A couple of friends surfaced in our recent move to Florida. They were hiding behind some small boxes under the bed in the loft.
I hollered down the stairs to Vicki, “Hey, Look! My old sandals!” It was a keen discovery, akin to finding the body of Jimmy Hoffa.
I brushed off the fuzzy green mold.
Vicki’s level of enthusiasm did not rise to mine. But she is a woman of many talents. Do you know she can open one eye wide while squinting with the whole other side of her face? She shot me that stink eye as I came bounding down the stairs, prize in hand. For a moment I imagined that she might have even had something to do with the mysterious disappearance of my footwear. She is also a very good hider.
My joy blocked her shot. “I forgot all about these guys!”
Did I tell you how I really like these sandals? They are incredibly comfortable. They have wide leather-like straps that loop over the over the top of my foot and bury themselves in a rubbery synthetic base. There are no identifying labels anywhere except for on the bottom of the soles. Right under each arch, the number 41 is stamped into the plastic. This is the atomic number of Niobium (93Nb), a key ingredient used in the manufacture of certain robust synthetics. Niobium, as they teach in all the finer Ivy League schools, is quite stable and has a half-life of 34.7 million years. This explains why it is used for making sandals, critical jet engine parts, and the cream filling found in Little Debbie oatmeal cakes. It also explains how my friends were preserved for many years under the bed in the loft.
The first time I found these sandals was in a shoe store on Salah-edh-Din street. As is the case for many items marketed in East Jerusalem alleyways, one can never be absolutely sure of their origins. China? Italy? Los Alamos National Laboratories? It is a don’t ask--don’t tell situation. I once saw piles of running shoes on a push cart near the Damascus Gate. On the side of each one was Nike’s patent swoosh — sewed on upside down. I wondered if the fine folks in Beaverton, Oregon, had missed a batch?
I grabbed these sandals because hot July afternoons in Jerusalem demand a lighter touch. Leather shoes suffocate the feet and cause them to ferment. I know this personally because my feet have, at times, erupted in more ferment than Kimchi buried in wet dirt.
This came to my attention afresh in the summer of 2007. I was on an archaeological dig in the country of Jordan. Many of the participants were religiously conservative, to the point that they thought that Amman would be a good place to revive the biblical practice of foot washing. I had serious doubts, but kept them to myself.
Since I was a Bible and Culture professor, I think they felt obliged to invite me. Of course, I felt obliged to accept, ostensibly, to critique them on the finer points of the practice. I pulled on my favorite Niobium sandals.
One poor lad by the name of Dustin thought he would score extra points by washing his professor’s feet. When it was his turn, he carried the basin over to where I was sitting. Everyone was feeling quite pious. Heads were down. Eyes were closed. Dustin pulled off my sandals. From this point forward, I’m not exactly sure what happened. He proceeded to shake his head vigorously, sweat, blink, and generate retching noises in his stomach. These crawled up his throat and summersaulted. He forced each gag back down again with such aplomb that the rest of the group began to peek, admire his fortitude, then giggle. Eventually the room burst into unbridled guffaws. This, of course, is not how exercises of true servanthood are supposed to be practiced. I must hand it to Dustin though, he finished what he started. When he did finally arise, tears of joy running down his face, he exclaimed, “those are some feet.” Then he sprinted outside, I presume for more exercises.
I thought to myself contentedly, “Yes they are. These feet have taken me many places.”
Now that my favorite sandals have been recovered, I’ve been wearing them to teach in my new Florida school. You can wear sandals when you teach in Florida, as the weather here is exactly like the weather in Jerusalem, save for the fact that the Sunshine State is much hotter and wetter and buggier and swampishyier and generally more reptilian than all of the Middle East put together.
Hence, my favorite footwear has now entered a second stage of life. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how long it will last. Either because of the excited biology of the region or my falling arches, the sandals are doing something new. The insoles are sticking to my footbottoms. This becomes a problem when I vigorously prance in front of the classroom, as I am wont to do when expounding on the finer points of Hebrew copular clauses. Somehow the sandal suction releases when I lift my leg and then adheres again when I stomp the floor. The sound that is produced by this action resembles the vigorous expulsion of air created by cupping one’s hand under one’s armpit and pumping the other arm vigorously (a practice, when done well, never fails to delight even the stodgiest crowd.). The following is just one example of a punctuated reading we had last week:
“The third-person (pbodpobd) subject-pronoun (pffffft) may function as a (ffrrbbrtt) substitute copula (ffffbbopp).”
The students sat wide-eyed. I thought, Have they not heard of copular clauses before?
After another moment of reflection, another idea flashed in my mind. It is a good thing that Vicki is not here.