Grok My Enthusiasm (9)

By: Mark Kingwell
March 9, 2016

One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars.

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north star

I have a friend, a former PhD student, who financed her graduate education by working part-time as a dominatrix. This was so lucrative that it also underwrote her fashion-plate dress sense. I used to meet with her for a drink every now and then, and after we talked some phenomenology, she’d tell me about her clients. “Collectors are the worst,” she always said. “Collectors are creepy.”

I think I am a collector. I’m not sure. Though my house is far from the junk-jammed ratholes you see on hoarder reality shows, I do have far more stuff than I can ever use or enjoy properly. Art, books, comics, bobbleheads, fishing gear, what have you; also sneakers, lots and lots of sneakers. I have sneakers I have not only never worn but never laced up. I have a pair of hand-painted Converse All-Stars with Star Wars scenes on the high-top panels. There are a lot of beautiful and memorable pairs of kicks in my collection, which is laid out on the bedroom floor in a sort of madman’s grid. There are Adidas Gazelles and Shelltoes, Pumas of every kind, Osiris Bombers and Fallen skaters, some throwback Nikes with waffle soles, Vans and DC low-riders, knock-off green-stripe Adis from a souk in Doha, and about half a dozen unpainted Chucks in various hues. I accept this beautiful insanity, and feel no need for justification. I like sneakers; I wear them almost every day of my life.

But there is one pair in my collection that deserves a special mention, because they are the only ones that exactly replicate what I used to wear before I had this slightly goofy urge to dispose of my disposable income in running shoes. They are Canadian-made North Star two stripes, the primordial sneaker of my 1970s Prairie adolescence. (For the record, mine are from a 2010 brand reboot.) The logo’s typeface remains one of those instant signifiers of the tense we must label, after Svetlana Boym, the Future Nostalgic.

We called them runners, not sneakers (sneakers was considered an Americanism, like the English ‘plimsoles’). They were chunky and a little bit ugly, snub-toed and spongy on the sole. There was a suede leather tab on the heel to aid in pulling them on. The favoured versions were white with red stripes and white with blue stripes. Two stripes were a subtle snub to the ubiquitous Adidas three-stripe design, and gave us provincial Canadian kids, budding cultural nationalists, a clothes-peg to hold up a somewhat diaphanous curtain of identity. Pair with some straight-leg GWG jeans — from the Great Western Garment company, based in Alberta — and a Kiss, Cheap Trick, or (most likely) Rush t-shirt, and presto: the perfect uniform of life. In summer, we wore them with striped knee socks and cut-off shorts, or just bare feet around the campsite, and sleeveless sweatshirts. Yes, our hair was centre-parted and feathered.

We thought we were cool — people of the North Star not the All-Star. The narcissism of minor differences, maybe. But identity-formation is always about distinction, however slim or trivial, as Bourdieu reminds us. Two stripes! Both North Star and GWG were later absorbed into larger U.S. companies, but some stock is still kicking around — if you’re a collector. Not long ago, I bought the last two pairs of black GWG straight-legs left in Ontario, from a surplus denim shop, to go with the awesome North Stars. I no longer have my father’s old GWG ‘Road Kings’ jean jacket, bought when he acquired a Honda 750 cruiser and later handed down to me, but the North Stars keep the faith. Yes, cool, not creepy!

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MORE KINGWELL at HILOBROW: TALISMANIC OBJECTS: ZIPPO | #SQUADGOALS: THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | HERMENAUTIC TAROT: THE WARY WATCHERS | KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: HARPER | QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: TAINTED LOVE | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM: NORTH STAR SNEAKERS & GWG JEANS | CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM: OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM: GILL SANS | KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Plus: HILO HERO items on Roland Barthes, Muriel Spark, Iain Banks, Slavoj Zizek, Hannah Arendt, Andy Kaufman, and many others.

GROK MY ENTHUSIASM: Rob Wringham on THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | Gordon Dahlquist on WEEKEND | Joe Alterio on MILLION YEAR PICNIC | Adrienne Crew on LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | Josh Glenn on THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | Alix Lambert on THE SKIES BELONG TO US | Adam McGovern on PENELOPE and CHAVEZ RAVINE | Rob Wringham on THE LYKE WAKE WALK | Mark Kingwell on NORTH STAR SNEAKERS & GWG JEANS | Gordon Dahlquist on FELLINI SATYRICON | Erik Davis on AH! | Devin McKinney on WHISPERING AFRAID | Mimi Lipson on 1973 SEARS ROEBUCK CATALOG | Jessamyn West on MOSS | Josh Glenn on THE SCOUT HOW BOOK | Brian Berger on SLACKER | Alix Lambert on ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS | Chelsey Johnson on MONOTREMES | Devin McKinney on THE BUTCHER COVER | Flourish Klink on ONE DIRECTION | Gordon Dahlquist on FULL METAL JACKET | Allegra Huston on CLOTHESLINE | Jenny Davidson on POWERLIFTING | Evan Narcisse on REZ | Deborah Wassertzug on VEGETARIAN MEATBALLS | Chris Spurgeon on WALLACE AND GROMIT | Mandy Keifetz on BENEFICIAL MICROBES | Annie Nocenti on MARKS ON WALLS | Molly Sauter on THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF | William Nericcio on LAND OF THE LOST | Dan Fox on “VOICE OF GOD” RADIO DJS | Brandi Brown on WIKIPEDIA TALK | Claire Lehmann on THE APPARATUS REVEAL | Alice Boone on COSTUME JEWELRY | Colin Dickey on WIDESPREAD PANIC | Anshuman Iddamsetty on THE FULL BODY PROJECT | John Hilgart on MAKING GRATEFUL DEAD ALBUMS | Rob Wringham on STEVEN UNIVERSE | John Overholt on DECKLE EDGES | James Hannaham on HABIT PATTERNS | Jessamyn West on THE PUBLIC LIBRARY SYSTEM | Adam McGovern on THE SPACE GIANTS | Brian Berger on MEDIUM COOL | Chris Spurgeon on THE DUNNING-KRUGER EFFECT | Joe Alterio on TABLETOP WARGAMING | Mimi Lipson on TRASH PICKING | Jason Grote on CZECH CINEMA | Roxane Gay on AUTOMATED CAR WASH | Dan Fox on JULIA DAVIS | Amy Thielen on BINGO | Steph Burt on FEIJOA.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

What do you think?

  1. I have visited Mark’s apartment — the sneaker collection (and vintage penguin paperbacks collection) is a thing of beauty. I am very envious! Great entry in the GROK series.

  2. thank you so much. I have been trying to remember for a while (and trying all kinds of Google searches) to find out what kind of running shoes were the ones with two stripes I wore as a kid from Zellers or Miracle Mart because my parents would not shell out a few bucks more for Adidas or Puma. Wow, seeing the pic (I always had blue and white) floods me with memories, I can even remember the smell of the leather when new!!!!!!!

    Getting new runners was such an event then as we had little money and I would wear mine til there were holes on the bottom. But Northstars went with Howick Stars, Santana or Laliberte jeans haha

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