Hanging shoes

Two pairs of sneakers are seen dangling from a telephone line above 300 East in Providence.

It’s sling-your-old-sneakers-over-the-telephone-wire season in Cache Valley. The picture here was taken on 300 East in Providence and caught our attention because it features not one but two pairs of shoes abandoned to the elements.

Just a guess, but this looks like the work of a couple of siblings who’ve run out of things to do over summer vacation. Both pairs even appear to be the same brand, perhaps bought by Mom on the same trip to the store.

Some years ago, the Herald Journal did an article on the phenomenon of shoe tossing, and a local power official was quoted at the time saying he wishes people wouldn’t do that. That year was a banner year for dangling shoes in the valley, and the official said it costs the utility company a lot of time and money to get the shoes down.

A search on the internet reveals shoes slung over telephone and power lines are a common sight in virtually every country in the world, and there is a lot of folklore about why people do this. In some places it is said to mark drug-dealer locations and gang territory, while there are also accounts of people throwing shoes over telephone and power lines as a way of memorializing someone who has died or marking major life milestones such as high school graduation or loss of virginity.

Still another thought is that this is done often by bullies as a way to harass weaker, smaller kids.

There is even a Wikipedia page devoted to the practice and a documentary film exploring the whys and wherefores of what in urban areas has become known as “shoefiti.” The film, titled “The Mystery of the Flying Kicks,” used a phone hotline to solicit people’s theories on shoe tossing, and the answers run the gamut.

Among the people quoted in the documentary was a professor at the University of Toronto named Marcel Danesi, who specializes in “semiotics and linguistic anthropology.” The professor had a very intellectual take on it all, delving into the existential motivations behind people leaving signs of all kinds on the landscape.

“I guess that’s the oldest question of all, isn’t it? — why we search for meaning and why we must leave our mark,” Danesi tells his interviewer. “It is connected to memory. A kind of communal, long-lasting memory, as if we live on through memory, and if you think of it in a certain sense, that’s absolutely true.”

He goes on:

“Just the fact that you leave a writing on a wall or that you leave a shoe somewhere, you have proven to yourself that you exist. What an interesting feature of humanity, even through it’s kind of an illusion, isn’t it? Unless you’re a great artist that leaves your name in your works, we do disappear from communal memory. What a tragedy our condition is.”

Wow, and we just thought those kids in Providence were bored!