Monday, April 20, 2015

The president's shoes


     Yesterday's post on my uncharacteristic purchase of a pair of ostentatious shoes, and a visit to the Wisconsin factory that made them, left it up to the readers whether to post the second part, or to hurry on to other topics. To my gratification, everyone was unanimous in wanting to see it. So here it is.

     When George Washington pressed his lips against the Bible after being sworn in as this nation's first president on April 30, 1789, he was wearing a suit of brown broadcloth, donated by proud Hartford weavers. John Adams was wearing the same suit, cut from the same cloth donated by the same weavers. "They might have been dressed as twins," wrote David McCullough, "except that Washington's metal buttons had eagles on them."
     The history of commerce coveting the limelight of the presidency is lengthy. Hatters sent stovepipes to President-elect Abraham Lincoln.
     With this in mind, during a visit to the Allen Edmonds shoe factory in Wisconsin, my attention was drawn to letters and photos of recent Republican presidents.
     "Reagan's father was a shoe salesman," said spokesman Colin Hall. "And sold our shoes, loved our shoes."
     "In Chicago," I interjected.
     "President Reagan was a huge fan and wore our shoes all the time," Hall continued. "He convinced Bush Senior to wear our shoes, and they started a neat little thing where every inauguration they wore Allen Edmonds. It carried on with Clinton and Bush Junior. The only man not to wear our shoes at his inauguration was Obama. He wore shoes made in China—Cole-Haans."
     "No!" I gasped.
     "They asked us for shoes, so we sent them shoes," said Hall. "But we looked at all the pictures, and he's not wearing our shoes. The reasons we decided not to say anything about it is the world was falling apart at the time, the last thing he needed was this company in Wisconsin throwing shoes at him."
     Everything about Obama spawns a conspiracy theory, and this is no different.
     "Made in China," mused Hall. "Why would he do that?" The obvious answer, Hall said, is that a favor was owed to Nike founder Phil Knight, whose company owns Cole-Haan.
     "Look at Obama as another athlete being paid by Nike," he said.
     In fairness, I couldn't find any evidence that Obama is indebted to Knight or would feel compelled to wear his shoes. But what chance has truth compared with a good story?

DO THEY SMELL?
     Had Obama worn out his Allen Edmonds shoes working the corridors of power, he could have shipped them back to the factory for refurbishing—buying a quality shoe is like buying a car, in that they service it.
     Every day, up to 100 pairs of old, shabby, scuffed, soaked, moldy, broken-down Allen Edmonds shoes arrive in the mail ("Do they smell?" I asked a worker, who emitted a rueful laugh. "Especially in summer," she said).
     The company does something very high-tech— it first takes a digital photo of the battered footwear, posed fetchingly against a white background—then, after the sole is stripped off and the shoe rebuilt, it takes another of the finished product and e-mails it to customers, to say their reborn shoes are on the way. "Remember these?" the e-mail asks.
     One customer, sending in his departed father's Allen Edmonds to be refurbished, asked that his ashes be blended into the hot cork mixture applied between the sole and the shoe. The company complied.
     One last thing, before we bid adieu to the world of shoe manufacture. The company owns a specialty lumber mill, in one of those odd business connections one sometimes finds (My favorite: Coors brewery once owned a large toilet bowl factory, not due to the usual beer/toilet dynamic, but because they made their own beer kegs, and the kegs were lined in porcelain).
     So Allen Edmonds owns Woodlore, a nearby lumber mill because . . . ready? . . . they were having trouble getting a reliable source of cedar shoe trees, so they went into the business in order to guarantee supply.
     And here I thought nature was the only source of wonder.

     —Originally published in the Sun-Times March 28, 2010

24 comments:

  1. Well those right wing conservatives just lost my respect.

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  2. Where is today's column on Chiraq? I already read it in the paper. L. Washington also write on that today as M. Mitchell did last week. Yes, I'm glad some colleague came to tell you to write more, NS. Did anyone really think the bully with the Napoleonic complex would have changed? I wonder if he was bullied as a kid.

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    1. I think "Rahm as bully" is getting to be an overdone stereotype. He didn't bully Spike Lee. Said he didn't like the title, as what Mayor of the city wouldn't, but approved of the concept of dealing with black on black crime. Unlike the alderman, who threatened withdrawal of financial support. Also, I agree it's futile to fuss about "chiraq," but trying to make it a better metaphor than it is with comparative stats that ignore the Iraqi dead is also a bit lame.

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    2. That's what Rahm admitted to saying publicly. Who knows what else he said? It's just presumptuous, that's all. Who cares what the mayor of Chicago thinks of a movie title? It's part of a long tradition of clunky meddling.

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    3. The Chiraq column is running here tomorrow.

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  3. Isn't he about 5'6 or so? Must make him feel insecure so has be more aggressive. And I'd say the same thing or worse if he was a southern Euro, Christian.

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    1. What was Daley's excuse?

      John

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    2. he's a different kind of jerk, but even he didn't lose it in public esp. with women like rahm does

      I'd say Rahm is the more honest of the two.

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    3. Daley is not the here and now. We aren't doing a comparison contest, John.

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    4. Well, I'm 6-foot tall, shrunk a bit from 6-foot 1 inch. Does that mean I'm less of a jerk than Daley and Rahm and perhaps a little more of a jerk now than I was at 20?

      John

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    5. lol, don't deliberately miss the point , Tate, and be obtuse

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    6. John, same figures here. What's up with that, anyway? Does it happen to everybody, or have I just not been eating enough Wheaties?

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    7. spine compresses with age, just ask your orthopedic doctor, so we shrink some

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  4. I didn't vote, but I enjoyed the 2nd half of your shoe story this time almost as much as I enjoyed it in 2010. Expensive shoes would be wasted on my peasant feet, so it's of no practical value whatsoever -- exactly what I like to read every goddamn morning.

    John

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  5. As for Obama and the imported shoes -- if true, though I'm a solid supporter of his, I think he missed the boat on that one. Wearing Allen Edmonds for the inauguration seems like a swell little tradition to me, regardless of the owner's political affiliation. Of course, I remember seeing a picture of Clinton jogging, back in the day, and he was wearing Asics shoes, IIRC. I thought at the time that I'd have thought better of him had he been wearing one of the American-made New Balance choices, as I do. (Trying not to think about his jogging shorts...)

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    1. Well this President dares to be different and I respect that. He probably heard those manufacturers were Republicans, lol.

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  6. I like the photo used today, mainly because it distorts the CTA turn around the church for two 45 degree turns & a 90 degree turn to just a gentle curve.

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  7. So, President Obama wore Cole-Haans, at his 2009 Inauguration, cool. If he wore ugly as Bruno Maglis when they took down Osama bin Laden, that would be a fashion statement.

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  8. I worry more about what's in a President's head than what's on his feet.

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  9. John Fountain on Sunday's in the paper speaks of enjoying writing, like NS does as well.

    Mr. S., have you ever met the sportswriters there Morissey and Telander? they have an interesting sense of humor as well

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    1. i've met Morrissey, in passing. Nice guy. Better friends with Telander. We hang out, once a year I spend a weekend up at his place in the UP. Hale fellow, well met, very smart, very good at what he does. Kind to children and animals. A man of parts. Admire him greatly.

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