Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer The Flip-Flop

By Jim Hanas and Chris Davis

JUNE 21, 1999:  The flip-flop, the hideous thong footwear once found only on solar-scorched patios and in locker-room showers reputed to harbor the tinea pedis fungus, is much maligned -- and with good reason. They are terrible, tacky accessories, as aesthetically valueless as their retail price suggests, particularly the deluxe models with two-inch platforms and tri-tone racing stripes that belong on the side of a van, beneath the hooves of an airbrushed unicorn. Not to mention the fleshy heel-smacking sound and the truly harrowing degree of foot exposure.

Who wants to see that?

No one, of course, and therein lies the flip-flop's genius. Its wearer sends a message to all around him, and that message is this: "I don't care and look -- look how much."

The wearer has dropped out, given up, cut loose, and donned hated footwear just to give his or her middle finger a rest. He exposes his feet in restaurants and theatres and shopping malls only in lieu of showing his ass. He is off-the-clock, good-for-nothing, and he doesn't care who knows it. It is difficult to do anything useful in flip-flops. You can't exercise, feed the capitalist war machine, or perform alienated labor -- any labor at all for that matter. A true etymology of the vernacular term "flip-flop" would take both these factors into account. "Flip," as in "the bird." "Flop," as in loser self-proclaimed. True, it's not Tiananmen Square, but this isn't China either.

This is America, where it's tough to drop out, if only because fashion and anti-fashion are hopelessly locked in a stumbling, mutually gratifying dance, swapping leads and inventing new steps that always look vaguely like last year's craze. Even most types of tacky are locked into this logic, salvaged again and again, resurrected as camp.

But the flip-flop, by virtue of its evergreen ugly and basic anatomical repulsiveness, says goodbye to all that. There are no ads advocating flip-flops as an essential accoutrement of rebel-chic. And while transparent, weekend pretenders can sometimes be spotted, flip-flops will never go the way of the Birkenstock, a fringe-culture item that has long since become yuppie de rigueur. In America, being poor has a better chance of becoming cool.

And besides, nothing else quite goes with a purple tube-top and cut-offs. J.H.

One Needn't Say Flip

Or How I learned to quit worrying and just say "Biggie-Size It."

The classic petroleum-based flip-flop sandal, an item surely invented with no other reason in mind than to prevent the spread of foot-rot in public shower-stalls, is symbolic of our disposable society, and the inherent lawlessness that it entails. The sign on the door reads, "No Shurt, No Shooze, No Survice," and to reanimate an expired ox for slaughter and subsequent brutalities, I have known shoes -- and the flip-flop, sir, is no shoe. Allow me to elaborate.

Jim · my - Buf · fett

Armed with aught but these four syllables, I could argue successfully for the criminalization of all footwear thonged and onomatopoetic, against the combined forces of the Devil and Dan'l Webster.

Par · rot · head

Allowed liberal use of this eerily accurate nickname for Buffett's fans (a combined total of seven mighty syllables), I could sway a jury of barefoot Deadheads to choose life -- without parole, that is -- for flagrant public flip-flopping.

In the studio recording of "Margaritaville," Buffett croons, "Blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop-top, cut my heel, had to cruise on back home." The verse clearly suggests that flip-flops are cheaply made thingies providing virtually no protection to the foot. They wear out quickly and are prone to just flying off, or, as Buffett so beautifully illustrates, blowing out.

Rather than acting as a deterrent to would-be wearers, "Margaritaville" oddly enough mythologizes the flip-flop, creating in this already overcrowded world a life-sustaining positive role-model for the very people who might otherwise be prone to self-disposal. The verse continues: "But there's booze in the blender, and soon it will render, that frozen concoction that helps me hang on." Any man who needs to chug a blender full of tequila to cope with the loss of 99-cent shoes, and a bad widdle boo-boo on his foot, is, without question, a man on his way out. Naturalist that I am, it hurts to see the good Mother's knowing ways thwarted by popular culture.

It should be noted that in a famous live recording of "Margaritaville," Buffett alters the verse, singing, "Blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop-top, broke my leg had to limp on back home, God I still feel pain--WISH I HAD SOME COCAINE!" The mere mention of the booger sugar sends the recorded Buffett fans into howls of consumption-driven approval.

Let us observe the podiatric offender in question. Male: From flip-flops, travel north following the unnaturally tanned legs to the ragged cutoffs, invariably crusty and way too short, offering a splendid view of at least one nut each and every time the subject assumes a seated position. Above the shorts there is a T-shirt bearing the image of the Taco Bell chihuahua, overlaid with an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. Continuing beyond the thick graying mustache and the reflective aviator sunglasses brings us to the ubiquitous Panama hat, and to the end of our journey across the tacky incontinent.

As for the Female: Eliminate the mustache and the nut, knot the T-shirt just above the navel to reveal a midriff with the look and feel of genuine hand-tooled saddle-leather, and the description remains pretty much the same. Everything is disposable, and what's the common word for all things disposable -- trash.

Since the Columbine incident, the black trench coat (long associated with matters cloak-and-dagger) has become a reviled fashion statement, though its sheer obviousness makes it a benign signifier compared to those flapping rubber nothings that pass for shoes. Insidious, and nearly invisible, the flip-flop chips away at the very bedrock of civilization. The sign on the door reads, "No Shurt, No Shooze, No Survice." C.D.

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