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Nice Shoes

by Stephen Lautens


May 3, 2002

Last week I attended the annual National Newspaper Awards in Calgary.

No - I didn't have to clear a place on my mantle. I wasn't in the running for an actual award. They're reserved for people who write about plagues, famines and what a two-tier healthcare system would mean for Joe Clark's eyewear.

I was asked to give the grace before dinner. Since it's not a not particularly religious crowd, giving grace is a bit of a challenge. You want to sound sincere and respectful, but you don't want to come across like you're about to start speaking in tongues and handling snakes. And it wasn't the right group for the childhood favourite: "Good gravy, good meat; Good God, let's eat".

As it was, I managed to stumble through a short prayer that mentioned God the minimum number of times necessary to actually qualify as a prayer.

The awards dinner itself was a wonderful affair. The invitation said "black tie or fancy western optional", which meant no one knew what to wear. There was an odd assortment of everything from jeans and string ties to tuxedos in the audience. After all, journalists are not known for being on anyone's best dressed list.

Myself, I wore my tux. It's just easier to throw it on than figure out what to wear. And besides, just eighty-seven more wearings and it will have paid for itself.

As luck would have it, even though it was the last week in April we got a last dump of snow. Rather than wreck my good shoes on the walk over to the awards dinner, I decided to follow that great Canadian tradition of wearing a crummy pair of shoes and carrying my good ones in a bag. If there is one distinguishing national characteristic of Canadians it's our habit of walking around with our shoes in a bag for half of the year.

As it happens, my crummy winter shoes happen to be brown, which looked nice sticking out of the bottoms of my black tux pants.

It's just a thing of mine, but I shake my head at men who wear shoes that don't go with the rest of their clothes. You know - brown shoes with a blue suit or black shoes with a brown suit. But I figured I could get away with my brown shoes just this once, especially since they were coming off the second I got out of the snow.

Walking through the slush to the dinner I noticed someone coming towards me on the sidewalk. I don't know if you'd call him homeless, since I didn't get to know him well enough to find out whether had a home or not. In less gentle days he would have been called a bum. One thing was for sure - he was drunk.

He spotted me a good twenty steps away. A guy in a tux and bow tie is a sure target for a quick panhandle on the street.

But instead of asked for spare change as I expected, as he passed he stared down at my feet and said one thing: "Nice shoes."

I wanted to stop and explain that I had my good shoes in a bag, and that I knew my footwear didn't go with my ensemble, but he was already off into the night.

Whatever his problems might have been, he at least knew how to put together an outfit.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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