The Real Heroes

I like flip-flops. They’re an essential piece of my footwear collection. They’re lightweight. They allow my feet to breathe. And—best of all—they do a pretty bang-up job protecting my feet from the pavement and whatever sharp objects lie there.

Good flip-flops are like excellent offensive linemen. A great left tackle blocks blitzers from reaching the quarterback’s blind side; flip-flops block glass shards from the soft arches of your feet. And they both do their jobs, day in and day out, without much recognition or appreciation. Just show up every day, say yes sir and no sir, and never complain. Even though they never get any love.

It’s admirable. I could never be an offensive lineman. Or a flip-flop. They’re amazing contributors to our society.

Except.

Every once in a while, offensive linemen do get noticed. All of a sudden, people realize how much a good offensive lineman meant to his team. It almost never happens because of something positive, though. Oftentimes, it’s because… the offensive lineman got hurt. Yep. He goes down, the team misses the playoffs and everybody starts gushing and praising the offensive linemen and how important he was to the team’s scheme. The whole thing’s so heart-breaking it’s like a goddam eulogy for the injured offensive lineman.

The same goes for flip-flops. You never notice them until—pop—the strap slips loose from that little gap between your two biggest toes. The solid foundation beneath falters for a brief moment. You suddenly become acutely aware of the contents of the ground beneath you. It’s rough. It’s sharp. It’s hot. Or—ugh—it’s sticky.

Instead of the eulogizing though, you’re cursing the poor flip-flop. Oh you lousy— son of a—cheap piece of—

The only person you should blame for the situation you’re currently in, standing on a sticky barroom floor, is, of course, you. Your formal relationship with your flip-flop began at the point of purchase. Granted, flip-flops pose a conundrum. You could opt for a super-cheap pair (Old Navy anyone?) but they’re about as reliable as… well, Old Navy flip-flops. On the other hand, you could pry open your wallet and splurge on a nice high-quality two-tone, leather-strapped, cork-footbed pair of sandals. The problem is, flip-flops are notorious for suddenly disappearing. Their ‘loseability’ is sky-high. And if you lose a pair that has a ‘cork-footbed’… you’re gonna feel that hole in your wallet.

(Related story: One spring break at Panama Beach, a friend of mine returned from the water only to find that his flip-flops were missing, probably stolen. He was crestfallen. But he refused to let it ruin his fun. Without skipping a beat, he searched along the beach until he found another pair that fit him and took it for himself. FUN UNPAUSED! I wonder what the owner of that pair did. Probably went and swiped someone else’s. Musical flip-flops, hey!)

When it came time for me to make my flip-flop choice, I went the Old Navy route. I lose stuff all the time, an expensive pair wouldn’t be a good investment. This worked out fine until I began my Europe trip last summer. While traveling, you don’t have enough room for an extra pair of flip-flops, which is kind of a problem if you have an unreliable pair. You also find yourself in situations where it would really suck if one of your flip-flops quit on you.

It did, indeed suck, when I became that guy at Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland. It was Friday night, all the bars were so packed if you left one the bouncer wouldn’t let you back in. Packs of dudes wearing wacky themed shirts prowled the streets, dragging drunken husbands-to-be wearing dresses. One pack started an impromptu game where the men sat in a row facing forward, and then carried a guy down the line above their heads, mosh-pit style, down towards the end of the line where the guy sat down, adding himself to the line. One by one the men floated down the line of outstretched arms, and the line grew longer. The game ended when the leader pointed out a 400-pound gentleman from the crowd, who reluctantly came forward and promptly flattened the first few poor souls. The leader took off his cap and solicited beer money from the crowd as the pancaked gentlemen writhed and screamed in protest beneath nearly a quarter-ton of flesh.

The party was rocking, and Kevin, Scott, and me were having a blast. Eventually, we reached a Cinderella moment: we had to decide if we wanted to catch the last train at quarter-past midnight, which went back to where we left our car at a park-n-ride. Screw it, we decided, we’d party until the sun came up, glass slippers (or weakass flip-flops) be damned.

Just as the clock struck half past midnight—pop. I stood in the middle of a crowded pub, one bare foot buried in a half-inch deep layer of spilled beer and rum and cokes. Panicked and furious, I stormed out of the pub, and limped all the way on the cobblestone streets towards the nearest train stop, clutching my busted flip-flop. Scott and Kevin caught up a few minutes later. I was so pissed I refused to talk to them.

Fortunately the train was still in operation, though it stopped two stations short of where we’d parked our car. Ever the hero, Kevin ran the last half-mile or so to retrieve our car and picked us up. I tossed my flip-flop out the window into somebody’s lawn somewhere in the suburbs of Dublin.

The flip-flop troubles didn’t stop there. I bought a new pair in Holland a couple days later. Better quality, but hardly ‘cork-footbed’ level. It did just fine though, and in time it was like I had a pair of good offensive lineman under my feet again—I forgot all about my pair. Until Neuschwanstein Castle. Me and Scott scrambled up on a nearby cliff for a beautiful snapshot—a climb which also snapped the strap of my flip-flops. We only had moments before our scheduled tour of the castle, so I assembled a hasty repair job, using a spare belt strap in my backpack. It held up for the entire tour and the entire rest of the day. I felt like freakin’ Macgyver.

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The snap moments before my flip-flops snapped. Worth it? Probably.

Later, I refined the repair using a thin nylon rope somebody had left behind at a campsite. I took it real serious, too. Wrapped the rope around several times to ensure strength. When I saw that the rope stuck out in the bottom and would wear out from rubbing on the ground, I took Kevin’s Swiss army knife and carved out a notch on the sole so that the rope wouldn’t touch the ground when I took a step. Kevin wasn’t happy when he caught me with his knife, though.

“What the hell are you doing!?” he yelled, snatching at the knife. I looked at him with the innocent face of a newborn lamb.

“Just fixing my flip-flop,” I said.

“We use this knife to chop onions for dinner, dammit,” he said.

Looking back, the use of Kevin’s knife wasn’t such a good idea. But I’m still proud of my repair work.

A couple days ago, I got an email from my buddy, Scott. After spending three months romping around western Europe (two of them with me), he met up with his girlfriend in South Africa to begin a five-month journey up the African continent. At the very end of his email he wrote: “Check the attachment, you should be proud of your masterpiece.” Check it out:

IMG_1656

(click for a bigger view of my quite-impressive-if-I-do-say-so-myself handiwork)

This flip-flop may have the equivalent of a repaired ACL tear… but three months after giving away under me on the cliffs of Neuschwanstein Castle, it’s still doing a damn good job protecting Scott’s feet from the treacherous terrain of Africa.

Just like an excellent offensive lineman. Day in, and day out. No complaints. Let’s give it some love, for once.

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