Pat's View: Hanging Shoes

By Pat Cashman

A friend of mine was driving past a cemetery with his four-year old daughter one day---and noticed her looking closely at it. “Do you know what that place is?” the dad asked. “Oh sure, “she answered casually. “That’s where the dead guys live.”

Kids do seem to have an uncanny awareness of things most adults figure they wouldn’t have a clue about. That’s why I recently assembled a group of neighbor kids to get their take on the greatest of modern-day mysteries---one that probably began shortly after Alexander Graham Bell came up with his big invention. This is not about the telephone specifically---but the telephone wire. Not only did its invention make long- distance phone communication possible, but it also popularized the phrase: “Wire, wire; pants on fire.”

But those wires are also repositories of sorts; repositories for a phenomenon so pervasive that I have tossed and turned over it for years. In fact, it is mostly sleeplessness that keeps me awake at night.

It is the question of why---from sea to shining sea, and all across our fruited plain---SHOES ARE SEEN HANGING FROM TELEPHONE LINES?

Surely you’ve noticed them. Perhaps you’ve tossed them up there yourself. That’s your business.
But they’re everywhere---except newer neighborhoods where wires are underground. And maybe those underground installations also have shoes attached. Who knows?

But the hanging variety range from Florsheim’s to Ked’s---tied together and dangling like participles. Why are they there? Why are they there? Why did I repeat the preceding question twice?

Of course speculation on the suspended shoes enigma is not new. There are endless discussions in books and on websites. There are probably think tanks puzzling over it at this very moment. Perhaps it will all come out in a senate investigation.

Few have actually ever witnessed someone throwing the shoes up there. They just seem to be there---appearing one day as suddenly as a long-lost cousin knocking at the front door after you’ve won the lottery.
Tennis shoes are almost always the footgear of choice---although there have been reported sightings of laced wedgies, wingtips and boots. A guy in Anchorage claims to have once seen a pair of snowshoes hanging off a power line---although he later admitted he was really drunk, so they could have been tennis rackets.

So what’s with the dangling footwear? There appears to be no one answer. It all depends on the particular intent of the individual shoe-tosser. Urban mythology (which rumor says is a newly-introduced course at Evergreen College---worth three credits) offers endless theories as to why the shoes hang on high. Here are some of them:

  • They’re put there by farmers to scare crows away.
  • They’re put there by crows so they can have a nesting place.
  • Tennis shoes hanging on a power line means you can buy drugs there.
  • Tennis shoes hanging on a power line means you can buy sole inserts there.
  • They’re a gang sign.
  • They’re podiatrist advertising.

I thought the neighbor kids might have better hunches than any of those, so I recently brought several of them together over a half case of Mountain Dew and Pop Tarts to discuss the hanging shoe mystery. Here are some of the youngsters’ actual thoughts:

“My dad says that Nordstrom puts them there so people will subconsciously think about buying shoes.”
“When shoes are really, really smelly---the angels put them up there so they can air out for awhile.”
“People hang the shoes on the telephone wires so that birds can see the wires better and won’t fly into them and get shocked.”

“Crooks put them there to make the police mad.”
“Some guys are just too lazy to put their old shoes in the garbage.”
“My brother threw his shoes up there so the rain would wear the dog doo off.”

One kid, Justin, had this notion: “They’re all that’s left of sky divers. If you could get those shoes down, you’d find that the feet are still in there too.” Justin’s parents are getting him counseling.

Maybe the entire truth will never be known, but I think a kid named Isaac might be on the right track. He says, “People throw the shoes up there because hats and underpants just won’t stay.”
Pat was a longtime cast member and writer on KING 5’s Almost Live---which continues to air in popular re-runs Saturdays following Saturday Night Live. He is a keynote speaker---and a fundraiser auctioneer---plus he co-hosts a weekly on-line talk show:

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