As someone who spent the first 23-odd years of her life in California, my relationship with the state is similar to the way I'm sure a lot of people feel about their home turf. In other words, my affection for it waxes and wanes with the emotional tides. Sometimes—like, say, when a sports team from its southern region beats my particular favorites—I would happily advocate for the whole shebang to crack off into the Pacific. (I mean, with a week's notice, of course. I'm not a monster.)
Other times, I find myself downright yearning for the juicy give of a fist-sized Central Valley peach under my teeth at my hometown farmers' market, triple-degree temperatures crackling against my bare shoulders.
On the whole, though, I feel relatively neutral about it. I'd have to, considering all the ways our history together creeps into my life. If I loved it, I'd be mopey all the time with missing it; if I hated it, I'd be constantly enraged by my drawly vowels on the word "awwwwesome," my tendency to automatically drive 85 miles per hour on the freeway, my insistence on calling freeways "freeways," and—perhaps most tellingly—my firm belief that flip-flops are an always shoe.
OK, maybe this isn't just a California thing. But until I moved to New York for school, I never even realized there were any other options for casual summer footwear beyond "between-the-toe" and "across-the-top." I just knew that as soon as it hit 60 degrees—which, in Sacramento, meant sometime in late February—it was time to buy another handful of pairs in every color and begin the process of gradually acquiring a film of grime on my feet that would eventually render them indistinguishable from the rubber itself.
I certainly wasn't aware that flip-flops are enough to inspire sartorial Hulk-rage in a wide sector of the populace.
Listen, I know they're bacteria-ridden. I know they have terrible arch support. I know they convey to "some people" that their wearer might have "stopped prioritizing" her "appearance." (Side note: I'm pretty sure I already accomplished that with my cockatoo-feather hair situation and the fact that earlier this week, I scratched a crust of dried toothpaste off my forehead at five in the afternoon. But if you need a shoe-based visual cue, I'm happy to provide one.)
Here's the thing, though: I don't care. Bacteria? Well, I got a staph infection from a San Francisco bus in 2011, contract a blood-coughing lung infection on a pretty much annual basis, and ate a Subway footlong on the CTA in a true display of metatextuality like six hours ago. Whatever eventually kills me, I'll probably have it coming, and foot-germs are way down on that list.
Insufficient arch support? I will grant you this. Flip-flops are essentially the mass-produced equivalent of binder-clipping a piece of cardboard to the webbing between your toes. But they are flimsy by nature, friends! Expecting a flip-flop, with its half-inch of foam rubber and haphazard infrastructure, to carry you the same distance as a pair of $300 hiking boots is just unrealistic. It is akin to giving your corgi a Nerf soccer ball and shouting "FLY, RONALDO!" while he stares at you in quivering disbelief. You are merely setting yourself up for disappointment.
Besides, isn't the whole point of summer to be as naked as possible? That proximity to the ground is so close that you may as well be walking barefoot, except you might have slightly more protection against stray hypodermic needles.
Plus, they beget ingenuity! In the summer of 2010, for instance, every day I walked a mile at lunchtime in the simmering Sacramento heat from my unpaid internship in Midtown to my marginally less-unpaid job downtown. Because it was a frillion degrees outside, naturally, I wore flip-flops. (In a nod to professionalism, they were black.) One morning, just as I left my internship, the toe-attachment-doohickey popped out of the sole of one of them. Though I tried in vain to re-pop it, it was undoubtedly destroyed. And I was left with a mile to go.
Quickly realizing that it was unbelievably difficult to just try to hold the whole thing in place with my toes, I nipped back inside the office. Grabbing a stapler from the supply desk, I crouched in the hallway and jammed its fangs several times into the plush give of my shoe, hoping to inject life back into it for the next 20 minutes at least.
Not being inclined to craftiness, I was very proud of this development, even when it fell apart halfway to my next job. By that point, though, I had reached the park outside the capitol building, so I merely took off my shoes entirely and walked in the grass barefoot like a sweat-moistened Snow White.
"Hello!" I trilled at the various state workers who happened to make eye contact with me. They nervously nodded before hurrying on. Screw them, I was connecting with the soul of nature in the heart of the city, and it was all thanks to flip-flops.
They're just convenient, you know? I have kind of funny-looking ankles due to some sprain issues as a tween, so flip-flops don't accentuate that weirdness with a strap (or, God forbid, a gladiator sandal bondage wraparound thing). You can get mini-revenge on your enemies while wearing them by deliberately angling your feet to accent the "flip" and "flop" sounds as you walk past on your way to do something more fun. And they remind me of home, especially because my mom usually fills my stocking with them when she runs out of ideas for Christmas presents beyond my list of "money" and "socks."
I want to be outside basically all the time during the summer, and flip-flops give me hope that I'll spend at least some part of the day wearing them at the park. They're like bikinis for your feet: low commitment, maximum exposure, and the tan lines echo sunnier times even when the temperatures have dipped back below T-shirt weather.
I love flip-flops to such a degree that I will even incur injury for them. My first year at college, I realized that I was doing far more walking than I was accustomed to doing as a suburbanite. However, it was still wet-sweater muggy outside, so I stubbornly continued to wear flip-flops as I shlepped the miles across campus to buy my textbooks and try to figure out where my classes were. After about a week or so of gradually feeling increasing pain in my right ankle/sole/pinky toe area, I eventually developed a throbbing, bruised mass of agony on my right foot, thanks to a lethal combination of my duck-footed nature and the aforementioned terrible arch support.
That, finally, was enough to force me to kick the flip for a few weeks, as I hobbled around wincing every time I took a step. (My med-school friend retroactively diagnosed this as a "probably a stress fracture," but I diagnose her as "not actually a doctor yet," so the jury's still out on this one.)
Still, though, as soon as the swelling went down, it was back to the flip-flop for me. As it was, and forever shall be. Even if I do try to opt for the slightly more expensive versions that actually start out shaped like a foot these days.
Happy flip-flop day, y'all. May no one ever impugn your thong-honor in my presence. Play me out, Andrew Garfield:
Kate is flip-flopping on Twitter: @katchatters