Thursday, September 23, 2004

Will you bee my friend?

It was 1976. The bicentennial. The town I grew up in held a contest to see which neighborhood could paint the fire hydrants in the most patriotic theme. My mom, my brother and I took our civic duty seriously and spent a week planning out the most patriotic hydrant we could imagine. It would be just like the American flag. The bottom half was blue with white stars and the top half was covered in red and white stripes. Around the very bottom we painted the words, “1776 – 1976. America the Beautiful!”

Unbeknownst to us, this seemingly unique theme was replicated by most every neighborhood in the city. We didn’t win, but I remember feeling a real sense of pride and accomplishment when I’d see the hydrant as I looked out our living room window. I think it was about 1981 before the city finally came by and painted all the chipped and faded hydrants blue.

But back to 1976. Aside from celebrating 200 years of freedom from the oppression and meat-centric diet of the British Empire, I also reached a personal milestone. Kindergarten. Big girl school. No more hanging around the house watching As the World Turns with my mom anymore. It was time for me to learn. Stuff you can’t pick up watching Sesame Street or even Electric Company. I remember being so excited about my first day of school. I could see the school from my house – it was just across the park – and had always watched with great envy as my older brother would walk to school while I had to stay at home.

My mom walked me to school on the first day, and within minutes of stepping into Mrs. LeBlanc’s class, I saw her. The girl who would become my new best friend. I would later find out that her name was Casey. Casey had long, stick straight blond hair and enormous blue eyes. Her hair was in pigtails, which was quite the rage at the time. She looked just like Marcia Brady. But that wasn’t really what drew me to her. It was her shoes. As soon as I walked into the classroom, I quickly scanned the room for familiar faces. I didn’t know anyone there, but as my eyes rapidly jumped from student to student, something caught my attention. Casey was wearing the exact same shoes as I was.

My first day of school shoes. I loved these shoes so much, I couldn’t wait to wear them on my very first day of big girl school. They were tan leather with rubber soles and had a little yellow bumblebee stitched on the sides of them. I remember running my finger across the bumblebee when we first picked them out. I liked the way the bee felt. It felt thick, not like a decal, but more official. Like a badge.

When I looked across the room and spied Casey’s shoes, I nearly pulled my mom’s arm out of its socket as I yanked on it and yelled, “Mom! That girl has the same shoes as me! She has the same bee shoes!” You have to understand – these were simpler times, and relationships were built on simpler foundations.

Friendships form for all sorts of reasons – common interests, common backgrounds, even common enemies. But a bond forged over a common sense of style is one that can never be broken. Never, that is, until one of those friends turns thirteen, starts smoking, wears black eyeliner that has been melted with her cigarette lighter, and gets a fifteen year old boyfriend with a tattoo on his forearm. Then somehow the bee shoe bond seems less important. So I shuffled my Buster Brown clad feet through several more years of school, always fondly remembering those days of innocence.

And here I am today, many years older, a little bit wiser, and still unfamiliar with the magic of eye makeup. But this week, as I find myself crossing a new threshold – the critical milestone this time being a new job – I wonder if old tactics can still prove effective. Now that I have a new career, maybe I might stumble across a new friend. One who will share the most intimate of bonds that two women can share: footwear. I haven’t found her yet, but I just feel it. I know that one day, soon, I’ll be sitting in the lunchroom eating a bag of guacamole flavored Doritos when I will look down and see a woman wearing the exact same thick soled shoes as I have on. Only this time, the role of Buster Brown will be played by Steve Madden. Until then, I just hope my co-workers don’t get the wrong impression if they see me walking down the halls with my head to the ground. I’m not shy – just trying to find some bees.