by Chris O’Leary

Fat t*ties turn to teardrops as fat ass turns to flab
Sores that was open wounds eventually turn to scab
Trees bright and green turn yellow brown
Autumn caught em, see all them leaves must fall down, growin’ old

– Outkast, 13th Floor/Growing Old

Life’s lessons always seem to pop up on me where I least expect them. The most recent schooling came a week ago, when a quick jaunt into a couple of sneaker spots dropped a painful revelation on me:

I’m old.

The lesson didn’t come in the way I thought it might have. It wasn’t post-basketball-induced arthritic knee pain, a random ACL strain or back spasms that had me hanging my head as I walked out to the parking lot. It wasn’t the fact that in the last few years, I’ve gained a cloak of demographic-shifting invisibility that lets me walk through The Gap un-harassed. It wasn’t even people calling me sir at fast food windows that did me in.

Air Penny IIIt was the Air Penny II that’s left me thinking about crow’s feet and wondering when I started using words like jaunt in my work in the first place.

This story has a SLAM-specific relevance to it. The other day, Ryne dropped a picture of the white-on-white Air Penny II on the site as the Kick of the Day. I clicked on the picture, went to Eastbay and then checked Foot Locker’s site as well to confirm it. My favorite edition of the Air Penny line was available.

I’ll admit I slipped on this one. I should have been up on the release date, should have been a more loyal Niketalker, I guess. I should have done a lot of things. The bottom line was this shoe has been out for more than a minute now, and I didn’t have it.

That afternoon, I made my way into Footlocker, my desperation for a shoe I’ve obsessed over for the last 12 years as transparent as I normally am in these places nowadays. I scoured the racks and saw nothing.

Warning:
The following excerpt may be painful to read for fellow
sneakerheads.

Undeterred, my attention shifted to the staff of the store. I found a kid who was probably half my age. He looked at me, made eye contact and looked away. I stepped to him as he cracked open boxes of new product.

“I’m looking for the Air Penny II,” I told him. “Did you guys get it in?”

His blank face said a lot more to me than anything that would come out of his mouth. Actually, no. What he said topped the fact that he clearly had heard these words put together for the first time when they spilled out of my mouth.

“The Air Penny II?” It was like he said it back to me just to see if he was saying it properly.

“And that would be…?”

“Oh my god, he has to be f*cking with me,” the voice in my head told me.

“Is that…clothing?”

I could see my Facebook and Twitter statuses filling in (that’s sad, I know) as the serious look on his face held firm. This was no joke.

Chris O’Leary is…
- Astonished
- Confounded
- Blown away
- Kind of livid
- Not experiencing this bullshit for the first time

Take your pick.

“No man, it’s a sneaker.” I caught myself snapping at him.

“Don’t be that guy,” the inner-voice cautioned. “You worked retail. Don’t be the spazzy asshole who screams at a kid making eight bucks an hour.”

“It’s a sneaker,” I said in a calmer tone. “A retro from 96/97.”

“Oh,” he said back, his face as blank as ever. “Yeah, we don’t have that. You should try Champs though, they’re two stores up from us.”

Yeah, I know where Champs is.

I’ve been going to Champs probably longer than this kid has been alive. I thought back to Anfernee Hardaway’s rookie year and how I bought his Champion replica jersey from that Champs. I remembered my friend Adrian (who as a 6-2 high school senior used graze his head on the rim in warm-ups) buying the Air Penny I there. So I went to Champs.

You can guess what happened.

Air Penny II BlackAnother kid, maybe 20 years old repeated what I had just said back to me like he was saying something in a foreign language.

“Air…Penny…II?”

“Yeah. It’s a sneaker.”

“I’m gonna have to check with the manager, hang on.”

Of course you will. It’s not like you’d have an interest in an iconic sneaker from one of the best players to lace them up in the mid ’90s. Check with your manager, please.

The kid goes into the back of the store and leaves the door open, revealing one of my favorite things in the world: shelves lined from floor-to-ceiling in sneaker boxes. Orange, blue, black, white, it’s like a sneaker stock rainbow. Beautiful stuff. The kid re-emerged from a slice of my personal heaven, completely taking for granted the magnitude of his access to the spot.

“Yeah, my manager says we had some but they’re all gone.”

My fists clenched in my jacket pockets and I felt one knee buckle. I thought about how this kid doesn’t even know what these shoes look like and felt my teeth grind. It wasn’t until later, when I was talking with one of my favorite SLAM contributors that I had reality crashed over my head like a chair-shot from The Rock.

“Those shoes are before their time,” she told me. “Think about it. They were maybe six when Penny wore those. What do you know about sneakers that were released when you were six?”

Maybe I’m not the best person to ask that, but I saw where she was coming from and it reinforced the situation for what it was. It’s not on them. This is about me. This is about watching the sneakers I grew up on—sneakers that are paramount in some of the best memories I have of this game—becoming less than a footnote to a new generation.

I kind of felt panicked when I thought about how this sneaker may well pass me by for the second time. One of my worst nightmares was about to recur.

This was the flint grey XIII all over again.

In my panic, I tried to flex what little sneaker muscle I have. Emails to people at SLAM brought back nothing; my guy at Nike Canada put the arrow through my heart when he told me the Penny II is a US-only release. He also brought about retroactive rage when I remembered that the faceless manager at Champs said he’d had the shoes in but sold them. He probably says that to all the sneakerheads.

Since my initial attempts at abusing my power didn’t work, and because I can’t think of a snarkier/more creative way to end this, I’m going to put myself out there one last time:

Can anyone help me out with this?