I WENT TO a sporting goods store with a couple of teen-age boys, one of them mine. The teens regarded this trip as a chance to buy "cool" sweat shirts and other guy stuff. For me this trip wasn't about male bonding, it was about bandaging.
I was there to check out the knee braces, ankle braces, to look at any device that could help keep my joints aligned. While I was at it, I planned to scout around for some basketball shoes. I didn't care if the shoes were stylish. I just didn't want the shoes to pinch my feet when I put in my custom-made foot braces.
Parents and teen-agers see the world differently, of course, and this became apparent during our sporting goods outing.
First, there was the difference in attitude. The young guys were looking forward to traveling to the distant mall. They do it regularly. Distance is no object when they are pursuing coolness. And coolness in athletic shoes, it seems, is constantly changing.
I, on the other hand, regarded this shopping venture and others an obligation, something that, like trips to the dentist, should be confined to two quick trips a year.
Moreover, I believe, once you buy stuff, you keep it forever. When athletic shoes have lost their shape, you recycle them for home-repair duty. A pair of aged basketball shoes makes ideal footwear for those leaf-raking and bathtub-caulking occasions. Next, these shoes become "mature shoes" ready to wear when doing the dirty work of cleaning out gutters, painting a closet, or patching the roof. When you are wearing "mature shoes" you never have to worry about appearances, yours or your shoes'. All you have to worry about is whether some unthinking person will throw these valuable shoes in the trash.
Teen-agers seem to see athletic shoes as a statement of style, something to be appreciated for their beauty. When the two teen-agers and I arrived at the new sportings goods store, I walked over to the shoe department, sat down, and began trying on shoes. Meanwhile, the teen-agers admired the shoes on display, even though they weren't going to buy any. This was behavior I could not understand. Why would you look at something if you didn't have to buy it?
I also did not see eye-to-eye with the young man who waited on me in the shoe department. He couldn't seem to grasp the idea that I did not care what the shoes looked like. What I cared about was how they fit and how much they cost. I knew more about the price of shoes than he did.
The shoe department had mirrors down at floor level, but I didn't look in them. Instead I spent a long time walking around the store trying to figure out if the new shoes would hurt my old feet, help them, or just leave them alone. Apparently the sales clerk had never seen anyone take so much time to buy a pair of shoes. He took an early lunch break and fled the mall to eat hamburgers with his buddies.
Eventually I picked out a pair of shoes. I found a replacement shoe clerk and asked her to point me toward the ankle braces. She gave me a puzzled look, and replied that she wasn't sure, but she thought they were located two departments down.
The clerk in the braces department was pleasant, but too young and too supple. I figured this guy had never worn a brace in his life. What I wanted to see were the clerks that looked like the guys from the old and now defunct Simon Harris sporting goods store on Gay Street. Not only were those guys older than you, they were in worse shape. When a clerk at Simon Harris walked around with his shirt unbuttoned, the button that was broken was probably the one trying to hold in a bulging stomach, not the one trying to restrain a muscled chest. Just watching those old clerks walk, you knew they were familiar with aches and pains, and creaky joints.
While some teen-agers are loyal to specific brands of athletic gear, preferring, for example, the look of the new Nike shoes to Converse, I don't care about shoes brands. But I do I have a favorite brand of ankle braces: Wilson. When I asked the young, supple clerk at the sporting goods store if the store carried my preferred brand, I could see I had stumped him. Ankle-brace brand loyalty was not part of his life.
So I skipped the ankle brace. I did buy a new knee support, an open patella, or bare knee-cap model. When I got home and tried it on, it turned out to be too small.
I had planned to wear that brace and some "mature" basketball shoes as I climbed on the roof to patch a small leak. Without the brace, I couldn't make the climb. I had to put the chores off.
So this weekend I will haul myself back out to the sporting goods store and get a bigger knee brace. Then I can patch the roof. My teen-ager has already told me he and one of his buddies want to come along with me. They bought some "cool stuff" the last time they were out there. And already they want to buy more.