Sneaking Up on Cool

Waiting for the other shoe(s) to drop

By Maria Johnson

My younger son called from college the other day. Strange. Was someone sick? Hurt? In trouble?

“ARE YOU OK?” I answered quickly.

He was. He was lighthearted, in a good mood, eager to talk.

Hmm. Suspicious.

We chatted about his classes, his housing situation, his plans for the upcoming fall break — all good.

“So . . . listen,” he finally said. “Are you doing anything this afternoon?”

I wondered if he could feel my eyes narrowing. “I’m working on a story,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, there are there these shoes,” he said.

At this point, I should tell you that the boy is a fool for athletic shoes. Not just your run of the mill kicks. I’m talking high-end sneaks “designed” by pro athletes and entertainers. Adidas’s Yeezys by musician Kanye West. Nike’s Air Force 1 by rapper Travis Scott. Kobe 11 Elites and Jordan South Beaches, both by Nike, anointed with the endorsements of former NBA stars Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan respectively.

Let me be clear that my son does not OWN all of these shoes, though by dint of a good-paying summer job and online haggling, he has acquired a few specimens that have garnered the respect of folks in the know.

Last summer, I witnessed other young men turning to study his feet as we walked down the street. My son did not acknowledge their acknowledgment.

Later, when I asked him if he’d seen them checking out his shoes, he nodded. A slight smile bent his lips. Apparently, when one is cool, one stays cool about it.

But there is a price to pay. One must be vigilant about one’s cool.

Which was why he was calling.

He wanted me to go to a hipster store in downtown Greensboro and enter a raffle for pair of shoes called Nike Blazer Mid Off-White All Hallow’s Eve, which are exactly what they sound like: mid-rise canvas shoes with an orange swoosh for Halloween because, I dunno, wearing a pair of orange socks wouldn’t be enough.

The deal was, each person could register only once, and he and his roommate had already signed up at a Raleigh store so, if I wasn’t doing anything, maybe I could go downtown — by the end-of-the-day deadline; no pressure — and register for the shoes under my name. Whoever won the raffle would get the “opportunity” to buy the sneakers at the full retail price of $130. If either one of us won, he promised, he would pay me back.


An hour later, I walked into the store, where I was the oldest person by, oh, 30 years.

“Howyadoin?” said a guy behind the counter. He was helping someone else, but he paused long enough to scan me. His eyes stuck on my feet.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t anticipated this. Before leaving the house, I’d pulled on some black woven athletic shoes, which I thought were, you know, pretty dope in a post-menopausal, calcium-taking, small-SUV-driving kind of way.

He lingered on my feet. Taking a cue from my son, I did not acknowledge his acknowledgement. It did not occur to me until later that he might have been looking at my lace-up ankle brace, and that it was entirely possible that no one wearing an orthopedic device had ever entered the store before.

As a result of my ignorance, I stayed cool. I would nod a lot and speak only when spoken to.

“Can I help you?” said another guy.

“Yeah, I’m here for . . .”

My mind froze. I needed to get the word right. What had my son called it? A drawing? A cake walk? A raffle? Yes!

“. . . the raffle.” I nodded.

“What size?”

I looked down at my feet.


“What color?”

Color? I almost said off-white, naturally, but it’s a good thing I didn’t because — as my son would explain later under eyes that were rolling like a slot machine — Off-White is the label of Virgil Abloh, who recently became the first black artistic director of men’s fashion at Louis Vuitton. The collaboration of Nike and Off-White is what makes the shoes special.


I consider it a small act of God that the sales guy prompted me before I could answer.

“Black or tan?” he said.


I had a 50 percent chance of being right.

“Check your email on Wednesday,” he said. “If you win, they’ll send you an invoice.”

I nodded. He nodded. Cool.

A few days later, my son was home on break. The shoe raffle had been held the day before. Neither of us had gotten an email. Oh, well. My kiddo was sitting on the couch that night, perusing his phone, when he started laughing. His roommate, who’d gone with him and registered for the raffle on a lark, had won.

“Maybe he’ll let you wear one of the shoes,” I said. My son looked appalled.

He pulled up a website,, an Internet aftermarket, which showed that a pair of never-worn All Hallow’s was selling for more than $700. His sole brother’s plan: Sell the shoes and buy a similar pair for a hundred bucks.

My son nodded. I nodded.

Cool.  OH

Although Maria Johnson, a contributing editor of O.Henry, doesn’t always walk the walk, she sure can talk the talk. You can reach her at

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