Mendel Letters 45 — Sneakers

Scuffed sneakers were always safer to wear.

September 4

Dear Mendel

My grandson asked my what kind of sneakers I wore when I was his age in high school. Growing up in the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx, in those days my two favorite brands were Rejects and Trunk Sale. And we weren’t allowed to wear sneakers to school, also no dungarees or t-shirts. Girls weren’t allowed to wear pants, skirts only, even on the coldest days, and the skirts had to be below the knees.

Rejects were the no-name brand you got at discount stores like the five and dime or at a low-end department store like Korvettes on Fordham Road. My feet were growing fast, I topped out at size 13 extra wide, and it pained you that I constantly needed new shoes and sneakers. Its not that you were cheap, its that you were usually broke. Rejects were not really the brand name, they were the dismissive name other kids called them because it meant your family didn’t have the money to by quality sneakers like Keds or Converse.

The only time I got name brand sneakers was when there was a Trunk Sale on the block. A Trunk Sale happened when someone pulled up to the curb, opened their car trunk, and began selling whatever they had in their trunk, which were usually found items that had somehow mysteriously fallen off a delivery truck. You could also buy things like portable radios and other small appliances at a Trunk Sale so they were very popular. It was the 1960s version of Amazon. In those days all purchases were made in cash and of course, there were no returns. I usually preferred white, ankle-high, Converse sneakers, Cons, but when you bought at a Trunk Sale and you had big feet like me you couldn’t be choosy.

If you had new white sneakers you also had to be careful. Your friends would run up to baptize them by stepping on your toes and leaving scuff marks.

Later, when I was in college and out on my own, I frequented used clothing stores. Sometimes you got lucky and found a pair of sneakers that fit and that weren’t too worn down. You didn’t have to worry about sneaker baptism rituals because they were already pretty scuffed.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

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