Outfitting Today’s Athlete

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the September 28, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259The last time I bought sneakers Jimmy Carter occupied the White House, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dragged along at 800, and the city of New Haven provided its first taste to a freshman from Rochester. The old fashioned red, white and blue Nikes I purchased saw much action. They cushioned my soles against the city pavement when I walked the half mile each way to Science Hill (and Ingalls Rink). They accompanied me on the intramural battlefields, (but witnessed precious little action in the many squash courts which dotted the campus).

After graduation, the sneaks helped cut grass – their white skin becoming progressively greener – and they provided comfort through the non-working hours. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I wore them almost everywhere (even to Church). They were good, durable sneakers. Come to think of it, they lasted longer than Walter Mondale’s political career.

Alas, as with all things, their time passed. With a tear in my eye, I tossed them away a couple of years ago. “Ever forward!” I thought, and vowed never to buy another pair of sneakers again (such was my loyalty).

But then my eye caught the volleyball ad placed in the Sentinel a couple of weeks ago. I decided to try it out, the Mendon Recreation Board having been so kind as to provide the opportunity. That decision, however, directly led to the need to outfit myself in some modest sports attire, not the least of which meant buying some sneakers.

It’s amazing how much has changed in the past ten years. Why there’s Reeboks, Avias and L.A. Gears alongside the more seasoned Nikes (don’t ask me what ever happened to Keds). Of course, the only thing recognizable about the Nikes was the name. All the sneakers sported that same neo-European look which has seemed to plague American car manufacturers.

Unfortunately (for me), the old fashioned sneaker does not exist anymore. Nope. In the past decade, the casual footwear industry (it’s no longer called the “sneaker industry”) has become a victim of computer-toting hi-tech fashion designers. I swear a couple of the sneakers I looked at even came with an instruction manual (printed in Japanese, of course).

And then there’s the price. I couldn’t believe it! Sneaker – er, sorry – casual footwear costs more than formal footwear (that’s “shoes” for people who aren’t hip). Seriously! We’re talking several weeks of lunch money (and those were the lowest priced sneakers the store had to offer).

Needless to say, I began having second thoughts about volleyball.

When I finally decided which sneakers to buy, price turned out to be a determining factor. (After all, they all looked alike to me.) The helpful salesman, seeing my confusion, advised me there was very little difference between the sneakers. My one goal – avoid purchasing those new $175 sneakers with air pumps. What do sneakers need air pumps for, anyway? Heck, I don’t even have an air pump for the three deflated footballs sitting in my garage.

I tried a pair and had significant problems. The Velcro I could figure out, but the lacing pattern proved complex. (No doubt the lacing arrangement was designed by an MIT Ph.D. who spent too many of his post-graduate years consumed in some Dungeons and Dragons labyrinth.) Again, the salesman came to the rescue.

After securing a second mortgage on my house, I bought the sneakers, being sure they came in a sturdy box (for my baseball cards – old habits die hard). I then moved on to the sweat pants.

Aargh! They all looked too snazzy to get dirty. The only plain ones didn’t have an elastic string to tie around your waist. (The last thing I want is to be playing volleyball and have my pants fall down!) Naturally, I assumed the price would reflect the popularity of the current fitness trend.

It did. But I didn’t need my car, anyway (which had to be sold in order to acquire the sweatpants). The name of the manufacturer boldly emblazoned on the legs bothered me. I felt like a walking commercial. I hate wearing clothes with the company’s name on it (except if they pay for them, as in the case of baseball uniforms).

Well, I took my gear and had a very good time playing volleyball in the high school gym. No one made fun of my sweatpants, and the sneakers made those typical sneakers-on-the-gym-floor squeaky sounds. I figure I must have bought the right stuff. But I can’t help but feel sorry for those parents who have to buy their kids new sneakers every year. They must be on their tenth or eleventh mortgage!

Last Week #27: Can America Compete? – Part II (originally published September 21, 1989)
Next Week #29: Legalize Drugs?! (originally published October 5, 1989)

[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]


  1. Chris Carosa says

    Author’s Comment: I quickly discovered folk took a particular liking to two themes: everyday items (like sneakers) and local affairs (like the weekly volleyball games). Even though I could (obviously) write only of my own experiences, they saw themselves in the story. In this case, they pictured themselves buying ridiculously expensive sneakers for their kids or playing volleyball on Monday night.

    Though written 21 years ago, the issue of expensive sneakers remains today. They’re just less of a fad with the retirement of Michael Jordan.

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