The White Shoes

Well, I really like talking to my conservative friend, it seems like those are usually the best conversations, you know, maybe because we don’t try to convert each other, we just talk about current events and all and try to see each others’ POV, well, most of the times anyway. But the other day we get in this weirdo conversation and what we’re talking about is how we talk to each other, you know, his ilk and mine and he all the sudden gets this melancholy look all over his face and he wonders why I listen at all given everything going on and I really feel for him because it doesn’t seem like he has much of a space anymore for being a true conservative, I mean what with the Republicans becoming all Trumped up and all the Democrats getting Trumped out and all they want to do is talk about Trump. I mean, I kinda grok his depression with him because sometimes I feel like I am in a complementary position so to speak.

But I want to cheer him up and I say to him well the reason I listen to you is you have a power that I don’t have and he says what, kind of in a suspicious way as if I’m about to play a joke on him and I say really I’m not making this up, you do literally have a power that I don’t, you being a conservative and all and me being a liberal and that perks up his ears a little. He’s so endearing.

And I say I have to tell you a story to explain this so he says go ahead and I say well, you know I got a double major in history and political science in college, and since there were no coffee shop chains in those days, the only equivalents seemed to be run by old women with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths and I have always been like, a total non-smoker, well I just couldn’t find a job for a while. So I decided to join the Peace Corps. Oh, my friend says, I didn’t know that – where? and I say well I was in Africa, in Kenya, and this was when Uganda was having a lot of, like, genocide, you know, so it was quite plausible that there could be refugees, and my friend says I guess that would be plausible but what? and I say so you understand my dilemma. See we volunteers were being trained up country but on one weekend they sent us all down to Nairobi to find out how we would do interacting with the “natives” so to speak and to work on our Swahili.

So I get there all right and I’m just wandering around looking at everything and all these street vendors were all over me wanting me to buy something and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to communicate but it didn’t matter because almost everyone spoke English. So there I was, white man in the middle of a lot of black men and women and just kind of soaking it all in when this guy comes up to me. He tells me his name and if I remember right it was Mbuthu which really doesn’t matter except I have to have something to call him, right? And so he is real friendly but there is something, I don’t know, sort of hard and manipulative about him, too, that I kind of sense but not wanting to judge anyone on my own perceptions and since he seems to want to engage with me – well, we start talking. He tells me he is a student from Uganda (that’s the country just to the west of Kenya) and he had to flee because of Idi Amin and he and his fellow students walked all the way to Nairobi on foot, and he had to walk through the marsh around Lake Victoria and it’s all sounding kind of horrifying so I invite him into a restaurant. No, wait a minute, now that I think about it he was the one who invited me along with one of the other students from Uganda who had kind of appeared out of nowhere as if they had some kind of signal or something, so we went inside and I paid for some tea for all of us and I think he and his friend got a pastry. And they were both talking to me about Uganda and how bad it was and asked me if I could give them 100 shillings to help them out. But you know, there was something I had noticed.

And my friend says really? kinda sarcastic like but I go on and say before when Mbuthu was talking to me outside the restaurant I had looked down at his feet and noticed that he had on a pair of white shoes, perfectly clean and un-scuffed white shoes and I thought to myself how could they look like that if he had been walking through a marsh with all kinds of mud? And all his clothes seemed clean and in fact he didn’t seem to be gaunt from hunger or anything like that. But the main thing I remember is the white shoes, kind of loafers you know, and you don’t get those things soaked in mud and then they come out clean like that, and my friend nods his head and says uh-huh and I say and then there was the fact that Idi Amin hadn’t been President of Uganda for some years at that point in time and my friend says well that clinched things I’d say and I say back to him but I can see how if you were a refugee you might want to make your story more, well, familiar to your audience because nobody ever heard of Tito Okello but Idi Amin, well, even Americans knew who he was so I can understand how Mbuthu might have gotten tired of people saying Okello who? and decided just to go with the known, so to speak. And my friend says so you were being a press secretary for the man who was conning you, he should have paid you and I say I prefer to think of it as walking a mile in his shoes and my friend says yeah, his white perfectly clean and un-scuffed shoes.

Well now I was like totally happy that my strategy was working and my friend was definitely in the fight again with all teeth bared but it kind of started hurting a little because I felt he might be getting a tad judgmental, which is what conservatives do from time to time, and it was not just judgmental about this Mbuthu thing but some of it was spilling over to me. But then I told myself you asked for this and it is the price you pay sometimes to help a friend …

So my friend says but you knew he was a con man, right, and I say well maybe he walked barefoot across the marsh and carried his shoes and my friend said right, but you didn’t think that and I said I was telling myself the whole time how lame it all sounded and my irritating (and getting more so) friend says but Idi Amin was by now driving around a purple Rolls Royce in Egypt and I say actually it was a powder blue Cadillac in Saudi Arabia and he says I stand corrected (really getting more and more … acidic) and I say but I kept hearing this voice saying that it could be true and my friend says really man, a voice from where? and I say maybe a one in a million chance and how do I know what this person has been through because – but my friend cuts me short and says you gave him the money didn’t you and I say man I really wish you had been with me that day and he says you gave his friend money, too and I say because you would have stopped me and he gives me that look of his like really and I say but you see, I had to. I was almost pleading with him and it was a funny mix of some real zeitgeist on my part and putting it on pretty thick because I could see this had really gotten my friend out of his doldrums and he was firing on all cylinders.

Why did you give them money, he says, when you didn’t believe a word of it and I say back to him but I couldn’t know it wasn’t true, either, and he says huh? and I say that’s the power you have that I don’t and he says power? and I say yes, you have the power to disbelieve. Wow he says I feel like superman, but then he says but wait, you couldn’t disbelieve this guy, but at the same time you didn’t believe him, so … and he stops in mid-phrase like he just can’t say the rest so I finish his sentence for him and say so I don’t have the power to believe, either. You can’t believe anything if you can’t disbelieve anything. Why? he says and I say because they are the same thing if you think about it and I’m a liberal and my friend sort of disgusted says you are always saying that and I say back to him have a little compassion man, I’m stuck in this weirdo space warp between belief and disbelief and I’ll never get out and I am a little more on the zeitgeist side now. Oh, he’s says, kind of quiet and I say and that’s why we liberals need you conservatives.

Okay, he says and thinks for a little (did I ever tell you he is kinda slow?) and just as I’m about to inject something, anything into all that silence he puts his finger up in the air kinda like saying hold for just a durn second, man, and so I wait at least one interminable minute longer and he says to me but do conservatives need liberals and I breathe a sigh of relief that I can talk again and I say of course they do and my friend says for what and I say because sometimes what you conservatives believe to be absolutely true is false and what you disbelieve totally is actually true and who is going to point that out to you? Another conservative? LOL.

And my friend says so you’re saying I don’t have the power of maybe? and I say that sounds like a good way of putting it. And he says do you really think so, I’m not quite sure I believe that. And I say well, I don’t know … maybe.