A Birkenstock Betrayal, or How a Pair of Jesus Sandals Saved My Wayward Toes
Two years ago I betrayed my wife. I bought a pair of Birkenstocks. You see, she hates Birkenstocks. There is an explanation for this irrational reaction to this trendy footwear. She associates it with Berkeley. That is, the Republic of Berkeley, with its own foreign policy, aid program to the dropouts camped out on Telegraph Avenue, street barriers that make it impossible to cross town in a direct route, and its middle and upper middle class gentrified, hippified citizens, pony tailed males ambulating, and braless moms publicly lactating, in—you guessed it—their pricey Birkenstocks.
In a moment of shameless selfishness, insensitive to my wife’s disdain for all things Berkeley, I bought a pair of Birkenstocks. Never before had I ventured so far from the mainstream of conservative dress. On days that I was not seeing clients, my typically attire was a pair of freshly pressed khakis, a blue, button down dress shirt, sans tie, and a navy sport coat with my simple gold oak tree lapel pin signifying my former service on the Oakland Civil Service Board. When I went to court my dress was more formal: a nice suit and carefully coordinated shirt and tie. And of course, the latest in Italian footwear, notwithstanding the punishment it inflicted upon my hammertoes.
Hammertoes, for those of you spared that often painful ailment, are toes characterized by the first joint that ignores the established protocol that toes are to extend straight forward from the end of the foot. Hammertoes, on the other hand, or foot as the case must be, arrogantly, proudly, and indeed, self-righteously, thrust their first joint straight up, defying any stylish shoe to fit comfortably.
In my younger days, as a drug defense lawyer, my LSD manufacturing clients praised my stylish attire. My hair curled in a flip over the shoulders of my navy blue, double breasted polyester suit with bell bottom trousers. A carefully trimmed, reddish brown beard completed the look of the day, the hip lawyer seeking justice for his hippy drug dealer clients. In those days, Birkenstocks would have been de rigueur on Mondays through Fridays, the casual days at the office.
Those days are long past. I gave up criminal defense work and hippie attire to devote myself to more honorable legal pursuits, in the civil arena suing bad drivers and bad bosses in accident and employment cases.
I repeat-- I am in a quandary. Why, at age 70, did I purchase my first pair of Birkenstocks? Why at this late stage of life does one buy a pair of sandals that are commonly associated with youth and vigor, college students and young singles and married couples, ambulating upward in middle class society in their Birkenstocks?
Perhaps I have always been a Birkenstock person. I lived in Berkeley (during a former marriage) for 12 years, raised my kids there, and drove a VW wagon. I back packed, snow camped, cross-country skied, represented a neighborhood group against development of a 7-11 in the Elmwood District of Berkeley, and did all those
Birkenstock kinds of things. Moreover, I am a liberal Democrat, former president of the Alameda County Democratic Lawyers’ Club, a civil rights attorney, many years a Sierra Club member, occasional contributor to the ACLU and other right minded causes—apparently well qualified to wear Birkenstocks.
Why did I wait until the 17th year of marriage to a Republican (present wife), did I choose to purchase Birkenstocks, for goodness sakes?
Was this a passive -aggressive act of defiance, an expression of my sovereign independence and exercise of my freedom to be shod as I please, notwithstanding my Republican wife’s disdain for Birkenstocks? I think not. She and I had enough to discuss given our political diversity. My choice of sandals is an issue that does not rise, unlike my hammertoes, to a level deserving debate. Oh, I have paid the price. My wife’s sidelong glances of imperious disapproval have not gone unnoticed, nor have I been oblivious to her distancing herself from me when I accompany her shopping at Saks, which, by the way, does not carry Birkenstocks.
When I buckled on my first pair of Birkenstocks, it was not an act of rebellion, defiance or infidelity. What I did was an act completely consistent with my political beliefs and career of fighting for the underdog. It is all about freedom. It is civil rights and emancipation of the oppressed. For years I have hidden my ugly hammertoes, ashamed to display them in public. On the beach I burrowed them beneath the sand, and at work I shamefully imprisoned them in cruel, unusual and uncomfortable positions in painfully narrow and thin Italian shoes, smothering their cries and anguished yearnings to be free.
Many, many times I had strolled by the Birkenstock store on College Avenue in Oakland glanced in the window, hesitated, fighting temptation to enter, but always sighed, turned and walked away, hammertoes protesting with each step.
I never entered until that fateful day last year.
I am no Abe Lincoln, I am no Rosa Parks, but on that day I became, in my own small way, an emancipator and freedom fighter. I entered the Birkenstock store. I cast aside my Ballys, I buckled on my first Birkenstocks and proclaimed the freedom of my hammertoes.
Now, shod in Birkenstocks, my ten little friends and I ambulate free and unfettered, free, free at last.