RIP to the Friend I Barely Knew

Almost one year ago to the day, my Godmother died. She had been sick for a very long time with an invasive cancer that chewed through her body and her spirit and finally won. My parents were in New York for Christmas, visiting from Australia where my Godmother, my fathers’ elder sister, also lived. I wept at the time, mostly for my father who felt guilty being away when the inevitable happened.

Today, I wept again; steadily and perhaps irrationally.

I returned from a festive lunch with family friends at a local Italian joint and was told our doorman for the best part of this year had died suddenly and all too young. Curtis was not just the guy who signed for my parcels or buzzed me into the building; he was the one person I chatted to daily about the weather, the kids, whatever; he played soccer with my children and chased them around outside.

Curtis was a good guy who years ago gave up the rat race after he suffered a massive heart attack. But he kept smoking – a lot. He told me once that he wished his children wouldn’t smoke, but that he had been doing it so long, he couldn’t give up now.

I expected to see him this morning when I stepped out early with my yoga mat slung over my shoulder, but the super was at the door, wearing an awkward smile. Upon returning late this evening, he said Curtis has passed earlier in the day from heart problems.

I have wept uncontrollably since, for a man I scarcely knew. I can’t spell his last name; tell you his address or his birth date. Though I know he was barely past 50.

Is it selfish that I will miss his chatter each day when I head outside, or his weather forecast before I leave, or his kind words for my children? The last exchange we had was Thursday afternoon when the kids told him silly jokes and he laughed heartily. Curtis is survived by his two grown children, one of whom also works in our building. My thoughts and prayers go to his family.

Happenings like this make me embrace New York even more. We have had so many doormen and maintenance men through the years, many whom my children have become attached to. There was Angel who helped my son build a robot dragon; Robert who joked around with the kids and snuck them candy when they thought I wasn’t looking, and Anthony, who told my daughter she was beautiful and tickled my son until he giggled uncontrollably. They all left for one reason or another, probably immune to the impact their leavings had on us.

For big-city kids, and their parents, these men who earn minimum wage and work around the clock, are the equivalent of uncles or close family friends. They are often times a link to people and cultures we might not otherwise get to know.

Most importantly, they are friends. Rest in peace Curtis, we will miss you.

Clodhoppers to Chanel:a journey in shoes

I have horrible feet. Really ugly, wide, hard-to-fit feet that at any given time are plastered with at least one Bandaid and a myriad of shoe-related injuries. My feet are clearly not meant to be trapped in shoes; either that, or I’m not meant to walk as far as I do each day in footwear.

I saw a guy on television last week who rarely wears shoes. Dubbed the “barefoot professor” by his students, Daniel Howell has made a career – and written The Barefoot Book: 50 Good Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes – about his barefoot endeavours. An Associate Professor of Biology at Liberty University, where he teaches Human Anatomy & Physiology, Howell has long hiked and run barefoot and decided to extend it to the rest of his life out of comfort and curiosity.

He said he was even removed from an airplane en route to New York because he did not have on shoes: he had to go to Old Navy for flip flops before they would let him back on the plane. It seems odd that in this post shoe-bomber age, with shoe removal and pat-downs the standard for air travel, a shoeless man is viewed as a threat. But I digress.

Given access to unrealistically clean streets and spotless floors, I may go barefoot too. It’s no surprise then that I am not a shoe person. Handbags, YES, but shoes, not so much.

I’ve marveled but never embraced the passion my friends have for their shoes; the Carrie Bradshaw-esque love affair with sky-high, feather and bauble-adorned shoes queued on closet shelves. Love fashion as I do, I haven’t braved a Manolo Blahnik sale or a Christian Louboutin frenzy because skinny shoes with pointy toes just aren’t an option for me. Or so I thought until I wandered recently into a newish consignment store m.a.e. in Park Slope.

The owner, a self-proclaimed “shoe girl” with a predilection for Manolos and a size 10 foot, opened a whole new world of shoes to me. She waved off protests that my feet were too wide for pretty little shoes and sat me down with a stack of beauties in swag of different sizes until I found pairs that fit and looked fabulous. Because of the long pointy toes, I had to go up a size or so, but many of the shoes actually worked.

My spirits lifted: I couldn’t believe that for all these years I’ve dwelled on horrid childhood experiences as confirmation that gnarly, wide feet should be hidden in Doc Marten’s and the like.

my foot = a pasty

I recall someone close to me (you know who you are) likening my feet to pasties, a broad semi-circle pastry stuffed with meat and vegetables (see right), and calling the shoes of my youth clodhoppers!

I strutted out of m.a.e. with a dainty pair of vintage Chanel black + white kitten heels, and a new confidence about shoe shopping. I’m still not quite ready for the Louboutin sale, but at least now I will bother to keep on trying shoes to see what works.

m.a.e. isn’t just about shoes; there are a couple of racks of designer-label clothes and some handbags too, but the shoe selection sets the place apart from other neighborhood consignment stores. Beacon’s Closet it is not. There is a definite bent towards Manolo Blahnik, either gently or barely worn, and at a fraction of their retail prices. The last time I stopped by there were vintage Gucci loafers and pumps as well as plenty of Prada, and some Chanel and Ferragamo.

m.a.e. is at 453 7th Avenue, between 15th and 16th streets in Park Slope, 718.788.7070.