We had lots of time to talk. Joe had to walk up the hill to get the car, where we'd parked because all the disabled bays were taken by people who didn't even limp, and he was walking very slowly, very carefully from the taxi which had dropped him off at the door to the store. He reminded me of that children's poem ... there was a crooked man who walked a crooked walk. He was a thin as a blade of grass and bent in the middle. His shirt was tucked severely into his pants which were held up at nearly nipple level by a belt that looked like it had recently been polished.
His steps didn't look painful, but he walked as if he was in pain. He noticed me in the wheelchair and smiled. I smiled back. Old guys like to talk, usually, so I said "Hi." He nodded and stayed focused on the walk. Then he glanced down at my feet and stopped. "Those those Birkenstocks?" he asked. I told him that they were indeed. "They want me to wear something like that," he said. Then he resumed walking, it really was as if he couldn't walk and talk at the same time. Because he brought up the subject of shoes, I looked down to see what he was wearing.
My Uncle Jim used to call them "Shit kicker boots." I never knew what that meant, and in case you don't either, they were the kind of cowboy boots that have a high heel and toes that could kick the eyes out of a flea. There was stitching on the sides and, like the belt, they shone as if they'd been rubbed with butter.
"Nice boots," I said while thinking that I understood why 'they' wanted him to wear something else. He was walking like he was on stilts. He stopped. Really. He did. He actually couldn't walk and talk at the same time. It was kind of weirdly cool.
"Yep, I've worn boots like this my whole life, as long as I'm walking I'm going to wear something with style. (Pause, beat beat beat,) No offense mister."
"None taken," I said, smug in my Birkenstocks.
"I may walk awful slow," he said, "but these boots ..."
"I know, I know ..." I said and started to laugh.
He couldn't say any more because ... "Ready boots ... Start walking."