-clockwise, always anti-clockwise, crunching millipedes under foot, collecting a fine film of the everpresent red dust in summer, or a layer of glutinous mud in winter. Their heads are bare, their hair generally short and cut with little care or skill. Their facial features are unmoving, they do not smile. Often, as they walk, they stare at the ground. Rarely do they greet each other if they pass.

Their clothes are purposefully unexceptional. T
hey are shapeless and the colours are dull. In the heat, singlets and t-shirts predominate. In the cold, plain jumpers, hoodies or track-suit tops are added. Track suit pants and jeans are the only form of trousers used. Not only do these men have forced limitations on the extent of their wardrobe, but they fear that any form of ostentation, any sign of variation from the norm might single them out. Put them in danger. This is a place where everything can depend on not being conspicuous.

The forces that drive fashion trends in the outer world are compelled to work in reverse here. Evolution selects for dreariness and tedium.

Yet there is a window - no larger than the tiny hole through which one spies the beauty within a kaleidoscope – in which these men may express their character. While all else about them is harsh and devoid of variety, if one is to look down at their footwear, the world turns on its head. It is in their footwear, in their athletic footwear, that extravagance and individuality may at last be found.

The shoes are composed of the most modern of materials: rubbers and plastics of multiple densities, substances from the high laboratories of Nike and Adidas, licenced to NASA for use in spacesuits, or to Northrop Grumman for use in the next generation of stealth bombers. Leathers grown in nutrient vats from the genetics of rare animals.

The shoes have the streamlined design of sports cars or hot rods, and it would be no surprise to learn that they had been tested in wind tunnels. The patterning over their exterior surface may be a modernist adaptation of the art nouveau aesthetic, or it may comprise a distant homage to the works of Klimt, Kandinsky or Picasso. The colours may scream or whisper; sometimes clashing angrily, sometimes crawling in imitation of spider-webs, sometimes balanced
perfectly. Some shoes bear what appears to be armour plating.

Thought has been turned to every aspect of the shoe, however small. The eyelets, glossy and black like the mouth-parts of a funnel web spider; the insole textured with tessellations from the imagination of leading podiatrists; the tread moulded to resemble Penrose tiles or the dorsal spines of iguanas.

Some appear to have nodules erupting along their edges, power-tumours that will add to the flexibility, durability, traction or comfort of the shoe. Some have tiers of fluorescent polyps with integrated LEDs that flash in time to the wearer's heart. Other swellings and outgrowths are seen, their purposes either unknown or too esoteric to be expressed.

The shoes are laden with high technology. Odometers and pedometers with USB ports are built into eerily pulsing soles. The mound of an internal brain-case protrudes from the rearfoot. Reservoirs of luminous green gel eddy and churn as if alive, slaving to correct pronation. Sheaths of carbon nano-tubes provide moisture-wicking. Cooling is achieved with a micropore system inspired by the mounds of termites. Antimicrobial actions are performed by an embedded immune system.

Through the day, these men, these people of the shoe, proudly wear these shoes from the outer world. They walk the ellipse, the cement pathway that will take them nowhere. Cockroaches travelling the outer rim of a plate.

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