Feeding the hungry ghost

Since I was small, I’ve tracked approaching milestones through the expiration dates of dairy products. When that block of cheese goes off, it’ll be my First Communion. My birthday is getting closer; the date is already stamped on that yoghurt carton. Oh God, exams start in three days, when this milk goes sour.

The Southeast Asia trip is now at the parmesan cheese stage. I fly to London on June 23rd and to Dublin a week later on a nine-dollar Ryanair flight. Then to Sardinia and back to London. But the real countdown is to July 24th, when I arrive in Bangkok with a small backpack, the stub of a one-way ticket, and the address of a hotel near the Wat Po.

My to-do list, from vaccinations to finding foster care for my bike and laptop, has kept me from sleep and web updates for days. Naturally, I’ve focused on the most urgent priorities—shoes.

It’s become an obsession. I won’t have an income for nine months, possibly longer, so what better time to buy a pair of $330 Prada mary janes? They’re beige, with white plastic soles, and I made friends with them in the window of OTP two months ago. They look like particularly dumpy nurse’s shoes, and somewhere in my addled brain I calculated that lack of glamour somehow cancelled out ludicrous expense. They would be ‘comfortable’. If I wore them every day for six months they would be incredible value on a cost-per-wear basis. I wouldn’t be a just another smelly backpacker on the Ko San Road. They could take me from the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh to the beaches of Sikkanoukh.

Ah, spring, and the sound of women justifying. I wore my posh shoes on the ten-block walk to yoga class, and there was blood on both feet when I got there. It may have been blisters but more likely stigmata. The bloody mary janes have been banished to the cobbler’s in disgrace, and I get cranky every time I remember I have to pick them up.

Next I tried a pair of Diesel cuties. Sporty, ivory, with red Velcro straps. Comfortable enough for me to do little Gene Kelly hops on my way to the office candy jar every day. I showed them to Max, still boxfresh, and he looked like Queen Elizabeth I when Drake presented the first muddy potato. Then he tried one on as an earring.

   ‘Cool shoes,’ said Mark, eyeing them at the elevator bank on their first outing.
   ‘Thanks, do you like them?’
   ‘Um, no, not really, now you mention it.’
   ‘What are those weird little red straps? Are you into footbinding now?’ said Jason.

I didn’t care. I wore them to work every day for a week, thrilled at my lack of blisters. On the sixth day, I took them off and my sister said ‘Jesus, those stink.’
Polyester lining. Ugh.

So I gave in and bought Teva sandals in waterproof brown leather, Franciscan monk-style. I wore them in Brooklyn last weekend and didn’t feel like myself. Most of my shoes are practical enough to sprint in, but now I felt…crunchy. I tried on a pair of convertible khakis with them and stared at the camp counselor the mirror. Two weeks from your thirtieth birthday is a terrible time to experiment with frumpiness. It leads to a fresh obsession: The Perfect Sarong.