All Tied Up

Sat Nov 20 2004

You know, I don't much like shoelaces.

People have always mocked me about the way I tie my shoes. First it was the kids in the neighborhood, but the first major blow was struck by my grandfather, who was offended that, at age 6, I was unable to tie my own shoes. Upon discovering this, he proceeded to lecture and drill me on shoe-tying in the family room, in front of an assembled mass of (smoking) familial relations who were at the house for some sort of dinner. Everyone had a good laugh while I coughed and tried to make the rabbit run around the tree and down the hole for half an hour. I still have trouble with it.

It wasn't strictly true that I couldn't tie my shoes: I could certainly pull the laces tight and make a knot. However, I'd been told I shouldn't because I wouldn't get it right. As a kid, I had bad feet. Flat feet. Bad ankles. Shattered heels. I was forever twisting and spraining ankles, slamming my toes into things, stepping badly and falling down. For reasons which have never been disclosed to me, I had to wear orthopedic lace-up ankle boots, first with store-bought inserts then with custom-made orthodic inserts. In the mornings my parents laced those boots so tight I often couldn't feel my toes, then tied them off with a special "double knot" so they wouldn't come untied during the day. I wasn't allowed to take off my shoes or go barefoot.

I vividly remember my first pair of sneakers (red! three stripes on the sides!) at age eight, which were a grudging experiment resulting from much nagging on my part. I wasn't supposed to run around or play in them lest I hurt my feet, and I wasn't supposed to get them dirty. A few days later, I found myself wearing them on a long nature walk of some sort with a summer school field trip: of course, it was a long walk, and I fell in a creek. There endeth the experiment until the middle of fourth grade, I think, except for soccer cleats.

So I think I have a mild variation on that "bound foot" phenomena you hear about every once in a while: most of the time, my feet don't feel comfortable unless they're in shoes and laced up tight. I still smash my toes into things and get clumsy if I'm barefoot.

I still use custom orthopedic inserts. If I wear shoes without them - or go around barefoot - my feet are inevitably sore after about half an hour of standing or walking. These inserts often make my shoes squeak when I walk - especially new shoes. So I pull my laces tight to keep the orthodics from sliding around. This avoids squeaking and helps prevent the orthodics slicing through the sides of my shoes. Which tends to mean I buy shoes as inexpensively as possible, because they just aren't going to last.

All the tightening of laces has a weird effect: as my shoes get older, both the laces and the sides (or vamp) stretch, so it seems like my laces get longer as my shoes get older. Soon I can be walking around with loops and aiglets flopping around wantonly, prompting people to point and say "Hey, your shoe's untied!" I stop and look and, no, the shoe is not untied: in fact, there's a giant knot, sometimes with three or four extra half-hitches on top of it trying to keep all that extra shoelace occupied. Sometimes I can run extra lace all the way back around my ankle (although that doesn't work well with lo-tops).

So every couple months, I re-lace my shoes in some new, exotic, length-consuming manner, and experiment with new knots which use up all that now-extraneous lace. When the laces have doubled back through about half the eyelets on the shoe - or the two sides have merged to completely conceal the tongue beneath them - I know it's not long for this world.

With all this, I guess it's no wonder people make fun of the way I tie my shoes.

(Yes: as a teenager I had sneakers with velcro clasps: no laces. Same thing happened: I'd pull the straps tighter and tighter, and eventually I'd pull them so far only about a quarter inch of the "prickly" velcro could stick to the "fuzzy" velcro - at that point, the shoes couldn't stay "laced" anymore.)

Anyway, all this is by way of noting Ian's Shoelace Site, which at least tells me I'm not entirely alone in the universe. (If you're curious, I mostly tie my shoes with variations on Ian's Secure Knot and the Surgeon's Shoelace Knot.