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First printed in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Aubrey's Notebook:
Crummy Shoes A Nightmare

Sometimes a crumbling dream can be like walking through a field of day-old doughnuts. Let me explain. Fishing small streams and playing in casual, pickup basketball games may not seem like related activities. But they were significant daily parts of my life for many years. The athletic shoes I wore for basketball on blacktop often became my wading shoes when they began to wear out. Wading shoes have to be tough and ought to be comfortable. The best wading shoes dry quickly and don't show ill effects from being wet and dry often.

The year I discovered what I believed would be my best-ever basketball and wading shoes must have been 1978. They were sold under the brand-name Bata. They had some sort of manmade rubber soles and uppers of something that appeared to be nylon.

My Batas would dry quickly and were amazingly comfortable even when wet. Magic Johnson and his Michigan State teammates wore the leather high-top version while winning the 1979 national college basketball championship.

The innovative shoes appeared likely to steal a piece of the market dominated by Nike and other big names. Then one day I noticed they were available at close-out prices in some stores. I bought six or eight pair, including a pure-white leather high-top pair I hoped to be wearing 20 years later. I stored the extra shoes here and there and gave my father a pair. I gave a pair or two to youngsters on teams I coached.

There was no question in my mind that my Batas would be around as long as I was. After a while, Batas lost some of their appeal as I acquired other comfortable shoes. A couple of years ago, I found my sacred pair of leather Batas but was shocked to discover their soles had deteriorated. They were no more usable than the nylon Batas I had worn to pieces running and jumping on gym floors and parking lots and sliding on slick mountain-stream rocks.

Their soles were practically gone, the same as a pair that I wore one season over my stocking-foot neoprene waders while duck hunting in the Grand Prairie rice fields and Bayou Meto green timber of eastern Arkansas. I was irritated and disappointed. My investment had been wasted.

Last year, I had to go through my late father's clothing to see what I might salvage. In a box in his closet I found the pair of nylon-top, low-quarter Batas I gave him in 1980 or '81. They appeared to be perfectly preserved.

Thursday, I decided to wear them. They felt great. I drove to the bank and enjoyed walking. When I got back into my vehicle, however, I noticed what appeared to be mushed bread or cake on the brake pedal and floorboard.

The long-preserved Batas were falling apart!

Finally, I understand why the shoes were removed from the market. Finally, I understand that I ought to have used my bargain Batas as fast as I could while they were still new.

If I could get them resoled at a reasonable cost, I would. The nylon-top version was the best all-round athletic shoe I ever owned. But the chances are the best I can do is maybe use them for wading a few times and toss them in the dumpster. Not even the street people will want them when the soles finally finish crumbling away.

Lessons about learning what to save and what to use are obvious in this story. But I have had great success with some of my hoarding. I am still using fishing tackle I bought in the 1970s, but only the especially good items that can't be matched by new models. But, despite a widely publicized fashion trend that began in London and New York more than a year ago, bell-bottom trousers haven't quite caught on again in Arkansas. So my 1958-model Coast Guard dungarees may rot before I get to wear them again.

One of my bad habits is buying the latest product only when the fad wanes and the item is marked half-price. Fishing lures and clothing both attract me at that point. After purchase, the season-end bargain goes into hiding and I keep using older things. After a year or two, I start using the new toy. I am even happier, of course, when I manage to find such things at garage or yard sales and get them for pennies on the dollar. Then they seem like special treasure. Fashion-conscious youngsters probably wonder why I am wearing a shirt I have owned for three years when to me it is a new pleasure.

Such bargains help make up for the occasional major mistake, such as trying to hoard my Batas until they crumble or storing plastic worms until they melt and fuse into a nasty, motley-colored ball of slime.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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