Excellent Sneakers

How to get the most out of a piece of cardboard

By Brian Doyle | November 7, 2014
Flickr/rachel a. k.
Flickr/rachel a. k.


I first met my friend Jimmy when we were 13 years old and he walked into the gym where the basketball team was practicing. He had just moved to our town. He had missed the opening two weeks of practice, and though we had an excellent cocky starting point guard, by the end of practice Jimmy was the starting point guard. I remember that he wore battered low-cut black Converse sneakers with sagging old socks like the great Pistol Pete Maravich. He wore those sneakers all year long, whether we were practicing or playing league games or playing pickup in the park. One Saturday we played two hours of pickup in the park and afterward we sprawled exhausted in the grass, and when we took our sneakers off, I noticed that he had layers of thin gray cardboard in his sneakers. Idly I flipped over his sneakers and noticed serious holes in the toes and heels. I didn’t say anything, and he didn’t say anything, and after a while we put our sneakers back on and went to play one more game to 15 just because.

We were talking about basketball the other day, and he said, Oh yes I remember that cardboard. I used to collect cardboard for just that reason. I knew by the time I was 13 that I was on my own. We had no money and then we had no family anymore. I lived in 14 places by the time I was 16. New sneakers were not going to happen. You would be surprised how much cardboard you can collect if you keep your eyes open for it. The thin gray kind is better for sneakers because you can layer it better. The corrugated kind is no good because it gives you blisters. I would put in new cardboard the morning of a game and then break it in all day, so by game time we were ready to go. I should have kept those sneakers but I didn’t. They finally were more holes than sneakers. That was 40 years ago, but I still notice cardboard, sure I do. I don’t save it or anything, but I notice it, sure. Like when you open a box or a ream of paper at the office and there are excellent clean sheets of cardboard, I notice that. It’s not like I think, Hey, I should save those for something, it’s not like that, but some part of me notices them and files away the information, you know what I mean? Default notice function, I guess. Now you got me thinking about those ratty old black sneakers. Man, I lived in those sneakers for a long time. Those were good sneakers. I should have saved them just to be able to notice them once in a while. Not to make a big deal over them but just to see them once in a while huddled in the back of the closet and think, Hey, those were excellent sneakers, you know what I mean?

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