In case you haven’t seen any of my previous rants on the subject, I should preface this by saying that the song “Christmas Shoes” and I have a very checkered history. I have long considered it a mawkish and maudlin piece of claptrap, and I don’t understand why a kid with a dying mother would carry a sock full of pennies to a department store on Christmas Eve just to buy her a pair of shoes that she’ll never actually use. I’ve long thought it’s a perfect recipe for a scam — just tug at some stranger’s heartstrings and get them to buy you the most expensive shoes you can find and then return them after the New Year to pocket the refund. I admit that’s not the most charitable interpretation of the song, and I confess to being quite the “Christmas Shoes” cynic.
Every year, that put me at odds with J.J. Malone.
J.J. and I both grew up in Southern California, where we attended A.E. Wright Middle School and Calabasas High. We lived in close proximity to each other for the better part of a decade, so it’s a bit strange to admit that I can’t ever recall us having a single face-to-face conversation. I remember watching him from afar as he would actually talk to pretty girls who wouldn’t have been willing to give me the time of day. Not being one of the cool kids myself, I always found myself on the outside looking in, whereas by sixth grade, J.J. was something of a legend. Even though he had a reputation for being very friendly and personable, I found him quite intimidating.
So I never said a word to him because I assumed he wouldn’t have been willing to waste any of his cool kid cachet on a geek like me.
Fortunately, time has a way of diffusing adolescent anxieties and decades after high school graduation, J.J. sent me a Facebook friend request. I was quite flattered and somewhat surprised that he even knew who I was. I soon discovered that we had a lot more in common than I had assumed back in the day. I realized that his legendary status was well-deserved and came to appreciate his quick wit and kind heart.
That’s probably why J.J. was quite taken aback the first time he saw me rail on “Christmas Shoes.” He loved the song, and I’m sure it pained him to learn that I was such a black-hearted scoundrel. Still, he was patient with me in our good-natured “Christmas Shoes” exchanges where he tried to get me to see the error of my ways. And as much as I enjoyed ripping on “Christmas Shoes,” I also enjoyed reading J.J.’s impassioned defenses, which were usually playful and never rude. He couldn’t convince me to love “Christmas Shoes,” but he always made me want to be a better person.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, J.J. passed away this summer. I didn’t fully appreciate how heartbreaking that was until I heard “Christmas Shoes” on the radio for the first time this season. Instead of thinking all my usual cynical thoughts, I thought about my friend, and the song brought me to tears.
So don’t look for any more nasty “Christmas Shoes” rants from me in the future. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an argument that J.J. Malone has forever won.