Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

My First Pair of Chuck Taylors

Written by Sarah Amiel

When summer turned to fall during my years in school, it meant one thing and one thing only: a new first day of school outfit that would hopefully be a precursor to a socially active school year. 1994 was special in many respects; it was the year Kurt Cobain committed suicide, the year My So Called Life premiered, the year I started high school… but more importantly, it was that year I got my first pair of Chuck Taylors. One week before my freshman year began, I arrived at the Lady Foot Locker with my mother knowing exactly what pair I was after. Though the Chuck Taylor model had been established decades before, I was young and naïve enough to think that those sneakers were built solely for the September issue of Sassy Magazine, which forecasted them in their "Trends" section. (As I approached the glowing Converse floor display, I knew) I needed to have a pair.

 {multithumb blog_mode=popup thumb_proportions=bestfit resize=1 full_height=600}When summer turned to fall during my years in school, it meant one thing and one thing only during my years in academia: a new first day of school outfit that would hopefully be a precursor to a socially active school year. 1994 was special in many respects; it was the year Kurt Cobain had committed suicide, the year My So Called Life premiered, the year I started high school… but more importantly, it was that year I got my first pair of Chuck Taylors. One week before my freshman year began, I arrived at the Lady Foot Locker with my mother knowing exactly what pair I was after. Though the Chuck Taylor model was established decades before me, I was young and naïve enough to think that those sneakers were built solely for the September issue of Sassy Magazine, who had forecasted them in their trends section. (As I approached the glowing Converse floor display, I knew) I needed to have a pair.

“Those are the ones I want, in a size eight please!” I excitedly motioned in the direction of a pair of black canvas lo-tops as the sales guy walked over to help. As I paced around the black rubber floor, humming a Liz Phair song, I could hardly wait another minute to get them on my feet. A few moments later, all I could see was the tan and navy box floating toward me just waiting to be opened. I grabbed it from the sales guy, ripped off the top, and looked down at the bright and shiny new sneakers that didn’t have a single scratch on them.

“Thank you!” I shouted to both my mom and the sales guy as I carefully slid them on and laced them up. I bounced over to the knee-height-mirror as I admired them peeking out from under my gray corduroys.


“Of course,” mom responded as she laughed.

“Yesss!” I yelled, jumping up and down.

I didn’t even bother putting them back in the box. I walked carefully from the store to the parking lot of Roosevelt Field Mall, into my mom’s gray Chevrolet, all the while daydreaming of prancing down the halls of my new school sporting my brand new pair of “Chucks.” But it wasn’t the actual Chucks that imprinted my memory; it was what happened in those first pair of Chucks that would stick like glue in my mind.

On the first day of school, I sported a Kurt Cobain inspired vintage T-shirt with ripped up faded jeans I found at the local Raceway flea market in Long Island where I lived. I carried an antique lunch box I found at a local thrift store and had my new Chucks on my feet, ready to conquer as a freshman.

I arrived at school with a rush of an excitement—there were so many new faces and places and experiences to discover.

“Hey you, the one with the black Converse,” I heard when I was walking out in-between periods. I looked to the right and left of me, not sure why Margot would be talking to me.

“Me?” I asked.

“Yeah. You got a cigarette?” she shot back. I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, to be friends with an upperclassman, especially her.

“No, but I bet I can find us one,” I laughed as I asked around and grubbed a Marlboro Redfrom a loitering freshman .

Everyone at Calhoun High School knew who “Margot the Junior” was: pretty, tall, popular; a rumored rebel-without-a-cause who had supposedly smoked her first cigarette when she was ten, drank her first Zima when she was eleven, and  hung around college graduates since she was fourteen. I was convinced my Chuck Taylors had special powers; it was the only conclusion I could come to as to why she had asked me, this peon freshman, for a cigarette.

“Here you go,” I offered her, handing over the tan and white stick.

“Thanks. Want to share it over there?” She pointed to the parking lot with the juniors and seniors hanging out of various cars. As intimidated as I felt, the next thing I knew, we were sitting in the back parking lot in her black Jeep Grand Cherokee as I inhaled my first cigarette without the slightest flinch or cough, even though it tasted utterly disgusting to me. I continued to smoke it to the filter because it made me feel high and dizzy and in vogue. It was as if someone else had entered my body at the first drag, instantaneously turning me smug because I was smoking a butt with “Margot the Junior,” for everyone to see.

“So, you’re a freshman?” she asked.

“Yeah.” I said quietly.

“Cool.” She said.

“Cool.” I said.

When I got out of her car, I made sure I didn’t get any dirt on my Chucks and walked back to class. It was only my first day as freshman, and to me, my new sneakers were like my pair of ruby slippers and I was on the road to Oz. By the time my Chucks had trekked their way into October, they were beyond worn in, since I took them off only to sleep. Stars of various sizes were drawn in black ink all over the edge of the rubber bottoms, the fronts had eroded away a bit due to me dragging my feet, and the shoelaces were tattered from failing to tie them. The rush of the first day of school was over, I was getting bored in class, and the friendship with “Margot the Junior” failed to blossom. I was starting to fear my Chucks had lost their powers.

But I had faith once again when I met my first high school crush, Brendan Costigan, the weekend before Halloween. He was nineteen-years-old, lead singer/guitarist in a local LI band called Epileptic Fish, resembled Kurt Cobain, and was fully aware of my stargazing. I had been infatuated with him from afar since the summer, but I was witnessing his gorgeousness for the first time only feet away. I liked to think he was my Jordan Catalano, me his Angela Chase (he just didn’t know it yet). I had never approached him at any of his shows or when he visited his friends in the art/drama wing at school. I was on my way to the bathroom in between sets with my friends Emily and Jesse when I spotted him sitting all alone next to the door. This was my chance.

“Ohmygod. Ohmygod,” I said breathlessly to them.

“GO OVER THERE!” they said in unison.

“No! Like, go with him!” Emily yelled over the music.

“If you don’t go over there right now, I will be so mad at you. You love him. GO!” Jesse whispered in my ear.

“I’m going, god!” I whispered back to Jesse.

Both Jesse and Emily were dressed the same as me: corduroy pants, vintage T-shirts, and Chuck Taylors. The only differences between the three of us were our Manic Panic hair colors: Jesse’s short curly naturally black hair was dyed Purple Haze, Emily’s dirty blond shag was dyed Black and Blue, and my curly long brown locks were dyed Vampire Red.

I walked over to the Brendan Costigan, who was sitting on the floor waiting for the bathroom, right where I was headed. He was smoking an American Spirit in his left hand and was flipping his scraggly blond hair out of his sky blue eyes with his right hand. His shoulders were shrugged forward under his royal blue holey sweater, and his wallet chain clanged against the tile as he motioned for me to sit down. I almost ran the other way I was trembling so hard, but I scooted over in his direction and slid down next to him on the floor, my back against the wall, barely able to breathe.

“Look, we have the same sneakers, stars and all,” he said as he pointed to my shoes.

“Yeah, look at that!” I said enthusiastically, my voice still shaking. He looked at me through half-open eyes, flipped his hair so I could see the beads of sweat dripping from his brow.

“These are my favorite sneakers; I’ve had them for two years. How long have you had yours? They don’t look that old.”

“Um. Two months?” I asked instead of answering the question.

“Oh, a Chuck Taylor virgin are we? Want to come to the after show party? I can give you a ride if you want,” he said as he exhaled his cigarette.

“Sure. Let me just tell my friends...” I barely could get the words out as I picked at the rubber at the bottom of my Chucks.

“Rad. Meet me at my car in fifteen minutes out back. Cool?”

“Yeah, sure,” I smiled; as nervous as I was, I tried not to run, as I searched through the crowd to find Emily and Jesse to tell them what had happened.

“Ohmygod. Ohmygod. We both have the same sneakers and he asked me to go with him to the after-show!” I squealed.

“OHMYGOD!” Jesse shrieked.

“Are you going to go?” Emily shrieked.

“Uh, yeah. Will you guys be mad?”

“Obviously NOT!” Jesse said.

“We will find our way there and meet you later,” Emily said as she waved good-bye, dragging Jesse by her shirt. I made my way outside to Brendan’s car, nervously looking down at my sneakers and fumbling with the plastic star bracelet on my wrist. The air had a chill to it so I buttoned up my cardigan sweater.

“Hey,” Brendan said as he approached the car. I nearly jumped.

“Hi,” I gulped.

He manually unlocked the door to his beat-up, pale yellow Dotson, and got in, opening up the door for me from inside the car. I climbed in and put my seat belt on as he popped a Nirvana cassette into the tape deck. I technically wasn’t allowed in cars yet ,according to my parents, but rules were made to be broken, especially for my Jordan Catalano moment. The smell of stale smoke filled my nostrils, and I started to cough.

“You okay?” Brendan asked as he pulled away from the curb.

“Yeah, course!” I said as I fell silent. I was scared to say anything for fear that I would say something stupid.

“So…want to sit and talk before we go into the party?” he asked as he simultaneously steered the wheel and lit a cigarette.

“Uh, sure,” I basically whispered.

A few minutes later, we were parked a couple houses ahead to “talk,” and before I knew it, we managed to start my first genuine make out session on a senior’s front lawn somewhere a short distance from school. I remember the grass was cold and soggy, and my Chucks and jeans were getting wet, but I was in such a state of lust, I didn’t care. When we were finished, I realized it was half an hour past my eleven-thirty curfew, it was starting to rain, and I was about to turn into a pumpkin if I didn’t get home quickly. We never made it to the party, but I could have cared less.

“So, I guess I'll call you?” Brendan said as he parked on the corner. I was afraid someone on my block would rat on me and tell my parents a boy had dropped me off, so I made him stop at the corner of my street instead of in front of my house.

“Sure. Bye!” I said as I pecked him on the cheek, ran down the block and into my house as the rain started to come down harder. As I entered my house, I felt the squishiness of the water in my shoes, and I looked down to see my Chucks were completely drenched and possibly totally ruined. I looked up and saw my mother in her bathrobe walking down the stairs and into the foyer.

“Young lady, where have you been? I called Jesse’s mom and she said she didn’t drive you home, and you are an hour late.”

“It’s not a big deal. I got a ride home from someone else...” I whined.

“You are not allowed in cars unless the driver is a parent, you know that. You are GROUNDED, which means no phone or going out for a WEEK!” she yelled, but in a whisper, afraid to wake up my stepfather.

“ARE YOU SERIOUS?” I hissed back.

“Yes, now get upstairs to your room. It’s past your bedtime.” She raised the pitch of her voice, which meant she was really getting mad.

“FINE,” I said back as I ran upstairs to my room and shut my door, took a deep breath and sat on my bed.

I couldn’t believe I had made out with Brendan Costigan, my high school obsession all thanks to what I presumed were my now completely ruined Chuck Taylors. I was more devastated about my sneakers than the fact that I was grounded, but it had been worth it. Though the rubber began to tear at the base, a new pair of shoelaces was all I needed after a cycle in my washing machine, and I was able to get more use out of them throughout my relationship with my crush.

The three-month span wearing my Chucks included the first time I smoked pot, “moshing” at my first Green Day concert, sitting in detention, and getting to almost-second base with Brendan in the front seat of his car. While the pressure to do something more than just French kiss and kind of feel me up nagged at me on a steady basis, I couldn’t bring myself to allow something more to happen. I was still far from being comfortable in my own skin, hiding myself under my uniform of vintage clothes, and the security blanket of my Chucks. I allowed hickeys and above the shirt contact, but nothing more because I had tricked myself into thinking that all was way too forbidden and scary.

It only took three months of strictly making out before I heard from a friend of a friend that a sophomore had given him a blowjob in the front seat of his dirty old car. This was allegedly after he dropped me off around the corner from my house, since she lived near me. Devastation could not even begin to describe what I suffered when he confessed to me in the hallway of school one wintry afternoon, his eyes dashing everywhere but in my direction, when I asked if it was really true. He looked down at his feet like a sad puppy dog, knowing he had done something wrong and whispered, “Yes, I’m an asshole,” so low I hardly heard him. I slapped him in the face as hard as I could and dashed out the side drama doors into the bitter cold and ran home.

When I got back to my house, sopping wet from the snow, I ran upstairs to my room without saying a word to anyone. I didn’t know what to do with myself except push the repeat button on my Little Earthquakes album and scream into my pillow about how unfair my life was, dramatically scrawling about my emotions in red magic marker on the lined paper of my diary. A cardboard box I hid under my bed was filled with a compilation of things I had saved or stolen that were remotely connected to him; the creased letters folded four ways saying “I love you” were placed in for good measure to prove how much he cared, the soda can he once drank from, pieces of half-chewed gum stuck to paper, his demo tape all scattered inside. I decided in the wake of our breakup, it was time to rid myself of the box, so I took it outside in my backyard and lit the contents on fire. I contemplated throwing in my Chuck Taylors too, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it—I loved them too much.

I was irritated with myself that I had ever let such a ridiculous thought occur, that an insufficient pair of sneakers were special enough to make our relationship happen. The following weeks, I was nothing but a walking study of a teenage girl with an aching heart. I’d come home, lock myself in my room, and listen to music, not wanting to have any contact with anyone because I felt so broken.

My mom suggested one night after school that maybe we go shopping to cheer me up. She expressed how she hated to see me so upset, and though I initially resisted, I still went. As we approached the Lady Foot Locker for round two, I abruptly decided it was time for a new pair of sneakers—I was getting sick of my Chucks anyway and wanted something different. I decided to upgrade to a pair of navy Jack Purcell’s, which was a way better look for spring. When I got home with my new pair, I put my now old Chucks in the back of my closet, thinking that one day maybe I’d wear them again, just not anytime too soon. When I saw Brendan in the halls with my new pair of sneakers, he commented that he liked them, but I ignored him and kept on walking as I slyly smiled, feeling I had gotten the best of him. The rest of the year went smoothly for the most part; I became infatuated with a senior named Chris, I passed all my classes, and went to my first keg party. I tried to ignore the fact that I thought it was due to my new Jack Purcell’s.

Almost a decade later  I came across the black Chuck Taylor’s in the back of my closet when I was cleaning it outto help move my parents out of my childhood home. The sneakers were smooshed underneath an old box of paints, which made permanent dents in the canvas of my former favorite lo-tops. I pulled them from the wreckage (aka my closet) and struggled to get them on my feet as the memories came flooding back. And though my teenage angst years were thankfully far behind me, I had the sudden urge to put on a Nirvana album, which I did, while I moshed alone in my room, waiting for my phone to ring with Brendan Costigan on the other end.

Illustration by Stacey Phillips

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