At the horrendous hour of 4:25 am on Thursday, I was trying not to fall asleep in the shower or fall behind in my travel itinerary for World Fantasy Convention. I looked down at my feet, and by some miracle managed to think the complex thought “I don’t like to shower barefoot in hotels.” This led to the even more complex question of what to do about this problem, which led to my wondering if they sell the proper footwear at the airport and in turn to my making a small resolution. No matter how sleepy I was, I wasn’t going to embarrass myself by asking after the object in my native dialect.
You see, this informal footwear, a foam sole with two plastic or cloth straps which radiate from the space between the first and second toes, has gotten me into trouble before. Growing up as I did in Oregon, we called these things “thongs”. Signs at the local Bi-Mart advertising a sale: “THONGS $1.99/PAIR”. Mom, always worrying: “Thongs are for the beach or the pool! Don’t wear them all the time, they’ll deform your toes!”
I learned that this was not the term the rest of the country used when I went to college. Yes, in the schoolyear which would see the release of the Sisqo song about that OTHER sort of “thong”, I was an intensely prim 17-year-old very fastidious about her feet, and all the Midwesterners laughed and laughed. “What? What’s wrong? It’s a thong. What do you call them?” I think my ears may have out-heated the radiator that day.
Anyhow, I managed to unearth some feeble manicure-shop freebies Thursday morning, and didn’t have to ask any airport shop clerks about “flip-flops” (as I’ve learned to call them). But I did enjoy the memory, because it triggered another one: reading Craig Lesley’s The Sky Fisherman. Craig grew up in a different part of Oregon from me and from my parents, but this novel of an Oregon boyhood was palpably in my home language, the dialect of the adults pervasively familiar. Of course, by the next time I had a chance to talk to Craig, the only example of this I could remember was that remarkable piece of footwear, the “thong”.