Wednesday 07 Dec 2016

First Flip-flops
AJ Robinson

Now, I dont pretend to know when the flip-flop was invented, but I can attest to when it became invaluable to me and my friends. Back in the Old Days the care-free days of my youth, the late 1960s and early 1970s) summers on Marthas Vineyard were always a time of pure delight. To that end, any activity that tended to diminish playtime was to be looked upon with great derision. As a result, I tended to reduce certain actions, and eliminate others altogether.

Bathing was seen as superfluous a good swim in the ocean was sufficient.

Eating only when absolutely necessary, and then only those nutrients that could be consumed on the go, and in under sixty seconds.

And then there was clothing. When youre a seven, eight-year-old boy, a t-shirt and shorts are more than adequate (underwear being optional). After all, such items could be donned in a matter of seconds; and during summer, every second counted! As for footwear, it was not only bothersome, but far too time-consuming for a boy to torment himself with putting it on and off even forgoing socks and the tying of the laces was a torment beyond belief. So, I routinely skipped shoes altogether. Now, you might find this surprising; after all, running around barefoot wouldnt that hurt? Yeah, for the first couple days or so; after that, my feet got good and firm, and I was home free for the rest of the summer.

Much to the consternation of my dear Mother.

You see, the thing about running around barefoot all the time over asphalt pavement, dirt roads, mud puddles, and the like is that your feet tend to get quite filthy. Now, as far as I was concerned, this was no bother at all, but it did cause a complaint from my Mother: I would get the sheets of my bed all dirty. And so began her scolding and nagging that I was to wash my feet every night before bed.

A completely and totally unreasonable demand as far as I was concerned! A small boy wash his feet every day was she mad? Not only was it far too inconvenient, but it took precious minutes away from playing.

Such things simply were not done!

That led to her next idea that I simply take a shower before bed and get nice and clean. That I actually did not object to it was a great way to cool off. I suppose I should explain here, the cottages in Oak Bluffs did not, at least at that time, have air conditioning. That might sound strange, but Marthas Vineyard is off the coast of Massachusetts; so summers are not altogether hot most of the time.

So, I acquiesced to her demand, and started to bathe regularly. However, it proved a fruitless endeavor the bottoms of my feet were still, in her eyes, too dirty. How I could wash myself entirely including my hair and still have dirty feet, she could not understand.

I dont know; I guess I was just gifted.

And then came the flip-flops.

Down on Circuit Avenue the central road for Oak Bluffs there were (are) all the main shops for the town, a couple bars, some restaurants, and all the clothing stores you could ever want. One of the places is called Marys Linens. Its chief item of interest as its name implies is linens; the shop has some of the nicest and finest lace and linens you will ever find on Marthas Vineyard.

Shops on Circuit Avenue can have a notoriously short lifespan. After all, the summer season is pretty much the main time for them to make their living. So, any shopkeeper who cant as they say cut the mustard, goes under pretty quick. Well, Marys Linens has been around a good many decades (its been there since before I came on the scene). So, you know they must be doing something right.

Now, in the case of me and my friends, we had no real interest in the place. After all: boys, lace and linen they go together about as well as oil and water! So, it wasnt until I heard about these new flip-flop things that I happened to go by the place my friend Lisa said thats where shed got hers. At first, I was a bit dubious about going there for them; as she had bright pink flip-flops, I was not inclined to believe that theyd have what I wanted. The shop was or is quite the cute little establishment: big picture windows, neat little display cabinets without glass coverings, so you could or can easily peruse the shops wares.

When I went in there, I was almost afraid to touch anything; so many of the items looked delicate and... expensive! I felt like the classic bull in a china shop. So, I confined myself to the flip-flops; they had a rack of them in the back tucked in a corner. I picked out a nice pair in blue, of course and got the biggest size available as I did, even at that age, have rather humongous feet and bought them. I think they cost all of ninety-nine cents.

My Mother quite naturally was delighted with my purchase. Yes, no more filthy footprints spoiling her nice white sheets. For my own part, I did wonder as to why they were called flip-flops. I soon found out. Walking in them, they would flop down and then flip up to smack against the bottoms of my feet. Over time, I learned how to get them slapping away multiple times in a single step, and to get the left and right one going at different rates; I could smack out quite the tune, in fact.

The only problem with these flip-flops was that they were of lesser quality than most footwear, and as I and my friends (even Lisa) tended to be rather energetic, they tended to wear out rather rapidly. It wasnt long before the heels tore away, the toe section was worn off, and the little post that went between my big toe and the next one was either broken or popping out regularly. I wore that pair of flip-flops until there was literally nothing left as my Mother can attest to. She always knew when it was time to send me to Marys Linens for another pair the dirty footprints were once more gracing her sheets.

Over the course of that first summer, I must have gone through about half a dozen pairs of flip-flops. After that, each summer began the same way: a visit to Marys Linens for that first pair. While their price and quality increased over time, their durability did not.

No, when it comes to the ultimate stress test, energetic children are still the most extreme, the most ultimate test; and the best definition of summer fun was how many pairs of flip-flops I went through. Six was average, twelve was good, but oh a summer of sixteen ah, now that was truly a summer worth remembering.

I think the store still sells flip-flops, but I cant promise you a summer like I used to have. Still, its a cute place to go.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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