The Art of Looking Down

The best advice I received from a childhood friend in North London was to look at an opponent’s feet when in the boxing ring. This sage advice came from his father, who was neither a boxer nor a student of the famous Ali shuffle. But the advice proved useful for me, especially when in the boxing ring with my friends in the Boy Scouts.

I boxed in high school, college and in the Navy and religiously avoided taking my friend’s advice. My friend had never mentioned skill. And there was always that big guy from Texas, usually named Stud, with the punishing hands and that pompously chiseled frame. I always looked the beast right in the eye but might as well have been looking at his feet.

As I have grown older, I tend to look down a lot more. I should make clear this is neither a foot fetish nor psychological compensation for fooling my friend for a lifetime. Furthermore, I have not yet lost enough calcium from my upper boney regions to cause my head and torso to fall uncomfortably forward as if I am bowing to some unknown god or unworthy prince.

Also, I am not inspecting my shoes and imagining the soccer ball flying off the bitter end of my laces in that final cup match against Arsenal Football Club at Wembley Stadium in London and landing smartly in the upper right corner of the net. If so, the cheers would have been deafening

I am not looking down after a trip to the gym, checking for signs of a very large Morton’s toe on my right foot to see if it’s pushing through my sock, shoe fabric and rubber toe box that Runner’s World Magazine has said “was impervious to wear and punishment from within.”

I must say emphatically that I am not playing that childhood game stolen from some medieval rant that warns with all the righteousness and rage of the converted not to step on any crack in the pavement under the pain of death or something-or-other.

I am certainly not looking at my ragged and decidedly unbalanced New Balance running shoes and comparing my brand to the majestic and dazzling $300 Nike Pegasus Plus worn by the young man sitting across from me on the #1 train heading to the Bronx, where someone will probably steal these horses of a different color before he can say, Bob’s Your Uncle.

I am just that old guy with a beach hoover trolling the sands before the next generation wakes up, looking for love in a bottle, the occasional Celtic coin and the unregulated flotsam and jetsam washed up from places I might have visited when I went down to the sea in ships or just dreamed about in that fragmented night vessel and ether called sleep.