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I recently walked into a party and saw with sinking heart a line of shoes at the door. The hostess, with a gracious, apologetic air says: “We are a no-shoe home.”
I bend obediently to take off my black-suede platform shoes, with one last wistful look at the gold cork heels, and walk into the room in stockinged feet and a party dress, suddenly demoted from elegant party guest to little kid in a nightgown. The other guests similarly shuffle sock-footed, barefooted, stocking-footed through the loft, holding canapés and glasses. All this homeyness, this enforced cosiness, this clean-slipper ambience depresses me.
I try to talk to people but, mostly, I see a sea of feet rising up at me. I am kind of thinking that in western cultures the very purpose of floors is to be walked on by dirty shoes. It is like forbidding a table to be eaten at or a couch to be sat on or a refrigerator to be cold.
It occurs to me that I am overreacting. I confide to another guest, whose outfit looks similarly derailed, that I would rather be wearing shoes. She asks with true curiosity: “Do you have a shoe home?” Her tone suggests that she has never met someone with a shoe home before, though she, of course, has nothing against someone with a shoe home, she just finds it interesting. A law seems to have been passed in liberal, brownstone Brooklyn without my knowing it prohibiting the wearing of shoes in the house.
It should perhaps not have come as a surprise that, in addition to being a no-shoe home, this is also a no-red-wine home. One besocked, slightly plump guest asks for red wine. The gracious, apologetic hostess looks for a moment like he has asked for a little crack with his shrimp cocktail. She says: “We don’t do red wine.”
They don’t do red wine because a single drop spilled would mar the creams and beiges of their wildly tasteful furniture and rugs. They don’t do red wine because red wine is the enemy of domestic order and tranquillity and moderation and vacations in the south of France at this perfect little rundown farm house they have found. Red wine is like shoes.
There is certainly no doubt that this loft, with its giant arc-like lamps and Icelandic serving bowls made from repurposed, recycled materials, is perfect – or that its perfection is thrust, in these subtle, delicate, graceful ways upon its visitors. Gaze upon my perfection, the buttery couch seems to say. No loud, drunken man has ever told too long a story and laughed too loudly and spilled red wine on me.
This is not, for instance, a house like my house, where you could throw a party and the very young bartender could be so busy flirting with a guest that she would not notice the handle of a knife for cutting limes catching on fire from a candle and burning a black hole in the table, while it takes a little time for one of the other guests to notice and valiantly fling a bottle of seltzer over the fire and the very young bartender.
If there is a moral fussiness at work in the loft, it is subtle and good natured and impeccable. It is offering you a very nice sauvignon blanc.
Still, I look out at the vast expanse of pristine floor, which is painted a delicate grey, and harbour a semi-powerful desire to blunder on to it in my shoes, to muddy and mar, to traipse in the teeming plebeian dirt of the street, of people with less money, of people who smoke, of people who carry bags from H&M home after a long day at work, of people who serve their children Coco Pops for breakfast and, well, the outside world in general, which can be disgusting and have bad taste.
A couple of days after the no-shoe party, the no-shoe child comes to my house for a play date with my shoe child (who, for the record, is wearing a pair of filthy Crocs with tacky little plastic Batman pendants pinned in the holes). The no-shoe child upon entering the hallway bends to take off his sleek European sneakers, and his mother says knowingly: “No, no, this is a shoe house. Keep on your shoes!” She is very cheerfully firm on this. She very much wants the no-shoe child to keep on his shoes. I feel at that moment almost like offering the no-shoe child a sippy cup of red wine.
Katie Roiphe is a professor at New York University. Her latest book is ‘In Praise of Messy Lives’ (Canongate, £12.99).
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