I’ve always had this obsession with wearing shoes that match my activities. It started with river rafting and Tevas and continued with football cleats for artificial and real grass, Jordans for basketball on wood and concrete, and of course, Asics for cross-training and jogging.
In college, I took a tennis PE class and loved Tennis. I still play with my dad sometimes and have since I can remember in my childhood. At the time, I was jobless, eating ramen and donating plasma so I could afford new guitars and amplifiers to feed my rock and roll habit. I waited tables at a local crab shack and probably met my wife around this same time.
I went to my folks’ house one day complaining about wanting to play tennis, but just having running shoes and turning my ankles in my PE class. I told mom I needed shoes for tennis, even though my mom and dad were always perfectly happy to wear any kind of shoes to do most activities. She seemed to understand.
They’ve always budgeted using cash envelopes and actually had a shoe budget. I didn’t know the details of their cash system, just that haircuts, clothes, and whatnot came out of this cashbox budget. Mom went and got her shoe envelope, which had more than one pay period’s worth of cash in it. She wanted me to have it to buy new shoes.
She gave me the whole envelope. All the cash in it. I didn’t really count it, but I knew it was a lot to her. And probably would do the trick. Turns out, a lot of money on shoes for my mom was $35. I was kind of disappointed that I still couldn’t afford shoes, but equally awed by the gesture, that Mom gave me dad’s and her entire shoe budget for the last couple of months.
Regardless, my tennis class was that afternoon, so I headed to the shop where I’d picked up my racquet at a pretty hefty savings, so I had high hopes. Maybe I could pick up something vintage, anything flat really, something good for a court that wouldn’t roll my ankles. I remember parking in the lot and looking at the money, wondering if I should even go in.
I walked in with a purpose: See if name brand shoes for $35 was even a thing, and proceed. I went straight for the Wilson Pro Staff, the Nikes, the Reeboks, and the Adidas. The Stan Smiths were even twice what I had for a pretty simple vintage shoe. I knew my dad always wore those, but they were leather and felt hot to me. I walked over to the tennis section, defeated, and realized that I’d be putting my ankles at risk, yet again today, wearing jogging shoes on the tennis court.
I don’t remember how I came across the Prince shoes. I think that was the brand. These were definitely tennis shoes because as far as I know, Prince just makes tennis stuff, they prefer to be known as the Tennis Brand formerly known as Prince, though. If I remember right, I shared my predicament with a salesperson and next thing I know, they were showing me these $125 Prince shoes, in all white on white. Not my favorite color combo, but dang, sweetness, and expensive sweetness at that.
They’d been sitting for a while, though, not selling as well as the Nikes and Reeboks, and eventually marked down to half price, which was about $62. That news was neither here nor there for me, as I literally just had the $35 my mom had given me. Not a penny more. But somehow that weekday morning (which was coincidentally a good time to shop at retail places) I had walked into a clearance sticker extravaganza.
75% off. $32. Right at $35 with taxes. Literally shocked. How had my mom managed to turn $35 into $125? I don’t know. I never asked. I put my runners in the box and walked out of the store with them on after I checked out. Those shoes were comfortable and supportive as you would expect from hundred plus name brand shoes and I wore them out.
So mom gave me her shoe budget. She and my dad went without new shoes for a few months, and looking back, I should have dealt with it, I probably shouldn’t have taken their money. I could have just worn the shoes I had. But then and there, it was important to me. And my mom gave me 100% and more of what she had, because she loved me. Believe it or not I’m pretty good at tennis. Assuming I have the right shoes.
So as an adult and parent, I’ve developed this rule. If you’re known for having a bad temper, that joke where you act mad about something isn’t really funny, if I can’t tell and you occasionally do actually get mad like that. My dad, however, was the master of this gag, and it never got old, because he rarely got mad, at least in front of me.
Third Eye Blind is a nineties band that is not important to my dad and only vaguely important to me. OLGA was the online guitar archive that would tell you how to play any song on the guitar. Distortion is a type of electric guitar pedal that makes the guitar louder and basically, fuzzy. Kurt Cobain famously used distortion to indicate a change in the song and an emotional increase, but he’s not in Third Eye Blind.
I liked this song called “how’s it gonna be” by Third Eye Blind. I still love that song, actually. And here’s why.
I was playing my guitar one night, on a Saturday, probably at about three in the morning. I’m pretty sure my dad was probably preaching the next morning, you know, about six hours from me playing my guitar at full volume in my room that shared an air duct with my parents’ master.
Dad bursts in the door. It’s three AM mind you and he says to me, “How many times have I told you? Make sure and practice your guitar!” Then he smiled and walked back to his room presumably to try to go back to sleep. The gag doesn’t get old if you’re typically slow to anger.
So one day, I’m learning “how’s it going to be” on OLGA, which typically had pretty formal charts and really laughing, because right before the bridge to “how’s it going to be” in parenthesis, there was a playing suggestion: “Hit the distortion, man!” Oh, that cracked me up, and I immediately hunted down my guitar playing pops to share the novel silliness with. It’s mostly an acoustic guitar song, which makes that “Hit the distortion, man!” line so funny.
So fast forward, I’m hanging out with my dad in our living room. Maybe a few weeks or months after that little joke. And “How’s It Going To Be” starts playing on the radio. I loved that song at the time, and said something like, “I know how to play this song on guitar” to my dad, who kind of smiled and began to listen.
First verse. Chorus. Second verse. Chorus. Then this feedback happens and…
“Hit the distortion, man!” my Dad yells. I fell out of my chair laughing. I had totally forgotten that bit, but I never would again because that one line spelled it out for me. My dad was remembering and processing the words I was saying. He was interested in things I was interested in that he normally didn’t care about, but he cared about me.
So now that song makes me think of him. And as we get older, sometimes, “I wonder how’s it going to be when it goes down? How’s it going to be when you’re not around? How’s it going to be when you don’t know me anymore? How’s it going to be, How’s it going to be?”
Hit the distortion, man.