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Tapping out an identity

I’m not a dancer.


Oh, I once danced as a young blade, strutting my two-step with the ladies. I could even waltz in three-quarter time. Johann Strauss would have twirled his baton at the sight.


But I gave up the light fantastic years ago. I may have been born to be wild but marriage and family have a taming effect.


I never tap danced. Never even tried. Not even buck dancing.


Like Nancy Sinatra, my boots were made for walkin’, not kickin’ the heels.


On the other hand, when I would see tap dancers on Ed Sullivan, I liked what I heard. The tappity-tap of metal on hardwood was music to my ears.


Then there were the sound effects of detective shows and film noir. I’d see the good guy, and sometimes the bad guy, walking on the sidewalk tapping out a rhythm.


Whenever I tried copying the sound, my leather shoes were mute. As hard as I clomped, I could barely eke out a hush.


So there I was, bemoaning my lack of raucous stepping. Then one day I was sitting in my elementary classroom when I thought I heard Peter Gunn out in the hallway.


The sound was just like the detective strolling down the street, drawing eyeballs from behind curtains with his tapping wingtips. But it wasn’t a TV or movie star. It was an upperclassman, clicking his heels on the concrete floor.


“Wow,” I thought. “That sounds like Sgt. Joe Friday on ‘Dragnet,’ walking up the sidewalk to the front door before saying, ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ I want that. Do I have the wrong shoes on?”


It wasn’t long before some of my own classmates were making the clopping sound. I’d follow them up the hallway, listening to their music.


Soon I found out their secret — heel taps. Unlike the taps that covered the entire heels of dancers’ shoes, these metal taps just lined the edge of the heels, about half an inch in width.


But they did the job, announcing one’s arrival from a block away.


“Mama, I want some heel taps,” I said when I got home from school. In a bid to make my request seem practical, I added, “Heel taps save shoes from wearing out so soon.”


Mama was nobody’s fool, but she did have a kind heart. One day when she arrived back home from a shopping trip, she handed me a small package.


It was a pair of heel taps, complete with tacks to attach the metal to the leather.


I got Daddy’s hammer, carefully placed the taps exactly on the curve of the edge of the heels and nailed the tacks in. When I was satisfied my loafers were sufficiently heel-tapped, I put them on for a test drive. 


Moving out to the front porch, which had a concrete floor, I took a few tentative steps, then picked up the pace, pretending to be Sam Spade. 


“Now I’m walkin’,” I thought. “I’m just as cool as those high school guys. Well, almost as cool.”


It wasn’t long before Daddy was cautioning me to watch my heel-tap stepping on our hardwood floors. “That metal can scratch the wood,” he said. “You might want to remove your shoes when you come in the door.”


But that was OK. No way was I gonna impress Mama and Daddy, anyway. Heel taps are for the sidewalk downtown and for school. No street shoes on the gym floor, though.


Now when I walked down the hall at school, I could bask in the metallic clink of my heels hitting the hard floor. I could almost feel the jealous eyes and ears of those poor souls who were heel-tapless.


But alas, fads fade and so did heel taps. Before long, my focus had shifted to the other end of my body as the Vaseline look gave way to Beatlemania.


My hair went from pompadour to moptop. Hair tonic was a thing of the past.


Today I have neither heel taps nor hair. While I tend to sneak up on Ginny because my shoes are silent, my bald pate makes it easy for her to spot me in a crowd.


Such are the ages of life.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.