A Word About Shoes

July 21st, 2011

See your city.

See the warts and bumps, the aches and pains, but watch – just watch – how we can move. See how different and apart we are, but listen – just listen – to the sound we can make. See the dark and desolate, but imagine – just imagine – what we can do in bright light.

See yourself.

As published in The Daily News, July 22, 2011, and in The Memphis News, July 23-29, 2011


My copywriter daughter, Hallie, sent her copywriter old man a link the other day – the ultimate compliment copywriters pay, looking at something and saying, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”

It was a spot for a British online content management company. A man sits cross-legged on a flat cardboard box in a cold city; a tin can and a rough cardboard sign sit beside him. His face is sadly hopeful, his eyes are sightless, and the rest of his heightened senses observe the passersby. A few see his sign, “I’m blind please help,” and fewer still drop the odd coin in the can. A young woman stops, picks up his sign, writes something else on the other side, and turns that side to the street. As she does this, the man feels her shoes so that he might see her. We know what happens next. More and more people drop more and more coins. Toward the end of this, his banner day, the woman returns and the blind man recognizes her by touching her shoes. They share a moment, we see what she’s written, we all go teary, and wrap up with a nice purple logo. Hallie and I are both suckers for purple.

This column isn’t about the blind man or the woman’s messaging ability. Those are both a bit – okay, a lot – obvious. This is more about the shoes. The little touch of the man touching her shoes in order to recognize her sets this piece apart from the usual emotional sledge hammer crap swung our way.

It reminds me of things right in front of us that we look right past, right through, or don’t see at all. We’re so concerned with how hot it gets in Memphis, we fail to see what a warm city this is, how friendly and approachable we are. We try so hard to look like other cities, we fail to see how attractive and interesting we may look to them, and the positive promise they see in us.

While we may be looking at our pervasive poverty and busily engaged in our tiresome, soul-draining habit of painting everything with a racial brush, others can see that, per capita, we’re more charitable and more supportive of the arts than any other city in the country.

While we dwell on our problems, others see us as ideally situated to address those problems and serve as a model city for their solutions.

Gates and Bloomberg are two of the richest people on earth. They’re sending us their money. The U.S. government is about to invest human capital in six cities because those cities offer the most potential for impressive return. We’re one of those.

They’ve touched our blue suede shoes and seen our penchant for coming up with things that rock the world.

By the way, what she wrote on the blind man’s sign was, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.”

I’m a Memphian, and you can see that link below.


Lillian Durand: Loved it, Dan. Kemper sent it on to our sons!

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