199 words about Chuck Taylors

Canvas and rubber, flesh and bone

“I like your shoes, young man,” he said. It was the second time he’d said it, but I’d been out in space. I said thank you. He was an older Black gentleman, trim and dignified with polished shoes and a button-down shirt tucked into slacks. His use of “young man” dated him to a vanishing era. That morning something had told me to wear my Chuck Taylors. They’re white low-tops, yellowed and worn but not worn out. They’re nothing but canvas and rubber, held together by a little glue. To him, they were a time machine to his days coaching middle and high school basketball, back when all the players wore Chucks. He was definitely older than he looked, which is rare in the cancer hospital. The treatment; the stress; the different flavors of disease — they age you. So I sat near him and we talked basketball there in the waiting room. He said he was in a clinical trial (“I’m a guinea pig”) and I said I was, too, and then there was a moment of mutual understanding on a higher plane than the clumsy imprecision of speech. We’re nothing but flesh and bone, held together by luck.