I saw them hanging there, yellow sneakers on black power lines, without the foot that used to wear them and with the half-blue-half-cloudy autumnal bostonian sky as background. I saw them in my neighborhood that is full of students and adolescents; actually, every now and then, while I'm walking on the streets of my neighborhood, my eyes fall upon sneakers hovering over my head, hanging on telephone wires, power lines and even trees; usually during the weekends, when students have a lot of alcohol, dancing and sex.
There is already a term in America for this phenomenon: “shoe tossing”; the guy who does the shoe tossing is called “shoe thrower”. There are a bunch of urban legends on why young Americans want to show their old sneakers to the entire new world. It is believed that this is a sort of rite of passage for adolescents; teenage boys who've just "scored" for the first time — i.e., lost their virginity — are wont to heave an old pair of sneakers over a power line to celebrate the moment and proclaim their conquest to the world. Some others say that the rite is linked to gang sign — sneakers hanging over telephone or electrical wires were to designate gang turf. Depending on what part of America you are from, one shoe from a light post or sign represents the death of a gang member. Judging by what I have experienced till now in my new neighborhood, I don’t feel like being encircled by gangs and pistoleros. There is also the drug theory: usually you see a pair of shoes hanging in the ghetto where everyone does drugs; it means "stop here". But then again the theory of the ghetto doesn’t apply here either, as this is one of the nicest and artistically thriving neighborhoods in Boston. Talking with “shoe throwers” among my students I got a simple explanation: after getting a new pair of sneakers, it is a common ritual to tie the shoelaces of your old pair together and throw them up on power lines and telephone wires. What else are you going to do with your old pair of sneakers?
So, it is Sunday morning and I'm staring at this pair of shoes, hovering over my head, hanging on black power lines, like two yellow finches, surrendered to their winter-solitude. The comparison with the finches brought suddenly some favorite verses by J. Prevert, from my adolescence, back to my "mature" brain: “Feet are very smart/ They take you very far/ When you want to go very far/ And then when you don’t want to leave/ They stay there with you, they keep you company/ And when there is music they dance/ You can’t dance without them/Just be stupid like man is so often/ As stupid as his feet/ and happy as a finch”.