Philadelphia Metropolis


Shoes on a Wire

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Shoes on a Wire.jpgBy Dalyn Montgomery

If one moves to Philadelphia from anywhere not in the Northeast, or even possibly just from the suburbs, there is one detail of the city that most ignore, and no one ever thinks of beforehand. 


Wires are everywhere.  They not only line the streets but cross over them.  When city life is described as electric, no one thinks it is due to the electrified spider web cocooning the entire metropolis.  Yet there it is.

As with most webs, this one also catches things that are meant to move, it catches shoes.  Upon my arrival to the city from South Carolina a few years ago I became obsessed with this phenomenon.  They were everywhere; they came in all styles, and in varying numbers.  I wondered why and even how.  Having lived life with an older brother I naturally suspected sibling torture was at play.  Had I been raised here I'm sure a prized new pair would have found its way to the unreachable heights.  To have new shoes dangled before my face forever would surely be worth the parental punishment that would follow.  I started snapping pictures, even doing paintings, of shoes.

As I settled into my new home I started asking others why and how our city streets had come to resemble a second-hand Christmas tree.  I found the answers nearly as fascinating as the shoes.  I began of course with those around me; people my age and class.  "Who knows," was a common answer but those more savvy said the shoes marked drug corners.

Drugs!  Not older brothers but drug lords were to blame.  Seemed simple enough but my mind kept drifting back to a certain tree at a ski resort where I grew up.  Every year this tree, which was positioned directly beneath the lift, would sprout a winter plumage of braziers.  I never knew who would start it, I never saw it happen, but year after year it would blossom and grow as the season progressed.  It marked nothing, it meant nothing, it was just something done.  The sight always amused me and there was a strange parallel to the shoes.  My skepticism led me to begin asking follow-up questions to those who gave me the drug corner explanation.  "Have you ever thrown shoes on the wire?"  I would ask.  No was always the answer.  "Have you perchance purchased drugs under shoes?" No was the answer again.

While out snapping pictures I decided to ask some less like me if they knew the answer.  One man, who mixed English and Spanish easily, got nostalgic at the question and told me of how everyone in the neighborhood wore Keds.  They would wear them till they wore out and once no longer useful, up on the wire they would go.  He looked up at the shoes like a sort of year book or family album, "There's 1984, there's '89." 

A woman having a smoke on her stoop said everyone was poor when she was growing up.  When a kid got the good blessing of a new pair of shoes, the old ones went up on the wire in a billboard style announcement of braggadocio.  She didn't use those words. 

Another man, carrying a football down the sidewalk, smiled when he told of moving 10 times before graduation.  He threw shoes up to mark where he had been.  Like Hansel's bread crumbs marking a trail.  Again, he didn't use that analogy.

I liked these answers better.  Having talked to those who did in fact throw shoes, or at least made that claim, the city looked a lot less scary.  In fact it grew charm.  Rather than dealers at every turn I saw community.  Of course I am not na├»ve enough to suspect that all the answers given me were based in truth, but that does not matter.  We all choose to believe whatever we want on most things anyway.  I cannot change all those who live here any more than I can reach those shoes on the wire.  What I can do, is choose how I see them.

Dalyn Montgomery last wrote about his life as a boxer.  Photo by the author.

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