Sidewalk Sneakers

Written By: Joel  Reitman

Sidewalk Sneakers II July 26, 2013 Joel Reitman PO Box 528 Peconic, New York 631-765-2321 I look down at my sneakers, and all I hear are my daughter Nicole’s words, “You look like an old man in those white sneakers. And the calf-high white socks and the blue checked shirt. They gotta go too.” I am offended. As long as I can remember, I have been wearing white sneakers. I wear these sneakers for comfort, not style. Nicole is concerned how her father looks, I look the other way. That’s not how it always was. One day long ago, I saw an ad for a sidewalk art show in Southampton, New York. As a part of my college industrial design program at the University of Cincinnati, I took some drawing and painting classes, and learned about draftsmanship and composition. After graduation, I returned home to Commack, New York, and began trying to use my new skills by capturing “the essence” of Long Island’s scenic waterways. With easel and painting equipment in hand, I set up my equipment on Canal Road for a different view of Shinnecock Canal. I sat in the sand on Fire Island near Cupsoque Park and painted a waterscape. I traveled to Montauk and painted Gosman’s Dock as viewed from East Drive. I would work for hours, forging my skills into completed pictures. Eventually, I amassed an assortment of landscapes. So when I saw the ad for the art show, I felt this would be a great experience; display my art, try to sell some, and hang out in the Hamptons. I signed up. On the first day, a Friday afternoon, I found my assigned piece of sidewalk on Hill Street, a few doors from the United Artists movie theater. The streets were lined with stores filled with expensive clothing, jewelry, and gift items. This weekend, the art show would draw more than the usual window shoppers. My slice of concrete was located between a watercolor painter and an oil painter. The watercolorist was mass producing boating scenes — and selling them quickly like hot dogs at Coney Island, for $5. A cheap price, even in 1964. The other painter-neighbor produced magnificently detailed oil portraits, exquisitely framed. Prices ranged form $50 to $175. All quality work, and all of it better than my acrylic landscapes. I became friendly with the oil painter. Without a lot of traffic at our booths, we had time to get acquainted. As we talked, we sneered at the mass produced seascapes of our mutual neighbor, jealous that he was selling everything he produced, and we were selling nothing. He found the perfect price for sidewalk art that could double as a souvenir. We had no takers for our “fine art.” We had children asking and poking, wannabe artists looking for advice, older folks admiring, vacationers browsing, and couples strolling along and looking. Most nodded their approval. None bought. Over the course of the weekend, we slowly lowered our prices. What started out as $175 on Friday, became $100 on Saturday morning and $80 by evening. Sunday, the prices were so low, we were begging for any sale. The oil painter had one outstanding portrait. This painting evoked a medieval style. To add to its aura, it was surrounded by a gold leaf frame. Sunday afternoon came, and the price dropped from $125 to $60. The oil painter was determined to sell something. If there was one painting that had a chance, this was it. He placed the portrait against one of the storefronts, positioning it away from his other pieces, allowing it to stand apart. It was close to 3PM; the show would officially close at 4. Most artists had already packed up, the crowds thinned. The oil painter and I continued to talk, desperate for a late-in-the-day sale. I faced the street, he faced the stores. Then I saw them, two elderly grey-haired women. They wore white sun visors with white bands surrounding blue-grey hair. Their crisp white lace blouses were tucked neatly into white shorts. Beneath their suntanned legs were white sneakers and low-cut embroidered white crew socks. Both women dripped jewelry from wrists, fingers, ears and ankles. They stopped at each window, chatted a bit, likely about the display, then strolled along to the next window. As they walked, they glanced at what artwork remained, and they were moving toward us. When they arrived at our bit of sidewalk, one of the women stopped, seemingly transfixed by the oil portrait. Then her friend stopped, lending support to her companion’s admiration of the painting. They spoke in a hushed voice, gazing at the painting the entire time. Unnoticed until now, two grey-haired men approached, apparently following the two women. They didn’t appear to be interested in the portrait, or any of the art. But one of the women spoke to one of the men, who pulled out a wad of bills held together with a gold clip. Without hesitation, he handed the woman three twenties. We stood around for three days trying to sell pieces of art to people who mostly wanted only quick, five dollar watercolor sketches, and today some millionaire strolls along and casually peels off what for him is a pittance for a real work of art. This truly frustrated both the oil painter and me. I had never met these men before, and they may have been perfectly nice, but I found myself disliking them. One man had the name of a private club embroidered on his chest. Then I noticed the money man in his blue-checked shirt and his white sneakers, sitting below a pair of logo-bearing, calf-high white socks. Here at home, Nicole’s words are looming large. “The calf-high white socks and the blue checked shirt. They gotta go too.” I am past 70, and my 40 year-old daughter is telling me how to dress. I take Nicole’s words as an opening to replace my well-worn white sneakers. I head to Sports Authority in Riverhead, New York, with my wife, Anne. I muse, are sneakers an old man’s word? I deliberately hurry past the aisle stocked with running footwear. I rush past the aisle with cross training sneakers. I purposely avoid the one filled with soccer shoes and cleats. Those, athletic sounding sneakers are not options for me. When will I ever run? When did I ever run? Cross training, I don’t think I know what that means. With fierce determination I head straight for the aisle with walking footwear. I am looking for sneakers in any color other than white. Nicole’s words resonate as she berates me to choose a sneaker that meets with her approval, “Buy a pair in any color other than white.” I resist being told what to wear. I do not believe I am old. But even with Nicole’s words spinning in my head, all I can muster is a pair of blue sneakers with white trim. We pass the sock display, some are thigh high white sport style. Nicole would not approve. On the lower shelf are socks cut below the ankle, well below the sneaker top. With Anne’s suggestion, I add socks to the cart, socks cut so low no one would even notice them, not even Nicole. I come home, change into my new duds and remember that event long ago. Maybe, just maybe, Nicole was not being ornery, just looking out for her, ahem, old dad.