June 19, 2009
For years David Labbe kept a single Converse basketball shoe on his desk. The thing was so big – size 20, he thinks – he could practically paddle it upriver to work.
Labbe worked at a waste management company, an independent contractor specializing in paper removal and recycling. He grew up a few towns from the old Converse manufacturing facility, wearing Chucks in gym class and after school. Still a fan of the brand in adulthood, he was amused to learn when his company cut an unusual deal to dispose of Converse’s one-of-a-kind prototypes when they were no longer needed.
Each week, when the drivers stopped by the Converse office to pick up their paper trash, they’d haul out a rolling bin or two of unmatched sneakers in various colors and materials — mock-ups of potential new Chuck Taylor styles. The company had an enormous, industrial-strength shredder that was powerful enough to pulverize big batches of canvas shoes. (We know these were prototypes that had outlasted their usefulness; still, we’re irrationally distressed by the mental image of so many unique Chucks being condemned to footwear Limbo.)
Today, David Labbe no longer works for the disposal company. He recently unpacked a pair of Chucks he’d forgotten he bought about 15 years ago, and he’s wearing those now. His son, Jack, is in middle school, a long-haired kid who’s learning to play the bass. His mother owns a vintage shop, and Jack rocks some of the coolest rockabilly shirts of any pre-teen you know. As his father stands on the sidewalk, happily recalling the sneaker-shredding process, Jack saunters over in a black hoodie featuring the All-Star logo. He was at the mall with his sister the other day, he says, and they both had saucer eyes over the new Knee-Hi Chucks. “Can we get ‘em, Dad?” he pleads. Jack’s dad has always been a pretty cool guy. His son knows he’s got some big shoes to fill. He’s up for the challenge.
James Sullivan is a Boston-based writer whose most recent book is The Hardest Working Man: How James Brown Saved The Soul Of America. James has also written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Rolling Stone, The Boston Globe, and eMusic.com. Learn more about James at www.placeformystuff.com.