A woman stopped me on the street to point out that a shoelace of mine had come undone. This often happens. Though the beneficiary of 19 years of the finest education this country can offer, I never learned the proper way to tie my shoelaces.
Perhaps I was absent from school the day it was taught. Or shoelace-tying may not have been part of the curriculum, and the failure to teach me lay at home. Or perhaps I was taught both at home and school, but was a poor student and the failure is mine.
In any event, following the woman's helpful comment - for you can trip on a shoelace trailing on the sidewalk - I leaned against the wall of a New York City apartment building and, standing on one leg, cranelike, tied the lace the only way I know how: two slip knots. Soon thereafter, the lace again came undone.
Other places where I retie laces in the course of the day are park benches, benches on subway platforms, and in the privacy of a telephone booth. (Between retyings, I found time to write this piece.)
When I am close to home, I don't bother retying the lace if it has come loose. Why expend the energy, since once I arrive at my apartment, off come the shoes?
I do trip on my laces from time to time. Once a lace got caught in the chain of my bicycle. The result: a shredded shoelace.
I learn, courtesy of the Random House website, that the plastic or metal tip of a shoelace is called an aglet. It protects the feazings - the unraveled part at the end of a lace.
The composer Richard Wilson, who also has trouble with his shoelaces, alerted me to a story about Gustav Mahler in the biography by Henry-Louis de la Grange: "His shoelaces kept coming undone, and Alma [the future Mrs. Mahler] was touched by the childish awkwardness with which he invariably chose the highest and most uncomfortable places on which to rest his feet while he did them up again."
A student of Professor Wilson's has referred him to a website offering instruction on the tying of square knots.
I consulted the owner of the local shoe repair shop on Second Avenue. Once a dairy farmer in Wisconsin, at age 32 he started repairing shoes and has been doing so for a quarter century. He tells me he sells lots of laces, but does not offer to serve as my lace-tying instructor.
Given my interest in shoelaces, I spend time looking at people's footwear. The best place to do this is on the subway. My research reveals that very few people have any difficulty keeping their shoelaces tied. I am embarrassed to see children on the way to school, all with perfectly tied laces.
Why, you may ask, don't I seek out a 5-year-old to teach me to tie my laces properly? My response: Dear reader, at my age it is not easy to abandon the practice of a lifetime. And then there is the matter of pride.
I could switch to loafers, thereby cutting this Gordian knot and avoiding the whole business of slip knots and square knots. But that would be too easy. Better that I now add to my list of resolutions for the New Year - 2006, that is - the goal of learning to tie my shoelaces.