I had a pivotal moment growing up when, at the age of seventeen, I found out a classmate of mine couldn’t tie his shoes (we’ll call him Alessio, because this happened in our senior Italian class).
The funny thing is that there wasn’t a big wind-up to the news, either. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about in the lead up, just shooting the breeze near the back of the room while class was on break or something and boom, “Alessio can’t tie his shoes.”
A swell of mixed emotions probably came next. Here was someone my age, no physical or evident mental impairments that would keep him from it, just “wasn’t raised that way.”
Naturally, the first thing I do is put on my deer-stalker cap, puff my pipe, and look down to see he is, in fact, wearing laced shoes which are, in fact, tied.
“How’d you tie those, then?” say I, skeptically.
Alessio hangs his head and quietly whispers, “My mom ties them for me, okay?”
In that moment, I was his confidant. I’d been let on his secret that only the four of us in that corner of the room which was our Italian class knew about, and so I would guard his secret…
Until the following week, whereupon we got into some sort of banter – again, don’t remember the decade-old exchange, but I trust it was witty – and I used my newfound ammunition.
“[Evan], you can’t put maple syrup on pizza,” I assume he said to me.
“Yeah, Alessio? Well, you can’t tie your shoes, so you don’t get a vote,” I retort.
Of course I wasn’t quiet, so the others at the lunch table heard and there followed a storm of questions. Alessio hung his head, and I had my hands ‘pon my hips, triumphant.
After all, I’d won.
I used that ace a couple more times, if I remember right. Each time the same thing: an embarrassed smile from Alessio, an explanation, some chuckles, another medal for old Evan.
We were back in Italian class, just after lunch, and we get into it again. As had become pretty routine, I fall back on my zinger. With an enormous roll of his eyes, another part of the group, Ed, threw his hands up. “Dude! Alessio can tie his shoes!”
I sh’narfed and dismissed the peasant for speaking out of hand. Looking to Alessio, I said, “Is that what you’ve been telling him?” And I laughed. “Alessio, tell this guy you can’t tie your shoes.”
Ed looked me in the eye with a cold stare, and held that gaze as he reached over and undid Alessio’s laces. With the shoes loose and undone, Ed then looked to Alessio and solemnly nodded his head as if to say, It’s time.
There was a brief moment where Alessio looked back and forth between us like a child being called by two divorced parents. He turned a face like he’d made up his mind and just said, “I’m sorry, man.” Then he bent over and tied his shoes…
I was stunned into stuttering silence as I realized that I’d spent the better part of the past few months proclaiming to my peers what was now a gobbsmackingly (it’s a word) obvious lie. I was a fish that had taken the hook, the line, the sinker, better part of the pole, and most of the goddamn boat.
To…to clarify, in case this isn’t sinking in: I was almost a legal adult, and believed someone who was going to be headed off to college soon telling me he couldn’t tie his shoes…for months! And was confident enough to tell a bunch of people about it!
If there’s a lesson to be gained from any of this, let one be to obviously not believe everything you fucking hear, but also to reserve an ounce of sympathy for anyone that makes what you find to be stupendously dumb proclamations; because odds are that one day they’ll realize they’ve been had, and hang onto the experience in such a way they write about it publicly ten years down the road.