“Let me see your shoes!” came the hurried shout into my office. I was working on a report, poring over numbers on an Excel document, and glanced over to see my friend Ike looking more than a little ruffled standing at the door. “Huh?” I muttered, only half-looking up. “LEMME SEE YOUR SHOES!!” he bellowed back, his volume and apparent level of panic rising with each word. Having no idea what he was hollering about but anxious to get back to my spreadsheet, I swiveled around in my chair to expose my lower limbs. “NOOO!!” he screamed. “You always wear those brown loafers with the black top!” Unaware that my choice of footwear had become so predictable, but more to the point, clueless as to what significance that could possibly hold to Ike, I turned fully and encouraged him to elaborate.
You see Ike and I, while ostensibly respectable grown men – senior executives, in fact, at our quite well-known sports and entertainment corporation – were, how shall I say…extraordinarily immature. Appearances were always kept up; few outside of a tight circle of friends would suspect either of us to be anything other than buttoned-up management types. But when pranking opportunities arose, particularly juvenile ones, our 13-year-old selves readily emerged. It was, in fact, quite a short trip. On this day, Ike had ventured into our company bathroom and, having attended to the needs of his own visit, glimpsed from underneath one of the three stalls the presence of a solitary pair of feet which he confidently believed to be attached to a familiar body. And, taking a quick look around, he assessed that no one else was currently present. So naturally he did the following: He wadded up an enormous amount of paper towels, doused them under the sink until it resembled a mass of gloppy papier mache, heaved the drenched clump into the stall and onto its unsuspecting occupant, and dashed to the door turning off all the lights as he exited. He was a step into the hallway, laboring to keep his chortling controlled, when he heard a startled “HEY!!” cry out from the dark, through the still-closing door. And most troublingly, the voice did not sound familiar.
It was shortly after this point that Ike arrived at my office threshold to breathlessly ask to see my shoes and confirm what he basically already knew: that he’d just dunked a sopping pile of pulp onto some ambushed and unidentified co-worker, and left him sitting there, mystified and in the midst of conducting his bodily business, in the pitch black. We spent much of the rest of the day skulking around sneaking surreptitious glances at our male cohorts’ shoes trying to determine, without appearing to be abnormally interested, whose day had most certainly been ruined. It was a big floor, with probably near a hundred guys on it. Plus, our company had multiple consecutive floors; it wouldn’t be unusual for those on neighboring ones to be on ours for meetings, or even visit specifically to use the facilities when those on their own floors were “ocupado.” That added hundreds more potential candidates. An intern? A boss? A visiting vendor? Walking somewhere amongst us – in a pair of less-unique-than-had-once-been-thought brown and black shoes – was a disgusted (and quite possibly disgusting) gentleman, one who’d experienced something distressingly unnatural during a seemingly routine call to nature.
We never found that tormented man. The mystery remained unsolved that day, and for all the many days and years after that Ike and I remained gainfully employed in our otherwise professional appearing environment. In The Shawshank Redemption, the night before Andy Dufresne’s breakout, Red’s narration asks the simple question, “I mean seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?” Probably a little more often for Ike, I’d guess, after this potentially ruinous little episode. Honestly, if his soiled and bedraggled victim had somehow emerged to confront him, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes.