The day before the opening of the L.A. Times Book Festival on the campus of USC, I was setting up my books for exhibit. It was a quiet day with postcard-sunny SoCal weather, perfect for the young woman leading a tour group of prospective students and their parents. She stayed at the head of about 30 people, and she gave her entire monologue at high volume so that everyone could hear. It was an impressive performance that she repeated a couple of hours later with a second group. But what really caught my attention was that she did the entire campus circuit walking backward and wearing high heels. I was reminded of the line about how Ginger Rogers could dance every step as well as Fred Astaire, yet she did it backward and in high heels.
When you watch such a performance, you can't help but wonder about the dichotomy between esthetic and function. Whatever one thinks about the merits of high heels, they are clearly a world away from the merits of foot gear designed for support and warmth and the ability to be worn for miles without producing blisters.
For a Tahoe local, that USC performance brought to mind the rarity of high heels in the Tahoe Basin. Such shoes no doubt exist in Tahoe. But outside of the casino showrooms, they are mostly hiding in the back of closets.
It made me wonder if there might be a useful shoe index that psychologists or sociologists could apply to locales and then cross-reference to people. People looking to find their ideal living environment could take a short self-assessment test regarding their shoe interests and then check it against a location's shoe index. It would save one a lot of wasted time moving to Tahoe for the beauty only to discover that your high-heel score of 9.5 is on the wrong end of the spectrum from Tahoe's high-heel index of 1. Likewise, the young person with a hiking boot score of 9 or 10 might realize that their unhappiness living in Manhattan can be solved simply by finding a region with hiking boot index of 10. A place like Tahoe, for example.
When I thought I'd figured out a new index by which people could find the perfect location – or even the perfect mate – I thought back to those high school kids who were considering applying to USC. Judging by the passive, almost-blank looks on the students' faces – especially the boy's – when they looked at the buildings and expansive lawns and gardens, it appeared that extolling the advantages of life at USC was an extremely difficult way to get the attention of those kids.
As I glanced up now and then while stacking my books, I came to think that perhaps the young woman in high heels was really perceptive about her job. When the kids turned back from looking at the campus and watched their tour guide, they looked more interested. It could be that the tour leader actually preferred hiking boots. But walking backward in high heels was probably her best trick for getting kids to listen up.
Would any of those kids come to Tahoe to visit or even live someday? Sure, once their high heel score drops to a 1 or 2 and their hiking boot score climbs to 8 or 10. In the meantime, the tour guide's heels might have helped convince another kid to give college a try.