How I Tie My Shoes

in which the Benchley pastiche is prolonged

Why, nothing could be simpler. Simply put, nothing could be simpler. It’s very simple: The trick is that it’s quite simple. It’s just a simple trick, and best of all, there’s absolutely no trick to it. It’s the work of a moment, concluded in an instant, without the least bit of work. A trifle! For years I have resisted publishing my method, not least because I have remained unconvinced that the general public (of which I am very fond) is in need of such a method in the first place. Let the general public go on as the general public has done these many years, I’ve always said. Trust the general public to do what’s right for the general public, that’s my watchword, and I have real hopes that it might even grow into a byword one of these days.

Many of my devoted friends in the Patent Department have urged me to seek a patent. Seek a patent, lad, they tell me in the gravest of tones, fearing that otherwise any perverse or inauthentic attempts to recreate this method by amateurs or insurgent agents might lead to widespread injury, both physical and moral. So far I have declined to do so. Can one patent the common weal? As a matter of fact, what can one do to weal, and must it always be common? Maybe we had better leave the common weal well enough alone, and hope somebody else knows what to do with it. Perhaps if we handled it, its mother-weal would reject it for smelling too powerfully of human hands, and then where would the common weal be? If you know the answer, kindly write to:

The Works of Benjamin Franklin: Containing Several Political and Historical Tracts Not Included in Any Former Ed., and Many Letters Official and Private, Not Hitherto Published; with Notes and a Life of the Author. He will know what to do with the information.

To return to the question of shoes. One must fit, affix, and fasten a pair of shoes onto their feet nearly every single day, at least if they ever hope to be taken seriously by men of commerce and women of letters, and most shoes nowadays insist on being fastened by laces, rather than copper-plate or spirit-gum or even ingenuity, as many were in our grandmothers’ day. Well. My grandmother’s, certainly. I don’t know what yours was like, and I’m certainly not going to vouch for her sight unseen. You may take that as an insult if you like. I know mine would. And what business do you have insulting my grandmother? A fine start to shoelace-tying! I’ll have you know she took in laundry for sixteen years in order to bring up seven children. They weren’t her children, which made bringing them up herself particularly difficult, as their parents often objected, but she took in laundry all the same, and I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head on the subject.

Speaking of tongues. Let us say you have already selected the pair of shoes and set them on the floor before you. Excellent. Now comes the question of whether to address them from a seated or standing posture. Each position has its passionate adherents, of course, and many a blooming relationship has been strangled by an early frost upon learning one’s beloved sits to don his shoes. But to them I say: Peace, peace. (Or Pax, pax, if they happen to know Latin, as I do. Nothing like a little Latin to soothe the jangled nerves of quarreling lovers. “Ah! Latin!” they think to themselves. “At last, someone who knows what he’s talking about. And thank God for that, too.”

But bending or standing, seated or erect, one can just as easily assay one’s footwear, provided one remembers to keep the bulk of oneself in reserve. Just commit the head and hands in a footwardly direction, mind you, leaving the rest of the body where it already is. Cast your mind back on when you were a child being brought up in the ways that you should go. If you find that, in the intervening period, there is rather more of you to assay than less, no matter. Courage! Remember your Latin. Simply instruct whichever limbs or foresections lie between yourself and your shoes to recede from frame.

At this point — and herein lies the secret of my method, which is no trick, and there’s quite simply no secret to it — I let gravity do the rest of the work. Latin again! Gravity, from Latin gravitas, is another gift from our Etruscan cousins, and an invaluable one it has proved too. The effects of gravity do become weaker as objects get further away, so be careful you don’t rely on it too strongly, or you might find yourself overshooting your shoes entirely. Approach, but do not arrive at, your shoes, that’s the ticket. Simply lean back and relax while that natural phenomenon which governs all items with mass or energy does the work for you. Do not, of course, actually lean back at this crucial juncture. Leaning back is quite fatal to the forces of gravity, which are helpless against it. I refer to more of a spiritual attitude than a physical aspect. Why should you strain with effort when there is a kingly helpmeet swimming about you in the very atmosphere, ready to carry you wherever you like at a moment’s notice?

Now, once the faithful arms of Gravity have deposited you near your shoes, you have merely to effect a few skillful loops, in whatever order suits you best, for as long as you can bear the strain. In the midst of all this bending and surging, and you may find Gravity encouraging the rest of your bulk to follow the direction of your head. Resist this impulse at all costs — or, if it is already too late, and you have begun your descent, do your best to uncross your ankles, which have some way or another become entangled during the earlier proceedings, before completing your fall. Rather than falling, you may prefer to develop a cramp in the mid-back or even the back of the legs. This is perfectly acceptable.

Those of you who remember your Pliny the Elder might wish to repeat Sutor, ne ultra crepidam at this point. Shoemaker, not beyond the shoe. If any of you can think of a decent explanation for this, kindly write to:

The Works of Benjamin Franklin: Containing Several Political and Historical Tracts Not Included in Any Former Ed., and Many Letters Official and Private, Not Hitherto Published; with Notes and a Life of the Author. He will know what to do with the information.

It should, of course, be mentioned at this point that you should never do this near an open staircase. If you have already fallen down the staircase as a result, stop it at once, and start over. Experto crede! “Good luck, and mind your Latin!”

Once you have finished tying your shoes, you’ll want to get back up again, but I’m afraid you’ll have to apply to someone else for that kind of information. My method only works in one direction, and anyways I can’t do everything for you. You’ve got to learn to stand on your own two feet for that. Besides, I haven’t forgotten that crack you made about my grandmother.

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