Shoe Man accosted me outside of Santa Cruz’s hipster cafe. I was in the middle of a conversation when he desperately pleaded with me for help. I recognized him from around town, and maybe this is why I didn’t feel threatened. Besides, I was surrounded by friends.
Shoe Man held out a brown paper bag and unwrapped a pair of women’s black loafers. Each shoe was pancake flat, but still he asked, “Will you step on my shoes. I need to get them into this bag to give them to my daughter.”
This was a ludicrous request. The shoes had already been flattened, and he’d just taken them out of the very bag he claimed to need to put them into. But I decided to run with it.
“Why can’t you step on them,” I asked.
“Can’t. Bad ankle,” he said, looking very proud of himself for thinking of this excuse. He didn’t necessarily look homeless. He wore a flannel button down carefully tucked into his jeans and a baseball hat. But he made sudden spastic movements suggesting insanity, and he was the color and texture of a hot dog fried in a microwave.
Apparently he had bested me in the war of wits because before I knew it, I was stepping on his shoes. My friends looked on in simultaneous horror and amusement. He feverishly turned the shoes over and over, so I could step on every part of them. Eventually his enthusiasm unnerved me.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” I’ve always found it’s incredibly helpful to be extremely polite to those who scare you, “But I’m going to stop doing this now.”
He tried to convince me to step on them one more time, “Just one more time,” but I refused. I started walking away, and he did little bows of thanks behind me. I thought I handled it quite well, after all I’m used to homeless attention.
Unfortunately, my compliance apparently encouraged him, because the next week he accosted another friend of mine and asked her to do the same thing. Both of us had been wearing leather, black boots. I hadn’t been special. He didn’t see me from across the street and realize that my feet, and my feet alone, needed to be pressed against his women’s black loafers. He used me for my boots.