Without a Trace

“Mud and memories” in Main Line Today (November, 2012).

I stood on the front stoop, looking left and right. A sneaker dangled from each hand.

All was quiet. Too quiet.

Lawn mowers, blowers, and circular saws were silenced. The bouncing echo of the basketball faded. The Sunday sun was about to call it a day. My unseen neighbors were enjoying their suburban silence.

Summoning the courage to shatter the stillness, I stretched out my arms, paused briefly for dramatic effect, and then violently clapped my sneakers together.


As the sound echoed throughout the neighborhood, a day’s worth of dirt trickled to the ground like a dusty rain falling over the grass. Sneaker treads, having captured the earth in adventures on it, returned soil to its source in brittle, zigzagged molds.

I held up the sneakers to inspect. Both heels stubbornly held onto earthen souvenirs. I stretched out my arms again.


Dirt crumbled and caked off. A large patch of mud, dried into a partial footprint in a fossilized relic of muddy play, fell to the ground.

One more WHACK for good measure and the sneakers were ready for adventure again. The clap echoed in the stillness.

I stole a glance left and right to make sure I was not spotted. Suddenly, though, a police siren sounded in the distance. They’re coming for me! Disturbing the peace! Disorderly conduct! Creating a nuisance! Littering! Maybe even a charge of Tom Foolery too! I ran inside and slammed the door shut behind me.

All was quiet. Too quiet.

My heart jumped at a heavy rap at the door. I opened it a crack.

“Yes, officer?”

“Sir, we received a call about a noise violation.”

“I don’t know anything about that, officer. All’s quiet here.”

The officer held up a fossilized footprint in his hands. “Sir, is this yours?”

I quickly tried to shut the door but he pushed it open. There I stood, caught Ked-handed. Sneakers at my side, I simply shrugged my shoulders and pleaded for sympathy. He would have none of it and immediately launched into a recitation of my Miranda rights. Barefoot, I was handcuffed and led past gawking neighbors to the back of the police cruiser.

As we drove to the precinct, I gazed out the window and watched clouds cover the sky. It began to rain.

Parents called out to children, hurrying them off green yards in a frantic bid to protect both lawn and living room from any potential source of mud. Brightly colored Crocs, incapable of collecting a day’s worth of play underfoot, were kicked off at the door.

“To the mudroom, children! Crocs to their cubbies!”

Such a sad shoe, I lamented. A child could conquer the world in a late summer day: climbing trees, discovering a wooded world beyond the manicured grass, and trolling for turtles by the pond. And yet, when done wearing Crocs, hardly a trace of the glorious day would return home. No muddy treads; no clapping Crocs. There is nothing more dissatisfying than the weak sound of clapping Crocs together. If it doesn’t echo, it can’t be a shoe.

The cruiser continued through town, and we passed a soccer match at the high school field. Lots of muddy cleats tonight, I smiled. As we drove closer, though, I saw the artificial turf and the smile faded. No mud in the mudroom tonight, I guess.

We pulled up to the station just as the soft rain turned to a downpour. The officer led me across the puddle-filled parking lot to the entrance. Before opening the door, he looked down at my grubby bare feet and gestured to the welcome mat.

“Wipe your feet, son.”


  1. You’ve done it again, Michael! How much closer are you to putting all of your wonderful, beautifully written stories together into a book and having it published? Who else but you could put such suspense into a story about “sneakers”?

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