Vanity Thy Name







By John Simonds


In Tom Wolfe’s classic novel, Bonfire of the Vanities, he goes to extraordinary lengths to describe in exhausting detail, the ultra-expensive footwear of his protagonists on Wall Street, known, satirically as “The Masters of the Universe.” He believed, perhaps with some justification, that a man’s shoes were a window to his character and personality. I thought the idea was novel, bordering on “a brilliant insight,” when I first read it. That was almost twenty years ago.

I was reminded of this masterful observation this morning when I awoke to discover that our new puppy, Carlotta, had chewed the tassel off of one of my all-time favorite pair of highly-polished brown leather loafers; I thought these comfortable loafers signaled to the world that I had some real class. I had shown my devotion by purchasing a pair of designer socks to wear with these well-traveled loafers. “Bad dog,” I screamed, as Carlotta looked up me with a sheepish grin on her furry face.



The jury that sleeps besides me declared that I was guilty for not having put the loafers on a shelf designed for protecting them, before I feel into bed exhausted from an evening at the original Coco Pazzo Café on Hubbard Street. The same jury that declared me guilty of neglect, reminded me that I had experimented with a lethal Italian drink known universally as a negroni. I pleaded nolo contender.

Since she had obviously captured the emotional high-ground, she decided to go for broke by suggesting that this might be a good day, between football games, to cull my vast and largely sedentary collection of footwear, some of which had been with me since puberty, or so it seemed.

I opened a white garbage bag from under the sink ready to make a significant donation to the Salvation Army of my long-neglected footwear.

On an upper shelf, looking despondent, was a pair of forest green wading boots that had been worn on my ill-begotten quest to catch the wily trout on a No. 5 fly rod from Orvis. My lusty career as a fly fisherman was mostly fantasy. I spent enormous sums of money on equipment: GORTEX Waders, an enviable collection of flies and lures from fly shops around the world, several expensive reels and lodging at the storied Henry’s Fork.

I can barely tie my shoelaces, say nothing of trying to tie delicate flies. Then I read that 90 percent of all the trout are caught by 10 percent of the fishermen. Furthermore, my forlorn wading boots have felt bottoms which have been declared dangerous because they collect unwanted bacteria from the riverbed. Into the garbage bag they went without a tear.



The next candidate was a pair of REI, sturdy hiking boots, last worn around 2001 on a hiking tour of Provence, France with the wonderful Butterfield and Robinson guides from Canada. They don’t sell this model anymore. Technology advances in hiking equipment has made my heavy-duty model as obsolete as land-lines. The closest I have come to hiking was reading the magnificent book, Wild, by Cheryl Strayer about hiking the Pacific Rim Trail alone.

On the cover of this book is a photograph of a well-worn hiking boot similar to the one I am about to place gently in the garbage bag.

Next up are a pair of two-toned worn golf shoes with a few grass stains embedded in the cleated soles. It was around golf that my rich fantasy life really got wings: There I was on the 18th hole at Augusta about to win The Master’s when an eagle swept down and stole my ball right off the green. Truth be told, I loved the game, but I was never better than a 17 handicap, which puts be in the middle of pack and way behind my least favorite golfer in the White House. I am hoping to hit some balls in Mexico this winter. My Nike’s will serve me fine.

Almost untouched in 20 years are a pair of the ever popular and classic” leather boat shoes” from L.L. Bean, but they are not only out of style, but they are not very comfortable compared with my low-cut sneakers. I was a partner in a 32-foot C&C Sailboat in Seattle and lesson #1 is never go on deck in bare feet. I still see lots of men of my vintage still wearing their old boat shoes that are as out of style as wide ties. I hope to see some homeless guy with an 8 ½ size shoe wearing my “boat shoes” wrapped in a blanket on Michigan Avenue on a cold day.

The final candidate for the garbage bag is a pair of black Merrill’s, a slip-on that were very popular and signified you were a pretty cool and casual guy, which by the way, I am not. I came to Chicago via Seattle where a gentleman named John Nordstrom started a shoe business. I bought my first pair of Merrill’s at his Flagship Store. Seattle really was and still is a very laid-back place, but my black pair just do not make the cut anymore, so goodbye forever.

“Vanity thy name is woman” said the Bard. Really?


Photos by John Simonds