Monthly Archives: August 2021

Why Shoes?

Just one of the questions regarding this strange custom.

Grade school was a hard place for me. I was THAT girl. The one that everyone thought they could pick on when they felt the need to make themselves feel bigger by making someone else feel small.

There was Matt. The regular tormenter. It seemed every year the Principal’s office got together and placed the students for the next year into classes, and every year, I think they personally said, “If we put Laura and Matt into the same class again, maybe just maybe he will decide not to hit and kick her and call her ugly names just for sport. The fact that he has always done this, and never has stopped, no matter the threat, is irrelevant. She just needs more toughening up, and he just needs more chances to learn to be a person instead of a quarreling dog.” I don’t know how they planned it, but he was in EVERY CLASS from first to sixth grade.

It was not until Jr. High that I had any classes without him. Because in Jr. High you get separated by ability, and I had it, and he did not.

He was not the only one, he could always find someone, boy or girl, to join in, often the entire class.

Somewhere about 4th grade, Sherill and I landed in the same class, and became fast friends for three years (Jr. High school sent us different directions, and we stayed friends, but were not as close.). It was sheer self-preservation! She and I were both that kind of girl, who just always got picked on and insulted. Daily. Not just sometimes. All the time.

Now, I must take you into my confidence. You must understand the seriousness of what I am about to tell you, and that this MEANT something. Something so deep, I could NEVER confess it in Grade School, or even in Jr. High, or Highschool.

They wrote V.O.E. on their shoes, for US. For Sherill and I.

They didn’t just do it once in a while, they did it REGULARLY. They wrote it again in the same place almost EVERY DAY to make sure they warded off the cooties that we carried. Just to make sure WE KNEW we were that kind of unacceptable!

Now, nobody knew what it meant. V.O.E.? What the heck does that mean? I mean, yeah, you can reason out that it means you are NOT POPULAR. But seriously, nobody knows what it actually means.

But they do it anyway. They do it very determinedly and seriously. Because it is V.O.E..

They also called us the Terrible Twosome. Not because we were mean or bad, but because we stank. They said so. Even if we smelled good, we stank. Because this was Grade School. SOMEBODY had to stink.

Today, this is hysterical. Then, it was just part of the human struggle to grow up and actually live through it. Academically, Grade School was just a slide. It was easy stuff. But socially, it was brutal.

Sherill and I did it too. We wrote it on our shoes. Just to be sure, you know, that if there was anything lower than us, that it could not damage us. We also secretly did it to ward off THEM… The ones who were doing it to us. But you couldn’t say THAT.

Dozens of pairs of tennis shoes with V.O.E. inscribed on the edge of the soles, that I threw down to the dump when I wore them out. Thousands of them in the landfills. You know those canvas deck shoes? Those. Plenty of room to write it. Always on the instep. Because that is where you can reach at recess, and your mother doesn’t notice it as soon. In ink pen. Just so you know it will last until you can do it at recess the next day, all over again.

We asked if anybody knew what it meant, and there was never a satisfactory answer. You could not even MAKE UP your own, with letters like that!

Morrie says he knows what it means. He says it means, “Vox On Everyone.”.

Well, that’s what they said it meant in third grade. But nobody ever believes THAT one!

He says, “Vox means Plague.” I’m not sure if he has any credibility or not!

If it does mean that, I can’t see why writing in on your shoes gives it any particular mystic power!

My father finally confesses that he knows what it means. It is “Vermin”. Still makes no more sense.

My uncle Gerry says, “No, it is ‘Vengeance’.”. We still aren’t getting anywhere.

My father’s friend Ed says, “Vermouth. Pickle them straight up!”.

His wife says, “Pick a word that starts with V, and go for it! It still won’t explain why you write it on your shoes if you hate someone in particular!”.

Kelly says they did it in California. There were kids in California, she insists, who wrote it on their shoes, solely because she persisted in going to school every day. They didn’t know what it meant either!

Boyd says they did it in Seattle, where all the cool kids lived in the state of Washington. He says kids who were not cool were not allowed to live in Seattle, so he doesn’t know what it was they were warding off, and they could never tell him what it actually meant either! But it was trendy. So they had to do it!

Donald says it swept Iowa every year, but only in the third grade. First graders and second graders didn’t do it, even the more precocious of them. But then, in Iowa that is mostly because first graders hadn’t learned their alphabet well enough to get to V yet, and second graders could not yet spell well enough to write V.O.E., so by third grade, they were poxing and plaguing on their shoes. By fourth grade they had to work on writing longer words, so they were writing other things on their shoes.

Ted says his kids are homeschooled, so they don’t pick up things like this. All the really cool and nasty trends seem to pass them by. One of his girls stays overnight with a friend. This friend goes to public school. She comes home with V.O.E. on her shoes. This is about 10 years ago. She doesn’t know what it means, it is just a thing you do when you dislike someone, she says. And it is the brother of her friend, who likes to spit on people’s things, and wipe boogers on them. She is now in college, and this is one of the things in her social coping toolbox that she has taken to college with her. She reports that she’s not weird or anything, she finds shoes everywhere with this on it. Of course, this is an Eastern College, and kids are kinda behind here.

Phil says it is old, and from the time they had schools in Hawaii, they did this in Hawaii. He assures me that Morrie’s translation is correct… For English. It comes out somewhat different in Hawaiian. More like “Look Above the Bugs”. He says, “Whatever, it works either way.” He looks down. “Some days, you run into THOSE people, and you just want a pair of tennis shoes and an ink pen.”

Tracy was one of the popular girls. She doesn’t think it is any big deal to have that written on shoes because of you, personally. She says, her sisters did that to her! I suppose then, she HAD to do it to other people! She became a ringleader, with very much power. In High School, she was a cheerleader. All because of V.O.E., I’m sure.

Another girl from my grade school said she gets home from school one day, and there is her mother, writing V.O.E on the bottom of her father’s shoes. The girl confronts her mother, and asks why she is doing this. “The mill is laying off. I thought it couldn’t hurt.” her mother confesses. Her father is laid off the next day. But in a fortuitous stroke of good luck, they have laid off too many, and they hire him back the following day. The girl finds her mother in the kitchen singing, “Then I saw his shoes… Now I’m a believer!”. (And this is probably why it just won’t go away!)

I hear it does not work well in Utah schools. Mormons just don’t go in for that kind of cursing of their fellow man. They just shun them, and if they were going to write anything on their shoes, it would be, “God does not approve.”. That is the curse they level at anyone who steps out of the finely crafted box of Mormon acceptability, which is a good deal smaller than God ever intended THAT to be (and some of them would write it on OTHER people’s shoes). (No, I don’t mean transgenderism, or abortion, I mean things that have NOTHING to do with whether you are righteous or not, like homeschooling, herbal medicine, personal revelation, home business, and other things that God certainly DOES inspire people to do, but which Mormons, especially Utah Mormons, despise and criticize for.)

It apparently does not get far in Idaho either, but that is because of Potatoes. Every mother knows that if you cut off a piece of potato, and scrub the shoe with the potato, it will remove the ink, no matter what kind of ink. Sometimes you have to use other things with the potato, but the potato always works if you scrub it hard enough. Kid puts V.O.E. on their shoes, and they spend two hours that night scrubbing the shoes with a potato. (It is on account of Potatoes, incidentally, that my father never wrote V.O.E. on HIS shoes more than once, and he didn’t even live in Idaho!)

There is an exception to the Utah Mormon thing, and it is BYU. They credit this to the unhealthy influence of Mormon students who come from states that are less refined Mormonically than Utah. It makes the round on BYU campuses every 20 years or so, frequently when a batch of teachers retires, and a group of younger teachers are hired. Administration reports that V.O.E. never gets a foothold on campus unless there are immature teachers involved in fomenting it. BYU Admin is certain though, that they hold the record for most creative use of V.O.E., in part due to the sarcastic response of the more responsible members of the student body. For a short time in the 1940s, V.O.E. was a popular Halloween Costume, and when a Performing Arts Event was particularly bad, someone would write V.O.E. on the advertising posters around the campus. When the water failed a water test in the middle of summer, someone wrote it on the water tower, in letters 3 ft high. In actual John Deere Green. It also made the rounds in Valentine’s Bouquets for about a decade in the 50s to 60s. Valentines On Everyone. Bet that never occurred to you either!

And then, when George Albert Smith was President of the LDS Church, a member of the DUP became very angry with him. She was responsible for writing educational pamphlets regarding Mormon and Utah history. She had borrowed several items of his mother’s, to photograph and document. He asked for them back, and she said they had been stolen. When he visited her home, he found his mother’s items in her livingroom, and her husband threw him out before he could collect more than a few. He looked them over good, to be sure they were his mother’s (which had been marked), and found that the woman had painted V.O.E. in red fingernail polish over his mother’s initials. She was removed from the DUP, sued for the rest of the belongings (all similarly marked). He got them back, and sent her a note with a single word on it. “Victory.”

The Catholic Church (this is the Vatican) is reputed to claim credit for V.O.E.. They joke that it originally meant “Vatican On Everyone”, but of course, it was in Latin, not in English. In truth, there are those in the Catholic church who say that the curse originated in the Abbeys and Monasteries, and the designation of “everyone” applied to those outside the Cloisters. They also say it was not “everyone” at all, but “enemy”. It was a curse they sent OUT, not a curse they delivered in person, hence, writing it on your shoes meant it applied when you were GOING somewhere. I can’t say I buy into this, but it is as plausible as anything else regarding V.O.E.. (For the record, the Vatican has always spoken Italian and English as base languages, with French as the backup, and German only when forced to.) Cursing was a big deal in the Middle Ages, and the Catholic Church did teach how to do so, and how to give “blessings”. So if V.O.E. really did start with them, one wonders what other treasures of malice have been lost to the ages.

Long ago, someone started V.O.E. in Subway. When Admin would send out Company Bulletins, some of the Store Owners and Consultants would send back venomous or outraged replies, and they’d sign their name, and put V.O.E. below it. (It never occurred to me to use it as part of my sig line. I’ve been an Online Business Consultant and Webmaster for more than 20 years, and it never crossed my mind that I’ve cheated my clients and followers out of a powerful tool for conquering an online domain!) One of the owners of Subway got tired of it, and emailed all the people who had done that, and she put V.O.E. at the bottom of hers as a joke. Fully half of them wrote back, saying something to the effect of, “We thought you were more mature than that.”. “You can’t do that to me.” was another popular reply.

A publisher I know tells of an author who submitted a manuscript for a book. It was not readable, the writing skills of the author were not up to the task of conveying a story that was interesting or actually WENT anywhere, not to mention actually READABLE (too many spelling and grammar errors). The publisher sent it back, with a curt letter explaining that if your spelling and grammar are so bad it gives the editor a headache to try to figure out what you are saying, you aren’t going to get published. She then writes, “I do give you full marks for spelling V.O.E. correctly on 2/3 of the pages that you wrote it on the bottom of. The other third, I’m not sure it WAS actually V.O.E..” (This publisher is NOT overly picky, she also says, “Dangling participles happen. I came to terms with that half a century ago, I’m sure you can too.”)

I have heard that it is alive and well on some Army Bases. Beverly reports that there were girls in her class in Basic, who wrote this on their shoes, in black ink. Black ink, on black shoes, just impressed in. Their drill Sergeant had to get really mean about it, but they still would not quit, like this was third grade. So Beverly used white roller ball paint pens to write it on the soles of their shoes when they were sleeping.

Mary Kay had this sweep through just after the turn of the 21st Century. It began in Corporate just below the level of the illustrious head of the company, and swept through the distributorships, so hard and maliciously that she had to release a Corporate Bulletin to disconnect the writing of curses on shoes with the image of Mary Kay products. Not less than 143 women, with no pattern for age of the woman, had distributorships revoked, and 13 fully grown women, and 12 older men were fired from Corporate Employment. Apparently there were several versions of vile phrases running around, but V.O.E. was once again the champion.

Sometimes it reputedly makes its way into the halls of lesser Congresses, and this state or that one will have entire issues decided over which party writes V.O.E on their shoes the most vigorously. Speed limits have been reduced, school lunches revised, and medical care for children has been obliterated and then restored again, entirely on the presence or absence of V.O.E.. One U.S. Congresswoman says, “Don’t assume it happens only at the state level. Immaturity knows no bounds when it comes to the political arena.”. She suspects that V.O.E. makes it so high in the ranks in part because it doesn’t mean anything sensible, and if you use it, maybe you are smart enough to know what it means, giving you an additional layer of superiority over those whom you are cursing. “Poop on you” just can’t equal the mystery and power of V.O.E..

My mother says there is just something really vengefully powerful about writing things like that, that gives you that surge of satisfaction when you are really angry. She says they did that when she was in school. It didn’t fade out until you were a Senior in High School. I had completely forgotten it by the time I was in the Eighth grade (because in 7th grade, at the Jr. High School, V.O.E. does not even EXIST anymore), but she still had it going on in the 11th grade, so by the time she married and had children, it was still fresh enough to have some power, apparently.

She was very mad one day at Ruth, because Ruth had said something inconsiderate, that was so true, my mother had no defenses. She had four small children at home, and one in school, who had been coming home with that on her shoes (She was only in first grade, proving that Longview schools outshone Iowa). So my mother sits down, takes off her shoe, and uses a black pen to write V.O.E. on the bottom of her shoe where nobody will see it. “There! That for Ruth!” she declared, and put the shoe back on, and stomped off to finish her chores, especially hard on THAT foot, confident that nobody need ever know.

(Could it possibly mean “Venom”?)

That evening, she sits in her recliner, and my father walks past, and happens to see the bottom of her shoe. Brown sole with black felt pen on it. He looks at it, and looks at her, and says, “Now, Ellie!”.

She replies, “Sometimes, you just have to do it!”. He laughs, and says, “Well, if that’s what it takes!”.

The next day, Ruth has a stomach ache all day, and can barely keep from throwing up. But so did my mother, and quite a few other ladies in the Ward. Tainted potato salad at a Relief Society Luncheon.

Vox. Who knew? I wonder if it still has a use?

Update: I have been told that 4 hours after publishing my blog, V.O.E. reared it’s head on 4 military bases that had been otherwise peaceful up until that moment. I guess it took V.O.E. to give me the power to influence the world.

This has never been a thing at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. This is just not how Islanders levy curses – their shoes (if they wear them) don’t accommodate this kind of venomous writing well either. A short 24 hours after this blog was published, V.O.E appeared written on the side of a serving table, right where the suckling pig was supposed to be served. Investigation shows that there are native men on campus there, with V.O.E. written on their FEET. The more abashed of them have it on their soles. The more daring wear it on the instep, or sometimes on the outside edge of their feet. One has written it on his toenails. The first three. He said he wanted to go every other toe with a period in between, but he could not fit the E on the little toenail, and the V would not go either. He has blacked them out, tacit proof of his claim. Three of the women have it written on their kneecaps, and one on the back of her knees. Apparently she did it using a mirror, it is kind of backward. Within another two days it is everywhere, seen and unseen. They brag about having it where you cannot see it. (Take THAT!) On the fourth day, they served up a pig that had not been fully cooked (someone forgot to put it in on time), and it spread intestinal MERSA through the staff and guests. (This will usually give you a yucky stomach ache, but rarely makes you throw up. It just makes you lightly miserable for about six weeks unless you get a good antibiotic or Calendula tea.) A fight broke out the next day, the cook is blaming four other people on campus for the disaster, who have never been near the food. He insists that if they had not written V.O.E. on pictures of a pig, that it would not have happened.

On day 4, Longview once again blew up with V.O.E. It started in the faculty and spread to the Admin building, where not less than 3 secretaries were found at the end of the day with V.O.E. written on their shoes. When asked, they all went sullen, and silent. Finally one sulked, “They did it first.”.

U.S Steel has only about 12% female workers. The rest are male, of all ages. They recently cleaned house, and fired 50% of their unproductive workers, and did NOT rehire. They simply told the rest that the quota was what it was, and they were required to meet it. They did. And 20% of the remaining workers were still found taking standing breaks and talking on their cell phones. They were fired, and things got even MORE productive (now that they were not distracting the actual workers). The day after this blog was published, the General Manager reports that there’s a rumble going down on the casting floor just before lunch time. He goes to investigate, and finds two women down wrestling over a shoe. It is a child’s shoe, and it has been decorated, with flowers, and swirlies, all woven in around multiple instances of V.O.E. It takes a loaded firearm to persuade them to get up and act like adults. One of them has created this for her daughter, multiple pairs, and they are trendy at the grade school, and even in Jr. High in a nearby district. One of the women has tucked it into her pocket to carry with her today, as a potent talisman against we know not what. The other has seen it, and accused the first of having stolen it from HER daughter. Turns out the second one is the one who decorates the shoes, and the first one’s daughter has stolen the shoe from the second one’s daughter. More than 1/3 of the kids at the grade school have this on their shoes, decorated with other things around it, in either felt pen, or raised acrylic paint. It is very popular on the heel. The Manager takes the shoe, and puts it in his office. They are not happy, but they go back to work. At lunch hour, they come to the office and accuse HIM of stealing the shoe. He laughs and says he does not need a child’s shoe. Both of them insist he did it so he would be protected. “Against what? Grade school children with mass insanity? Psychotic Barbie Dolls? Transformers with deadly computers?”. They look at each other, and one shakes her head like you do when someone is about to give away the secret. One takes the shoe, and they walk out of the office. The other one leans over and whispers to the first, “You can’t trust him. He doesn’t get it.”. The Manager follows them, and hands them each a firing notice. The sad thing is, these are people who are now considered to be BETTER workers than average.

Two days after publishing V.O.E. here, Subway has another rash of it going around in emails, and being whispered behind hands behind the counter. Never mind spitting in the sandwich to get revenge on someone, you can just write V.O.E. on the sandwich with the mustard and your triumph is complete.

One Fortune 500 business woman says, “If you knew what V.O.E. really meant, you would not write it on your shoes.”. We aren’t sure if she just means intelligent people don’t do that because it does not make sense, or if we should be really worried.

 

The List…. Just so you can be really worried:

Vox; No, we still don’t know what that means, but everyone says it.

Vengeance: Sounds pretty reasonable.

Venom: Because really mean responses are too much work.

Vascillation: So your enemies can be caught in a state of perpetual indecision.

Vituperation: Just a really cool word meaning something like retaliation.

Vicks: That’s one way to get even!

Vexation: Same to you but more of it.

Vileness:  Since you can’t smear boogers on them.

Varmint: Cats, and rats and elephants, and sure as you’re born… Oh, but elephants aren’t really Varmints.

Varnish: When the whole thing needs a good cover up.

Vacation: Well, that’s one way to get them to go away.

Vittles: Trust me, Vittles ARE a curse for the gourmand.

Vespers: When you pray that they’ll leave by nightfall.

Violence: May the mills of the Gods grind on…

Violets: Overpower them with fluffiness.

Violins: From the bows of beginners…

Volcanoes: Sacrificing your enemies to the wrath of churning bowels.

Vocations: Maybe they can take up something more productive.

Villainy: Perhaps they already have that one!

Vagabonds: Beggars plucking endlessly at their sleeves.

Vegetables: It works for two-year olds!

Vestibules: Cursed to always be confined to the entryway of everything.

Ventriloquists: Bad ones. Whose lips move.

Volumes: The Neverending Story part 20.

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