One Boy’s Particular Obsession, When Puma was King

When I was 9 or 10 years old, the soccer shoe everyone wanted was the adidas World Cup. I wanted Puma’s King Pele model. I don’t toe the brand line as an adult, but as a childhood footwear consumer, I was always a Puma guy.

Never did swing that pair of King Peles with the ‘rents. They were top of the soccer cleat line, Puma’s anyway, and too expensive for a kid who needed a new pair every year. When I was about 12, I did get myself into the next step down, the Puma Apollo, which distinguished itself from the yellow swoosh and piping of the Peles with a white swoosh and a red dot — the dot being Puma’s trademark back-of-the-heal design. I had two pairs of Apollos then a succession of Pumas straight through my high school, club and college careers. My last pair was procured in Amsterdam, at the close of a backpacking expedition through Europe, the summer before my junior year at Wesleyan. The trip was nearly over, we’d soon be back at school for two weeks of soccer preseason, prior to classes. They were replaceables, the studs that is, and they were expensive but I had to have them. I emptied the vault to buy them, occasioning the first of many dire afternoons in Heathrow, waiting for a flight home with no money for food and nothing but a pack of Dunhills.

Truth be told, those particular cleats never proved very comfortable. Good for sloppy tracks but I had another pair of plastic molded-sole Pumas that got most of the run. For some reason I blacked out the swoosh with some dye that sat in a box full of shoe polish, brushes, rags and neatsfoot oil. It had been at my parents’ house; I took it to college to care for my various brogues and paint my soccer shoes. Is that gay?

More important, is it an actual swoosh that adorns Puma cobblery? I don’t know what to call that upside-down pipe that got wider as it traveled horizontally and form-fittingly from heel to mid-arch, before turning south and terminating where the arch met the sole of the shoe. Should Nike have control of that word? I think not.

Off the pitch I was obsessed with getting me a pair of Puma Clydes, blue felt low-top basketball sneakers with a gray inverswoosh and dot. I played hoops and these were THE coolest shoe anyone could hope to have in 1978, so far as I was concerned. I pleaded with my mom for some, but we stuck to our routine of buying cheap shoes that wore out about the time I outgrew them. However, my feet had stopped growing by 1978, and I argued that a pair of Clydes would last twice as long as the cheap knock-offs at Marshall’s. So she bit, and I remember gathering great confidence and strength from them, on court and off. Seriously. Shoes can do that. When were really young a new pair of sneakers would be appraised for speed in addition to élan. Look how fast they are… With my Clydes I experienced a pre-adolescent version of that sensation when wearing them, or simply by gazing upon them.

In the 9th grade I played my first real basketball, at junior high school, and I went in another direction: the Puma Basket, a white leather job with black dot and inverse-swoosh. I loved my Pumas so much, I devoted to them artistic energy. For fun I drew very detailed renderings of black cleats, taking great care to use just the right colors for the inverswoosh, and the dot, which was rendered in semi-circular fashion because I depicted the shoes in profile. In some junior high school art class I crafted a hollow rendering of the Basket out of clay, painting it and affixing a complete rawhide shoelace. Miraculously, this eminently breakable item still sits on shelf in my parents’ house.

I was down there last month and noticed on my mother’s washing machine a shoe. I went over and inspected it, and here was the original right-footed Puma Clyde I wore so proudly the first day of the 8th grade, and many days thereafter. But how could it be here, and why?

My mother explains: When down parkas and comforters became available, we learned that you could wash them yourself — but you had to dry them properly, or the down would get lumpy. The instructions advised (still do, I guess) that you dry them “three times, with a tennis shoe or tennis ball in the dryer.” I guess “three times” insures they are really dry, all through, and the shoe or ball sort of “stirs” the down while it’s drying. The same technique works to wash/dry down pillows, which I’ve been washing the last few years…

Funny you should ask today because this morning I decided to put my comforter on my bed, and it was all flat; so I put it in the dryer and realized I’ve lost my SHOE! So I went to the garage and got a gardening clog made of rubber, which worked fine…

So yeah, I took her shoe, which was mine all along. I’m looking at it right now. And it feels really good.

 

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