Can I Sit with You?


Shoes Can Buy Me Love

Brian Greene
Age 12 at the time

My family moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia when I was 12 years old and in the sixth grade. My father was in the Navy, and we were transferred to Virginia from Charleston, South Carolina, where we had been living the previous three years. In South Carolina we lived on the naval base but in Virginia Beach we lived in town, amongst the civilians. I was to find that life for a pre-adolescent was much different at a regular neighborhood and at a public school than how things were on the base, and at the Navy school.

On the base in South Carolina, there really weren’t any established cliques amongst the kids who lived and went to school there. Of course you made friends with certain other kids and hung out with them more than others, but there were no exclusive groups everyone was either part of or refused admittance to. Maybe this because the society around a military base is so transitory, and so diverse; with the sailors getting transfers so often, families came and went on a daily basis, and the ones who came in arrived from all over the country, and sometimes different parts of the world. We were all too transient, and too different from one another, for there to be much of a social status pecking order in place amongst us kids.

It was much different in Virginia Beach. On joining the new school, I learned very quickly that my class was split into two distinct groups. There was a pack of about 10 kids, probably half boys and half girls, who were clearly the elite here. They made the best grades, the boys were the most athletic and the girls were the prettiest. They sat amongst themselves in the cafeteria and if you weren’t invited to sit at their part of the table, you wouldn’t dare go over there. All the rest of us kids were simply “the others,” the commoners who simply took up space and were the ones the elite crowd could look down upon.

I had no great desire to get in with the popular kids, but what did bother me was that, even within the group of “average” boys and girls, I didn’t seem to be making any friends, even after I’d been in the town, and at the school, for a few months. The other nondescript kids were generally friendly with one another, and many of them seemed nice enough. How come none of them were trying to befriend me, when I was one of them?

Finally, I decided I would try and find out why none of them were making friends with me. I asked a boy named Mark, who had done more than any of my other classmates to be nice to me. We were outside on the playground at recess, and Mark and I were kind of standing off by ourselves.

I said, “Do you know why Marvin or Stacy or none of the other kids ever talks to me? I saw Stacy at the park near my house the other day, and when I went up to say hi to her, she walked away. People are always doing that to me. I’m not talking about Greg and Melissa and those kind of kids, I mean the regular ones, like us.”

Mark looked like he was carefully considering how to answer my question. Then he came to a decision in his mind and he said to me, “I’ll tell you the truth. It’s your shoes.”

“My shoes?”

“Yeah, they’re Weo’s.”

“Weo’s?”

“Yeah. You know how at the A&P grocery store they have some things that are like a sale brand? They call those things Weo’s. So to us anything that’s cheap like that, we call it a Weo. You should get your parents to get you some Nikes or Pumas, or at least Converse.”

“And that’s really why kids won’t talk to me?”

“Yep. A lot of them think you’re a nice kid. They say if he would just get rid of those Weo’s, we would play with him.”

It seemed that even amongst the “regular” kids, there were certain status symbols. I felt both confused and ashamed to learn that I was being shunned by them because I wore cheap, non-name brand tennis shoes.

That night, before I went to bed, I told my mother about my conversation with Mark. I asked her if she could buy me some Converse, if we couldn’t afford Nikes or Pumas. I made a deal with my mom, that if I mowed some lawns and put together a little bit of cash, she would pay for half of a new pair of Converse if I could cover the other half. I remember having a kind of creepy feeling when I bought the shoes and wore them to school for the first time. It was like I was buying the chance to make friends. In South Carolina, you made friends with certain kids just because you liked them and they liked you. Here, I had to wear a certain kind of shoe before any of my peers would consider befriending me. It didn’t feel right.

But I forgot about all of that when, at recess that first day when I wore my new shoes, Stacy – the same girl who had snubbed me at the park in our neighborhood – came up and talked to me. I’d had a crush on her since the first day I was at that school, and now she was flirting with me. I asker her to “go” with me about three days after that, and she said “yes.” After we started going together she got her parents to buy her a pair of Converse that were the same color as mine.

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11 Comments so far
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Oooo, I remember that…..I also wore no-name shoes, and was mortified by this because I KNEW what the issue was. Lucky for me, my best friend (who didn’t go to my school) had relatives who owned a sporting goods store and would frequently send her family scads of Nikes and other “good” brands. I was THRILLED when my friend rejected a pair of bright yellow Nikes with a light blue Swoosh as too garish, because it meant that I would finally have Nikes……

ugh…….

Comment by giddy

Definitely been there, although I’ve always considered brands a “girl” thing. Glad (?) to hear it happens to the guys, too. Out here, even the socks make a difference. Fortunately, my son doesn’t care.

Comment by Kari

hell yeah! i delivered papaers one whole summer for a pair of pumas. didn’t do me a bit of good either. but i still remember the majesty and awe when i took them out of the box for the first time.

Comment by mikew

If you want to experience an experience as if it were first-hand, just turn to Brian Greene, who puts “universal” memories into his stories — so many of those memories we all mutually own. And he does it in such a way that they feel as if they were our own — not some writer’s. He makes them that tangible, that immediate. This story to me was a horrifying, but true, sociological study, that showed the ‘stamps of approval’ we must get just to be treated as non-lepers. And how sad that is

Comment by Cindy

Brian Greene tells the poignant and funny story of growing up in America. With a few words he captures the essence of the struggle of the pre-teen trying to find his place in a rather hostile and confusing environment. We want to hear more from Greene; obviously a talented man with a knack for storytelling.

Comment by Kay

When I was 12 years old I finally convinced my mother to let me buy a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors (when I was 12 the Nike company still hadn’t been formed yet). I agreed to pay half from my grass cutting money. They were $11. When I finally saved the money I rode my bike about three miles to the Varsity Sports Shop on US 1 in College Park (just south of Tippy’s Taco House – neither are still in existance) I still remember that day as clear as anything from my childhood.

Comment by Allen Murray

Brian Greene knows how to wrap his reader around his pinky. His memories of being excluded from the “in” crowd and even the “out” crowd, painful though they may be, resonate with all of us who were ever outside the norm. I want to hear more from Brian. He’s able to evoke memories and feelings with heart, and I hope he continues to generate more for us to appreciate.

Comment by aunty

North Dakota is a long way from Virginia Beach, but kids are the same, no matter where. I remember struggling in just the same way Greene describes his experiences. Oh, I wanted to be “in.” I love Brian’s voice–authentic and real. I’m now a big Brian Greene fan. More, please!!

Comment by DA

That’s a great story! I think it is a little funny too. Just think of it, you wore different shoes and then you made friends! I think Mike is still very happy that you wrote about him and used his idea. In my school, we do not have groups of girls, boys, and/or normal people. Again I think the story was great!!!!I am so happy that I got to read this story. Your 4 greater friend, Ilinca

Comment by Ilinca

What a great story, Brain Green! With only a few words you managed to portray such a heartrending story in which innocence can still overcomes the senselessness of this material world. Uplifting and enchanting, indeed..

Comment by Carmen

I remember Weo! I haven’t thought about that since I was a kid!
I wore shoes from Kinney’s.

Comment by Lea Hernandez




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