A friend of mine recently walked into my house and began strutting around the living room.
“Well?” he said.
“The bathroom is over there.”
“No. Didn’t you notice? I got The Pump.”
“That’s great. Did you have a flat?”
“No, stupid. The Reebok Pump. The shoes. Look at my shoes!”
I did. They looked like most of the athletic shoes kids wear today. But these had a little rubber basketball popping out of the tongue.
“That’s The Pump!” he said. “It’s great. You pump it, and it fills the shoe with air until it’s perfectly contoured to your foot.”
Well, now, shoot, I thought. Here it is, only one week into the ’90s, and already I am hopelessly behind.
“You should get some,” he said, leaping around the couch. “They’re the most comfortable shoes in the world. Whee!”
“How much did they cost?”
“One hundred and seventy dollars.”
I looked at him. “You bought five pair?”
“Come on. These are special. Haven’t you seen the hip TV ads with Dominique Wilkins, Dennis Johnson and Pat Riley?”
“Sure,” I said. “What do those guys care? They haven’t paid for their own shoes since they were in high school. I’m not sure Pat Riley even wears athletic shoes. Unless they have some Italian designer on the heel.”
He smiled. “The Pump, Pump, pump it up, pump it up, pump- pump-PUMP-PUMP–“
And he flew out the window. A deflating notion Now, I was never one for fashion footwear. I ignored the Earth Shoe, the Moon Boot, the Disco Heel. Besides, I have trouble with the idea of inflatable sneakers. I mean, what if you get a flat? Do you call AAA? (“Help! Corner of Main Street. Size 9. And bring some laces.”)
But since everyone says The Pump is revolutionary, and since I know kids are already nagging their poor mothers and fathers (“It’s just $170, Dad! You’re so cheap.”) and since I know that pretty soon, dope fiends in New York will stab an innocent teen for his Pump shoes, and a new crime category will be introduced, I figured I should go see for myself.
I went to a shopping mall and there it was. In between the running shoes, tennis shoes, bicycle shoes, weightlifting shoes and walking shoes (walking shoes?). The Pump.
“I’d like to try a pair,” I said to the salespeople, most of whom looked they were still in high school themselves.
“Pump it up!” they said gleefully.
I pulled one on — it looks like the shoe Neil Armstrong wore when he walked on the moon — and began to squeeze the little rubber basketball. It felt like a nurse was taking my blood pressure through my foot.
“It’s a little tight,” I said.
“You pumped too much,” they said. “Let some air out. Press the button on the back.”
I did as they said, and heard a soft wssshhh of air. Several heads turned.
“It wasn’t me,” I wanted to say, “It was the dog.” Unfortunately, my dog has the good sense to go barefoot.
This is not the way I remember shopping for sneakers. (We called them
“sneakers” before we were enlightened by major corporations such as Nike and Adidas that there is a big difference between sneakers and “running shoes.” About 80 bucks, I’d say.)
There were two kinds of sneakers back then: Pro Keds or Converse. Black or white. And they didn’t cost $170. For that much money, you could have had the whole store.
This is how you shopped for sneakers: You put them on, and the salesman pressed his finger on the white rubber tip. If you didn’t say “Oww!” your Mom said, “We’ll take them.” Then you went shopping for underwear. Go with what you know “How do they feel?” I was asked.
“Where do I get my skis and poles?”
“Ha-ha. Really. The Pump is very special, you know. It has little air bags, and layers of polyurethane, and a unique heel design, and a little window so you can see inside . . . “
I tried to imagine a pick-up basketball game in these shoes. Would I have to stop in the middle and yell, “Time out! My shoe’s deflated.” What if we suddenly heard a wssshhh sound? Was it the wind, or one of us?
I am told Nike makes a version that comes with a small pump you must carry with you. What if I forgot it? Does someone have to get on the floor and blow into my foot? Could I stop at a gas station?
As I bounced around the store, I noticed, in the corner, a pair of black Converse sneakers. The old kind. With the white rubber tip. “How much for those?” I asked.
“Oh, those are $26.”
And that’s what I purchased. Who needs The Pump? With the money I saved, I bought two new snow tires for my car. Maybe Pat Riley doesn’t wear those on his feet.
But at least when I get a flat, I don’t get shorter.