On Jan. 23, I volunteered for the Haiti relief concert in downtown Lafayette at Parc International.
My job was simple. I poured beer.
From head to toe, I dressed for the occasion.
I wore an old pair of shoes that I haven’t worn since Sept. 3, 2005.
No, I don’t remember the “last date worn” for every clothing item — and I try not to keep clothes I haven’t worn during the last two years.
But those shoes were special.
First off, I bought them in Dublin on a cold, rainy day in June – when all I had with me were summer sandals. They weren’t what anyone would consider pretty shoes. They were sturdy, sensible suedes with hard rubber soles good for walking.
The second reason is less tangible. When I was a reporter, I wore those shoes to New Orleans after Katrina. I walked in that water in those shoes. I knew I should throw them away. I knew they might be toxic. I tossed the rest of the clothes I wore through the mud and muck of post-Katrina New Orleans the day I got home, but there was something about those shoes. For whatever reasons, they sat silently in the back of my closet for more than four years.
Just before I headed downtown to volunteer, I debated which shoes to wear. I decided the Dublin/Katrina shoes deserved another shot. They looked fine and would certainly not mind spilled beer.
Thirty minutes later, I was learning the fine art of pouring from two fellow volunteers, Ian and Neal from Rotary North. I enjoyed serving folks who were enjoying the music. About an hour later, I stepped on something wobbly with my right foot. I looked and saw something hanging from my shoe. I tried to kick whatever it was off, but it wasn’t cooperating.
I looked closer and realized my sturdy shoes were decomposing right beneath my feet. The soles were turning to mush and coming off in chunks. The best I can figure is when moisture crept its way over the sidewalk and reached the shoes, something reacted. They began to come completely apart in a most disconcerting way. It was not a case of simple dry rot.
The longer I stood in the growing shoe slush, the more I got the creeps. When a friend headed my way, I showed her the spectacle. She remembered my time in New Orleans and shared my concern over the decomposition of soles. Fortunately, she had a pair of shoes in her car parked nearby.
Moments later, I was wearing someone else’s shoes and mine were in the trash.
Truth be told, I’ve avoided watching coverage from Haiti. I didn’t think I could take it. In my sub-conscious – as well as my conscience, I believe there’s a reason I wore Katrina shoes to a Haiti benefit.
None of us has walked in their shoes, but many people in Louisiana have a link to Haiti that goes beyond the French connection.