Thursday, September 20, 2012

bobos sneakers

I found myself trying to explain Bobos in class the other day. I can't remember the context, but I was able to sing a couple lines: "Bobos, they make your feet feel fine./Bobos, they cost a $1.99." Inspired by "news" at about an essay from a guy my age who grew up poor, I found myself googling for Bobos sneakers and wound up at this fun post by Philly writer Solomon Jones. Here's an excerpt:

When I was growing up, if your mom bought you bobos instead of Jack Purcells or Pro-Keds, you prayed they weren’t the kind with the conspicuous red or blue stripe running around the side. If they were (and God was especially merciful), your mom scraped up another $1.99 before the rubber began to crack.

When you got your new bobos, you threw the old ones up on the wire at the end of the block. Then you tried your best to wear out the new ones quickly, hoping your mom would get the message and buy you something better next time.

Long and short of it, bobos are bad news, and everyone from my generation knows it.

So when I came home last week and my wife, LaVeta, said, “Honey, I got some new sneakers,” I was expecting something along the lines of Nike Airs.

But when she removed them from the box, they were something else altogether. White leather with red stripes, rubber that was white instead of yellow, an intricate logo on the top. There was no denying it. Neither the quality of the material nor the fancy logo could hide the horrible truth.


To me, in the current culture it is almost apostasy to mention that poor children can also be happy, at least some of the time, but I like the way Solomon Jones has a way of reminding us that being poor is not an entirely miserable experience. I was never one of the kids who threw his sneakers over the wire, but I did play wire ball (an extremely modified urban street version of baseball) in my Bobos. I didn't yet know that I was supposed to be too embarrassed to wear them.

All the same, I don't mean to diminish the importance of writing on childhood poverty from folks like John Scalzi.

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