I love socks. I’m one of those people who over-spends on socks that have animals and tacos and stars and dinosaurs on them. Especially dinosaurs. When I come across a pair of dinosaur socks at any given store, some sort of internal cruise control takes over my facilities and the next thing I know, I’m at the register with a blue pair covered in red Stegosauruses, a red pair covered in blue Triceratopses, and an orange pair covered in yellow pineapples. (There’s usually a buy two get the third for free sale when socks are concerned isn’t there?)
I wasn’t always this way and I’m not sure when the obsession really kicked into high gear but today, I just can’t get enough of the socks with printed [fill-in-the-blank]s on them. It’s like they’re a ground-level representation of how I’m feeling or how I wish I felt. I really do believe the implementation of the mantra “mind-over-matter” is sometimes as simple as donning a sock covered in palm trees or sleepy sloths.
When I was a kid however, socks weren’t a festive form of self-expression. They were, as they are to most kids, just something you had to wear. There were the thick white socks for school and the thin black socks for church and that was it. They showed up in Christmas stockings with the toothbrushes and ChapSticks; the stuff we needed but didn’t ask for because who wants socks for Christmas? I do. I now very much want socks for Christmas. But as a kid, I very much did not.
When we were in elementary school, my brother and I shared a room and had a fairly regular routine when it came to bedtime. We watched Star Trek: The Next Generation each night at 9pm when it aired on UPN—a television station that’s changed names a hundred times since then—on an old black-and-white television that sat on top of a tall dresser. While it wasn’t as nice as the color TV in the living room, this one was ours and we were happy to have it. After Star Trek ended, we were expected to go to bed so we could wake up the next morning and not be monsters on the way to school but there was one big roadblock when it came to that expectation: Lucy.
I Love Lucy came on at 10:00 and 10:30 every night and without fail, we tried to watch her and Ethel get in and out of their cockamamie antics. I say we tried because in order for us to do so, we had to be sneaky. We weren’t supposed to stay awake watching TV during the week, that was only okay on Friday nights when school wasn’t looming in the morning, so we’d watch Lucy with the volume on as low as it possibly could be while still allowing us to strain to hear it from our bunkbeds.
The parenting thought-process was sound—no one wants tired, cranky children in the morning so that meant turning off the TV—but in reality, there was little difference between our waking up early on weekdays for school and our waking up early on Saturdays for cartoons. Bobby’s World, Animaniacs, Garfield and Friends, Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego, Taz-Mania and most importantly, X-Men, required our undivided attention and we treated them with as much focused energy as we did arriving to school on time. Even on the Saturday mornings when my dad had to work and my brother and I would go up to the hospital with him, we’d make sure we had prime seating in front of the waiting room TV so we wouldn’t miss X-Men. This was immediately followed by an hour of make believe, pretending we were mutants fighting off Sentinels, Sabretooth, and Magneto. He liked Wolverine, I liked Rogue, and we jumped over and crawled under the waiting room chairs trying to save mankind until it was time to go home.
In our bedroom, my brother slept up top and I down below. Under the bed, next to our Gotham City we’d built out of Legos, sat large plastic bins full of various sorts of childhood accessories. My brother had a bin of pirate costumes, I had a bin of crayons and construction paper. There were bins of winter clothes and bins of random toys which had no other home. The bins served as our oversized junk drawers under the bed but every now and then, they served a different purpose.
On summer days when it was too hot to go outside or we were too lazy to do so, my brother and I drew a not-so-metaphorical line in our room, partitioning it into two sides by stacking the plastic bins on top of each other in the middle. Using our bed pillows, we filled in the holes between the furniture and the bins to fortify our wall like sandbags before a hurricane. We then tucked bed sheets into the tops of the bins and draped them over to our dressers to create a make-shift ceiling to protect us. This protection was necessary because from behind our barricades, we’d ball-up socks and then launch them at each other like catapults, each trying to land a definitive hit on the other.
At the start, there was a mad dash to add as much to our arsenal as possible before the wall went up because once it did, it became an all-out melee. A dizzying flurry of sock-balls flew back and forth, knocking over action figures, baseball trophies and plastic tubes of Pogs sitting in the line of fire on our countertops. Trying not to break anything other than each other’s spirit, we attacked, retreated, regrouped, and hid under our bedsheet canopies to wait out a deluge of white socks and to strategize our next move. Not that there was all that much to strategize. “Hit your brother with a sock” was the only real goal. But it was fun, mostly harmless, and kept us busy.
When I was a teenager, socks became something else in my life: rare commodities. I could never find them when I needed them. This tended to be an issue on Sunday mornings when I couldn’t find any black socks for church so I’d slip into my parents’ bedroom and nab a pair from my dad’s top drawer. This went on for years before my routine was found out—“It’s you?! I knew there were more gone than what I’d been wearing!”—after which I began taking deep pride in thieving my father’s socks at will. He’d look down at my feet on Sunday mornings to find I’d once again swiped his black socks and proceed to make a big deal about his stolen property being flaunted in front of him at the scene of the crime. To be honest, it only egged me on further.
Years have passed and now I’ve fallen in love with socks. I can’t wear them while I sleep because I run hot, but nearly every day, I put on a pair of brightly-colored socks covered in some ridiculous pattern of lines or dots or colors or cartoons. I have no need to thieve my father’s anymore because I have two drawers of my own, but in a darkly-poetic full-circle moment, I am now the one whose socks are being stolen.
My dog Joey enjoys nothing more than to steal and destroy my socks. If left to his own devices, he will slip into my closet and emerge with one of my brightly-colored socks in his toothy little mouth. He prances out as if he’d done something noble, flaunting my sock like a badge of honor. It’s eerily reminiscent of the way I’d wear my dad’s in front of him and it’s as much of a karmic irony as any I’ve ever felt. If I don’t immediately catch him, my sock will have a sizable and un-ignorable hole chewed in it within seconds—milliseconds even—and as much as I’ve loathed mourning the loss of so many truly obnoxiously-happy socks, I kinda love that someone is keeping the sock joke alive in the family. Granted, I didn’t have a habit of chewing through my dad’s socks like Joey does mine, but whatever.