Phil had only a few weeks left at the Chesterfield Halfway House in Plymouth, Michigan. That is, if he followed all their silly rules and didn’t screw up. It seemed to Phil that the people in charge at Chesterfield didn’t care about the “guests’” feelings, well-being, or whether they got better or relapsed. In fact, they seemed to make things as difficult as possible for the guys. Changing visiting hours without notice, mis-matching roommates “just to see what happens,” and intentionally losing passes for pre-arranged outings were among their favorites.
Phil was a misfit among misfits. Being of small stature, Jewish, and labeled as a sex offender, made him easy to hate and an easy mark. Prior to his incarceration for downloading porn (who knew the girls were only 17?), Phil had been a successful trial lawyer in Los Angeles. He also had money to burn but managed to hide that fact from his peers.
It was a Saturday morning and Phil’s roommate was getting discharged. The guy went by “Homeboy” and as far as Phil knew, never did reveal his real name. Homeboy was huge; around 6’6’’ and built like a quarterback. Phil would miss Homeboy, only because he didn’t feel the need to harass Phil or make his life more of a living hell than it already was. Homeboy ignored Phil, for the most part, and for that Phil was grateful.
As Homeboy was packing up his stuff, Phil noticed he was wearing a bright blue pair of Asics Gel-Kinsei running shoes. They weren’t brand new, but they weren’t ready for Goodwill either.
“Hey, Homeboy,” Phil began. “Those are some nice sneakers you got there.”
“Huh?” Homeboy looked up quickly, as if he’d forgotten Phil was sitting there on the lower bunk. “Oh, yeah. Thanks man.”
“I’d always wanted a pair of Asics. Are they comfortable?”
“Hey, you want these?” Homeboy was already untying the laces. “My ex-girl gave ‘em to me, so I got no use for ‘em.” Homeboy grinned. “I got other shoes.”
“You’re kidding!” In his excitement, Phil stood up quickly and banged his head on the metal frame of the top bunk.
Homeboy stifled a laugh as Phil rubbed his head and straightened his Coke-bottle glasses.
“Oh, I bet they’re too big for me. What size do you wear?”
“No kidding? Me too!” Phil squealed. “How much? I got ten dollars.”
“That’ll work,” Homeboy shrugged.
As he slipped his shoes off, the room became permeated with an unbelievably horrid stench.
Homeboy must’ve been used to it; he didn’t even blink. Phil had lost his sense of smell years ago and couldn’t tell the difference between sauerkraut cooking and roses blooming. Even if he had been able to detect the unpleasant aroma, he’d have been too excited about getting a $200.00 pair of shoes for ten bucks to care.
As soon as Homeboy’s feet were out of the shoes, Phil shoved his bare feet into them. They were still warm and a little moist from Homeboy’s feet. “Oh, these are marvelous! A perfect fit!” He began pirouetting around the small room like a ballerina. “I could’ve danced all night…” he sang in a false soprano.
Homeboy busted out laughing. “You a trip, man. A real live trip!”
Phil stopped pirouetting long enough to shake Homeboy’s hand and wish him well.
Three months later…
Phil had been discharged from Chesterfield and was now living in a modest, three-bedroom rental in an almost-safe neighborhood. His teenage daughter, Ellen, had flown out for a visit.
One evening, as they sat in the living room watching TV, Phil decided to get comfy and take of his shoes. The room instantly filled with a stomach-turning stench.
“Oh my God!” Ellen began waving one hand in the air as the other hand covered her nose. “Dad!”
“What honey? What’s wrong?”
“That smell!” She gasped. “Is it from your shoes?”
“What do you mean?” Phil was perplexed. “I just got these a few months ago. They’re practically new!”
“From where?” Ellen inquired. “The dump?”
So, Phil told his daughter the history of Homeboy’s sneakers, and how they came to be on his feet.
“Dad? That is gross!” She shook her head in disbelief. “You are so embarrassing!”
With that, Ellen rose from the tattered sofa (which came from the Salvation Army) and carefully picked up the offensive and expensive Asics Gel-Kinsei sneakers with two fingers.
“What are you doing?” Phil stood up; his heart pounding in his chest. “Where are you taking my shoes?”
Holding them away from her body she announced, “These belong in the trash! We’re going shopping in the morning, and don’t tell me you can’t afford it.”
Phil’s mind was racing. Droplets of sweat formed on his forehead. What was wrong with Ellen? Why was she acting like this? His body trembled with rage but kept quiet as his daughter marched his prized running shoes to the trash bin on the curb.
Much later that night as Ellen slept, Phil sneaked out of the house and rescued Homeboy’s sneakers. He rolled them up in a blanket and hid the bundle in the back of his closet.
Phil heaved a sigh of relief as he crawled into bed, knowing Homeboy’s sneakers were safe from both his daughter and the garbagemen.
He couldn’t wait for Ellen to leave.