Not the bird kind, the shoe kind, where you use the upper case: Cordovan Ducks. (Even now, that phrase has a godly ring to it.) History. Cordovan Ducks, the NY teen male footwear of the gods that I sported in the 1950s. They and their fashion sequel, Baby Ducks, both purchased in their turn with my own hard-earned paper-route money and worn with maximum Pride of Teen, were the stuff of life to me. I carried my own shoe polish everywhere I went and shined my Ducks whenever there was a smudge (or at least as often as I combed my hair) to keep those beauties as pristine as Cordovan Ducks had always to be in yesterworld. Needless to say, I wore no other footwear and woe to any who came near those gem-quality surfaces.
Faithful readers of these humble chronicles are by now likely wondering why in the world I’m talking about shoes (particularly, in this case, Baby Ducks, the more mature teen form of the deific shoe) in connection with a bridge. It is because I must establish the flawless qualities of Baby Ducks and the slickness of their ironlike soles – to say nothing of a necessary touch of 1950s fashion (since unequaled, in my opinion) – before I begin this brief tale. And because when we “did” the bridge for probably the last time I was wearing – you guessed it – Baby Ducks.
It was a very cold, clear and windy fall day in 1956 or ’57 when we set out, the mixed country/city boy gang of us, to do the bridge one more time. We conducted some requisite general teen-dallying on the bridge proper, doing that nothing in particular we always did to use up the time we had in such vast quantities, then we headed across the bridge on the under-catwalk, leaping and fearless as usual. When we reached the other side, in quest of continued variety one among us noted that there were steps heading up along the arching span itself (see Mick’s photo), which towered another 30 or 40 (?) feet above the tracks.
There was no question posed, we didn’t stand there discussing any chickeny dos or don’ts, there were no wimpy whys and why-nots, no shilly-shally shall wes; no, we set out at once, as one person heavenward, to climb beyond the steps onto open steel and cross that mother of a bridge at the very top because it was there, because out across that rivet-studded, no catwalk, no-handrail top was our test, our arms-as-at-our-sides-as-possible manly challenge, and we would do it cold, right out of the moment’s box, in a strong icy wind above the implacable tracks to the right and the whitecapped water far, far below the bluest of skies…
By the time we reached the top of the first arch – which was the ‘easier’ part because we were walking into the direction of our leaning – there was no turning back, which would be much harder, and not only for the sequential turnarounds required (and who would turn first?); we would also then have to do what lay ahead in any case: walk down a slippery slope in slick shoes, leaning backward. So we walked on, murmerless.
There at the top was indeed the test we each were after: Can I stand here buffeted by the wind, keep my balance and look around me at the majesty of this broad perspective that now and forever belongs to me by virtue of conquest, or will I fall to my knees in a quivering teenage mass and cling to cold steel for dear life, calling to god and my mother or anybody please to deliver me from this slick, windy hell I don’t deserve, I’ll be a good boy? And then we headed up the central, larger arch.
Since I’m writing this, you know I survived, and that insanity has many forms. And that Mick survived too (though I’m not really sure about his choice of footwear that day). Amazingly, in fact, all the other guys survived, though I don’t know where they are now or if they’re writing or thinking about that afternoon, or what their footwear was then, either. Yes, thanks be to God and her motherly oversight we all made it across, over the very tops of the bridge, and didn’t sweat it a bit, at least in my case until some 40 years later and beyond, when every once in a while I wake up in the middle of the night – always in slick Baby Ducks atop one bridge arch or another – and pray that I may get back to peaceful sleep, I’ll be a good boy.
Important interpolation: Some laments are bigger than others. I Googled “Cordovan Ducks” so I could get a photo of actual Cordovan Ducks to use with this post, Ducks must certainly be in some hip, rock-and-roll-remembering rich guy’s collection, or certainly in a world-class museum like the Prado (since Cordoba’s in Spain) or a cool art gallery like the Guggenheim or the Getty, or in one of Warhol’s collections – he was negative-hip actually, but still I can imagine him secretly yearning for a pair of genuine Cordovan Ducks as cool validation… Or how about a photo from a museum of cultural essentials or a compendium of the history/ style/rock and roll/spirit/epitome of the 1950s or something, one of the coolest durations of at least the last millennium, but there were only two mentions of “Cordovan Ducks” in the entire cyberarchives, and both were from my blog, PureLandMountain.com. Pathetic. You’d think the world would do better with such crucial aspects of its heritage. The photo I finally had to settle for, though acceptably in the shoe ballpark, and Cordovan, is in no way a Duck, so do not be misled.
It’s all up to me now, I guess, Cordovan Duckwise. I don’t know what to say about how history disappears not only so fast, but so completely, unlike genuine memories.