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Back Buzz - January 31, 1997

pumping heart Uptown Espresso, 525 Queen Anne Ave North, Lower Queen Anne

I'd probably go to Uptown more often if it weren't always so crowded. Not that I'm knocking crowds; they're fine if you feel like mingling with society, rubbing elbows (and other parts of your body) with fellow espresso drinkers. But normally I prefer a roomier environment in which to consume my afternoon double shot. Not that Uptown is always crowded; but it is an extremely popular neighborhood hangout on sunny days and rainy days alike, inside and out.

And they do make a damn fine double cappuccino: strong, foamy, and presented in a plain white teacup. They use Caffe D'Arte beans, too, which are among the best beans in town. A couple of years ago a barista told me that Uptown applicants were required to submit art projects along with their resumes. Whether they still do or not I don't know, but you can be assured the baristas are always outgoing and friendly.

My favorite place to sit at Uptown Espresso is on the north side, where the tables with the cool antique lamps are (I'm partial to the hula dancer). The other day, however, all those tables were full -- in fact, every table in the place was occupied. I finally located an empty chair wedged between two tables on the south wall. I squeezed myself in and hunkered over a tiny teeter-totter of a table to enjoy my cappuccino. So much was happening this afternoon: Uptown regulars were chatting away, reading newspapers and books, writing, drawing, playing games, you name it. I found myself scanning the floor and surveying the shoes of the patrons, an enlightening pastime in which I engage while waiting in large crowds. The woman sitting behind me, catching her friends up on the latest gossip: what kind of shoes is she wearing? Hmm, white leather sneakers. And the young studious man across from me, intently marking away at a manuscript? Brown hiking boots; I would have expected something black. And then, of course, I catch sight of my own shoes: a totally cool pair of short black Ariat riding boots. I guess you could say I'm in love with this particular pair of shoes. Stranger things have happened, you know.

For instance, a couple of years ago I stumbled across a most unusual pair of abandoned shoes. The following e-mail was relayed between me and my Bay Area friend:

As Max and I were walking down to the Bite of Seattle this evening, we passed two abandoned shoes lying on the sidewalk at the comer of 3rd and Mercer. They'd been sitting there for the past couple of days; but this time we happened to notice they were two men's dress shoes -- one black and one brown -- and they were both for left feet. On closer examination we could see they were the same exact shoe in two different colors. I turned them over so we could examine the bottoms. They each had worn-out spots on the middle of the sole that were identical in size, shape, and degree of wear. The shoes were also identical in size.

Realizing that both of these shoes were obviously worn by the same person, but only on his left foot, all kinds of possible stories suggested themselves to us: perhaps the man only had one leg and had acquired these two left shoes at the same time and rotated them daily to space out the wear. But then why would he leave them on the sidewalk at the same time? Perhaps it was a practical joke: some kids swiped some transient's left shoe while he was sleeping off a drunk, and then they returned the next night to swipe his left shoe again. (But, then again, why would they both be worn to the same exact degree?)

The saddest possibility that came to my mind, however, was that some guy had two pairs of the same shoes and rotated them in his daily wear religiously. And then something horrible happened one day and he lost his left foot; perhaps he stepped on a spike and got gangrene. And in some sort of ritualistic method he disposed of his two beloved left shoes on this particular corner.

Have you discarded the obvious possibility -- that the shoes were lost by someone with two left feet? Perhaps someone like the Siamese twins I heard about last week, who were joined at the pelvis, shared a kidney and large intestine, and had three legs between them. As I understood, however, the dominant one -- the one with full control over a pair of legs, presumably a right and a left -- did most of the walking. The second left leg would probably be carried or dragged, so the shoe wear would not be equal on both lefts.

A less distressing explanation is that these were two of hundreds of shoes tested by the manufacturer on a mechanical walking machine on Lower Queen Anne; on their way to the dump they happened to fall into the street together as the truck rounded a corner. Some tidy Seattle person picked them up and placed them on the sidewalk where they belong.

My other thought is that they are part of a citywide art project/social commentary: Shoeless in Seattle. Don't you have a strong impromptu art movement?

Max offered yet another explanation for the two left shoes: perhaps they belonged to some guy who only had one leg to begin with. He'd been wearing each shoe on alternating days, which is why they wore out at the same rate. Then, when he decided they were both worn out, he literally tossed them out, the "out" being on the corner of Mercer and 3rd North.

On a final note, the following is from The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World (by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, Penguin Books, 1995):

"Visitors to Scotland, when served haggis, a traditional native delicacy, often ask what it is. They are then told the legend of the haggis. The haggis, it is said, had its right legs shorter than its left. This forces it to run around and around the sides of hills clockwise (as viewed from above). When the haggis is in season, hunters climb the hillsides and confront the creatures, forcing them to reverse direction so that they try to run counterclockwise. Because of the differences in length of their legs, they overbalance and tumble to the bottom of the hill, where they are collected by helpers with bags."

So perhaps the shoes belonged to some poor unfortunate haggis...

For more on lost footwear, check out the Bureau of Missing Socks Page.