I remember when the Mandals craze began. At least I remember when it crept upon my family and took my dad hostage in its thorny little grip. It was the year 2000.
Many remember that fateful year as the year that planes were supposed to fall from the sky, the year the “Survivor” reality TV craze began, the year the dot.com bubble burst, the year of Miami-Dade County and the hanging chads.
But in the year 2000, tragedy did not strike the world’s computers; it struck my family. In the form of Mandals.
I visited my parents at their beach house that summer, and the first thing I saw when I walked in was my dad’s footwear. He sported a pair of Mandals with fat leathery soles and thick black fabric straps. The straps were outfitted with 80s velcro and bright beige seams.
I stared for a moment, as you might at a surprise visit by a black bear at your tent’s opening; then averted my eyes for fear of provoking the beast. Were Mandals somehow hip now? Had I missed this whole fashion trend? I seem to remember some Friends episode where Ross or Chandler wore a pair of Mandals and the other men heckled him until he cried. Or maybe that was Seinfeld.
Either way, Mandals were definitely not cool. And here my dad was, wearing them for all the vacationing world to see. And what’s more, he seemed to be proud of it.
After we’d exchanged pleasantries and I received my mandatory Pepsi filled with ice, we sat on the couch and I thought of a way to approach the subject. I figured that I should just rip the Band-Aid right off.
“So where’d you get those?” I said, nodding at his feet. He sat there, with one leg crossed over the other, a footed Mandal sticking out like a sentinel looking for danger.
“Huh?” he said, with a genuine expression that spoke of ignorance.
“You know, the Mandals.” I let a small grin slip like I’d touched on an inside joke.
“These?” He straightened a leg as best as someone his age could do and twisted his foot around. “I’ve had these.”
He was right. They looked worn, and I thought I detected a hint of strap-tan on the top of his foot. I frowned and repeated, “You’ve had them?”
He put his foot down and continued to watch TV like it was no big deal.
There it was. My dad had Mandals, and he had no shame about it. This might not be such a big deal except for it was MY dad. He was a man’s man, not a metrosexual. He wasn’t a wussy flower child during the sixties. He sported a high-and-tight and served in the National Guard. He didn’t listen to Janis Joplin; he listened to George Jones, and sang off-key to it with a beer in one hand and a golf club in the other.
And yet, he now had Mandals.
I left that night, pondering what other surprises the new millennium had in store. Would he buy a Manbag? Would he drink at Starbucks? Would his favorite food become some exotic form of sushi and would he learn to pronounce it correctly?
Only time would tell.
At least his Member’s Only jacket is still hidden deep in his closet. Maybe by the time it sees the light of day, he’ll be the last Member and no one will laugh.