first published on The Good Men Project.
How I became obsessed with Sneakers.
Rest in Peace Jorge Alberto Foglia 8/28/26 – 3/26/12
By the standards I've been surrounded with all my life, my father was an abject failure. While all of my friends, present and past, were chauffeured to school, drove new cars, and had expense accounts, massive homes, and tuition paid for, my dad was one of two things: Either bedridden, in and out of consciousness, or failing at his latest entrepreneurial adventure. While my friends were deciding what summer camp to attend, I was usually up at 3:00 am during those same summers helping him cook pastries and bread for one of his bakeries or restaurants, and then delivering them all over eastern Massachusetts.
When Kenny P showed up to the first day of 6th grade in the newest pair of Air Jordans and mocked me for wearing a pair of "Top Guns," the $7.99 version from Payless, I was horrified. I ran home and asked Dad to buy me a pair, a question which I narrowly avoided a beating for, suggesting that $65.00 (it was 1991, guys) was an acceptable amount to spend on sneakers for an 11 year-old. This was something my father never wavered on. When I was 7, all I wanted in life was a trapper keeper. (If you're just coming out from under that rock, a "trapper keeper" is a flashy, fancy binder with pockets, zippers and bright colors.) But trapper keepers cost more than my shoes and when I ran up to Dad at the Walgreens with it in my hand, he picked it up, looked at it (and the price) and, without showing any emotion, placed it back on a shelf, and gave me his response: “No." That was it.
But I am my father's son, and stubborn is as stubborn does. So I pouted all the way home, and when we pulled into our driveway I stated (yes, 7 year-olds can 'state' if they're Foglias), "I'm not leaving this car until we turn around and buy a trapper keeper." My father's reaction was exactly like Eddie Murphy's Dad in 'Delirious' after the kid yells, "Shit, Dad! I'm going as fast as I can!" It was the silent version of, "Check out this motherfucker." He looked at me with the kind of stoic face that would crumble Mount Rushmore, got out of the car and walked inside our little house in Orlando.
And I waited.
But then, as a 7 year-old, I probably had to pee.
So, begrudgingly, I got out of the car and approached the house.
At this point I slouched down in our foyer and began to tear up a little. Eventually I took a nap, like you do when you're 7 and have nothing to do, especially not play with your new trapper keeper.
From what he described years later, my father was watching me from the side kitchen window the whole time. Making sure to teach me a lesson, but also sure nothing happened to me. Those that know me know how easy it is for me to turn Hulk-green when a loved one is being threatened, and I get it all from my dad. Once, and only once, I was being harassed by Peter Stratford a few blocks from my house (before both my vertical and horizontal growth spurts) and my father just so happened to be driving by.
After his Cadillac slammed into the yard we were in, he was out of the car and had Peter by the back of his head saying, "HIT HIM. HIT HIM BECAUSE I CAN'T...DO IT!" I didn't. So he threw Peter down, grabbed me by the hair and threw me in the car and drove us home, after which I received a beating for acting like a little girl.
But back to the Air Jordans and how they changed my life forever.
So Kenny P is standing there in Nike Air glory looking at me and remarking on my shoes.
"So, Carlos... Where did you get those 'Top Guns,' the army store?"
"Well technically, Kenny, Top Gun pilots are...uggh...never mind. I got them at the Payless ShoeSource, which aptly describes the service they provide."
Despite my killer wit as a 6th grader, following this brief encounter, Kenny, on a regular basis, began to run around me with his arms extended, imitating a jet plane. On an unrelated note, Kenny works in packaging at the local Coca-Cola plant back home. Aim high Kenny, aim high.
After this constant barrage of getting made fun of and my dad laughing at my request to keep up with the Kennys, I figured my social life in middle school was on a downward spiral.
Enter my Stepmother. Yes the evil, evil Stepmother whom my Dad had used to replace the love he had for me with. The Stepmother who I viewed as a homewrecker because all she did was make my Dad smile, take care of him, put her life on hold even though she was 30 and he was 64, and toil away with him at his business venture du jour. Yeah, that Stepmother.
We were holiday shopping at the Liberty Tree Mall and happened to walk by the Foot Locker. I was with my Stepmother at the time and Dad was at the food court sipping on coffee because real men don't "prance about" a mall. I convinced her to stop in and just take a look.
And there they were. The newest Air Jordans with the #23 stitched on the side, with the air bubble in the sole that would fast track me to the NBA for sure, and with the plastic clip for the laces.
And there they were. "ON SALE." Only $49.99 stood between me and surefire stardom.
I looked at my Stepmother and the puppy dog in me made the best plea possible in begging her to at least let me try them on.
She let me.
"Umm, excuse me Mr. Referee, can I try on a pair of the Jordans in size 7?" I asked, to which the high school kid said he would go check.
"Sorry bud, but we only have up to size 5 and a halfs."
Now, mind you, the worst thing you can do to your feet at such a young age is to inhibit their growth and "Perfect! I'll try them."
So I squeezed into them (this experience would absolutely come in handy years down the road with every girlfriend shopping for shoes), and proclaimed, "They're just right! CanIhavethemcanIhavethempleasepleaseplease!?"
This is where my Stepmother became Maria. This is where she took over and now, 20 years later, I refer to her as my Mom.
She approached the King of the house as I was watched from afar and whispered something into his ear to which my Father at first shook his head in disapproval, but within ten seconds changed stance and agreed.
Don't ever forget that without the Queen, you will never win at chess.
She walked back to where I was standing, as if waiting to hear the royal courts' decision, and cracked the smallest smile ever. It was probably the first time I had allowed myself to see her in this light, as opposed to my vision of her in white makeup and a black robe with fangs for teeth and blades for fingernails.
I would later find out she told my dad that the shoes were only $15.00 and she paid the difference out of her pocket.
I could not wait until the next school day.
I look back now, as hindsight is always 20/20, and realize that while we were the textbook definition of poor (I always used the phrase "lower middle class" to make myself feel better, but we were definitely poor), I never wanted for anything that was needed. Considering some of my friends out here in Los Angeles were raised on yachts in Malibu and mansions in Los Feliz, you could look at their experiences, compare, and say, 'boy did you have a shitty childhood." But I don't. It's so hard for me to fathom (yet I'd be lying if I said I was never jealous) a childhood in which I was given everything I ever asked for or a childhood in which you are brought up to expect getting everything you ever desired. That's not how we rolled. And the fact that there was food on the table every day, a roof over my head, and a pair of wonderful people that made sure I was safe and on the path to becoming a grown up? Well, I would honestly take that over trust funds and Lexuses any day. You cannot begin to put a price on the feeling I got after dinner when we would sit around the table and listen to Dad tell 60 to 70 years’ worth of stories. From his days as Eva and Juan Peron's personal body guard and his nights in New York City riding the subway between 2 jobs daily in order to get 45 minutes of shut eye to his days in Europe with his three eldest children and first wife, singing at Carnegie Hall, and his days in the Caribbean. Whenever he spoke it was a flurry of details, with hand gestures learned from generations of red-blooded Italian coursing through his veins. It was a spectacle, a show, and probably the main reason I decided to become an actor and an artist who wanted to one day have that same passionate storytelling ability.
So while most friends had Cancun, sleep-away camp, and trips to Europe to "find themselves," I had Dad. And so help me God, even if you took me back right now and stood me there and told me to pick the poor pill or the rich pill, I would not hesitate for a single moment to do it again. I would do it again partly because I am proud of what Dad taught me, and partly because that would mean I could spend another 25 years with him. This is not to say I fault my wealthy and privileged friends. Good for you; I am glad your parents knew how to diversify their portfolios properly while my Dad was changing subway lines. But I would never trade in the man who taught me the fact that no one but yourself is going to do it for you; the man whose response to my acceptance into private high school with an $8,000 per year tuition was, "Congrats. Now figure out how to pay for it;" the man who once shot a man because he slighted the family name; the man who covered me with his body when a hurricane ripped through our house when I was one, scarring his back for life; the man who was a failure when it came to business in the later half of his life, but who was an undefeated champion when it came to raising six incredible children.
You'll never have the father I had, just like I'll never have an AmEx Black Card.
I walked into school that Monday morning, and as I saw Kenny P slowly approaching me, ready to do his best plane impression, he stopped. He saw. Everyone saw.
A hush and then murmur ran through the crowd.
"Thanks Kenny, my Dad got them for me."
Thanks Pops, Happy Father’s Day.