Paris lifted Barney’s shoes off her desk with two fingers as if the offending footwear was diseased. She twisted her hand to look at Barney’s shoes from all sides. They were a deep mahogany colored loafer that had seen far better days. The heel of the right foot was worn and some of the padded insert could be seen poking through right above the rubber sole. The left shoe had its rubber sole worn quite unevenly.
Paris looked back up to Barney. “So why again was I supposed to look at these?” she asked as she dropped the shoes to the floor of her office.
Barney padded over in his socks and picked them up. “You can tell a lot about a man by looking at his shoes,” he said. “You told me I don’t know what I was talking about in my essay. You gave me an F. Well you don’t know where I come from. So put my shoes on.” He paused for dramatic effect before continuing. “You can tell even more by walking a mile in them then any essay Dr. Pritchard.” Barney put on his biggest cheesy grin and displayed his shoes to emphasize his point. “You see, to me they say I drive a lot and have a limp. Want to try to walk in them and feel a bit of what I go through?”
Paris shook her head. “Put them back on Mr. Winthrop,” she said. “If you want to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, read a book.”
Barney jabbed one of his shoes at her. “What do you mean by that?” he asked.
Paris reached over to her bookshelf where she kept the good stuff. She picked up a slightly worn copy of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. She flipped through the pages while breathing in. It was like hugging a good friend you hadn’t seen in a while. The scent of that particular book always brought back the summer of 78 when she had read it for the first time.
Paris held the book out to Barney. “You want to know about African American struggles in the 1920s and 30s, you read this book. It will give you insights you can’t get by just watching a TV,” she said and then pointed at Barney’s loafers, “or walking in someone else’s shoes. You see you don’t get the inner emotions doing any of that other stuff, just the outside view of how the tread is uneven. What about how you feel when you need to walk? Can I get that from wearing your shoes? Will I know the struggle of not wanting to go buy a new pair of shoes because money is tight?”
“I’ve got plenty of money,” Barney said. “I just hate shopping for shoes.”
Paris smiled and slapped her desk. “Exactly Mr. Winthrop. I can’t get that from really walking in your shoes. I can only get that if you tell me, or if I read it in a great work of literature.”
Barney slumped down in the chair beside Paris’ desk. He put his shoes on and took the book out of her hand. He looked at it, trying to comprehend the importance of such a tome. Finally his eyes went from the book and back to hers. “But why have me read about a black person in the 1920s?” he asked.
Paris shook her head then leaned forward to look Barney in the eyes. “Because you were supposed to write a story about this book, not the Hitchcock film.”