“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Sigmund Freud (maybe)
We search for significant meaning in things. Order. Structure. Metaphorical connection. The alternative is chaos, and chaos gives you a stomachache. (It gives me one and I can’t imagine I’m alone. Although it may have possibly been a coincidence, my perception of chaos contemporaneous with eating some carelessly prepared halibut.)
Something unfortunate happened. No big deal, but I’d have preferred a more positive outcome. Almost instinctively, to keep the misfortune from becoming an absolute “write-off”, I wondered if the troubling event might at least suggest some illuminating insight or heightened understanding.
Here’s what happened. I know it’s small, but “small” does not preclude historic “breakthrough” reverberations. It has happened before. Don’t ask me where, but it definitely rings a bell.
Okay, here it is.
Accompanying the purchase of new sneakers, I bought a pair of bright orange ankle socks.
Let’s pause here for a second.
For decades, from high school gym onwards, I was “Mr. Half-Calf Sports Socks”, and nothing else. “Half-Calf” was the fashion in those days. Ankle socks were not manly. “Anklets”, they called them. Hardly a masculine descriptive.
“Bonjour. Je suis Maurice ’The Rocket’ Richard and I wear ‘anklets.’”
No. Mon Dieu! Impossible!
You want a fully extended sports sock. It’s the same price. Why not get the whole sock?
My daughter Anna turned me on to ankle socks. Apparently, the prevailing fashion had changed and I had neglected to take notice. Now, having been an “ankle socks” person for some time, I have taken the next sartorial leap and bought a pair of bright orange ones.
And here’s what happened.
I wore my bright orange ankle socks. I put them in the laundry. And when they came back…
They had shrunken so much I could barely pull them over my heel.
After a single washing, my bright orange ankle socks were now unusable “foot mittens.”
And I thought to myself, wistful for the pedal reliability of the past,
“This would never have happened if I had not abruptly abandoned my “Half-Calfs.”
I mean, all socks presumably shrink. But a “Half-Calf” (as opposed to “half-caff”, which is a type of coffee I neither drink nor entirely understand; how do you take out half the caffeine?)
A mid-calf sock shrinks – it is admittedly lower on the leg – but it remains wearable. My pygmy bright orange ones were still wearable, just not by me. My grandchildren, maybe, if they were open to grandparental hand-me-downs. But to me, they were entirely useless.
Except, perhaps, as an analogy.
A valuable “Teaching Moment”, courtesy of diminuated footwear.
I thought hard about it. What can I learn from this, and pass along to others and have them say “Thank you”?
The underlying lesson occuring to me involved “Margin For Error.”
That was the issue. Inherently small socks, made smaller still in the laundry, slipping irretrievably beneath the “Line of Unability.” That was their downfall. The socks were conceptually “too close to the line.”
And they inevitably paid the price.
What, I considered, was that like?
My original connection involved people who waited till the last minute to study for their exams, and failed, because they had waited till the last minute to study for their exams. Choosing to study the minimum amount of time needed to satisfactorily “scrape by”, they had “cut it too close”, suffering the inexorable wrath of the educational grading system.
Their “Margin For Error” had been dangerously precarious. And now, like some unusable item of apparel, they were terminal “discards.”
That was pretty good. But it lacked the distinguishing pizzazz. Possibly because it was obvious.
Then I recalled something else, a forgotten proposition, returned front and center to my consciousness.
I had been pondering the idea that people whom our culture adjudges “less attractive” were more preoccupied with their looks than models and movie stars.
Why? Because they were considerably “closer to the line.”
Beyond which lay the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Being self-aggrandizing in nature, I imagine this counter-intuitive illumination earning me the Nobel Prize for “I Never Thought of That But You’re Right”, which they would, first, have to inaugurate and then bestow upon me.
I see myself being interviewed, asked again and again,
“When did it first come to you?”
And responding, “You know, there’s a funny story about that. I was in this sporting goods store, buying a new pair of sneakers. And the salesperson, Justin… or was it Jeremy? – asked, ‘Do you need any accessories?’….”
And then, because I am delusional but not crazy, I return finally back to earth.
And look “Reality” square in the face.
An immortalizing “Symbolic Representation”?
More likely, they were exactly what they were:
A pair of shrunken bright orange ankle socks,
Destined for the trash.