He took a short drag of his cigarette. Tenderly, like a first sip of coffee when it's kicking off steam.
"A, B, C," he said. "Always. Be. Closing. Like Glengarry Glen Ross, fam."
"Doesn't everyone die at the end of that shit?"
"Dunno. Never saw the whole thing. Just YouTube."
He shrugged and looked down at his phone. The unblinking Retina stared back at him with a parade of tweets. Drag. Breathe.
"Do you have the money?" He was holding a box in the crook of his arm with the particular loose-tightness of a running back. The box was burnt orange. "NIKE," shouted the bold, white block type peeking out from beneath his tricep.
"Yep, $150. Right here."
"Dawg, it's $175. I told you on Instagram."
"Well, I got $150."
He squinted. The kid wasn't a day older than 17, too soft and too clean. Like growing up with central air. He ashed his cigarette and swiped through his phone, small-motor habits borne from years of doing things precisely the same way. Why change now?
"Fuck outta here."
"Oh, you don't want the money? What happened to 'A, B, C'?"
He smirked. Johnnie Suburbs wants his sneakers.
"Who knows? I never saw the whole thing. Just YouTube."
He was down to the filter. He flicked the cigarette to his feet, snuffed it beneath the heel of his coke whatevers and turned up the street. The white block letters scowled at the jilted adolescent in his wake. "NIKE," they whispered from the crook of his arm.
Before Instagram, it was Twitter. Before them both, it was forums. But long before he found a marketplace full of like-minded people, or even imagined that there could be one, he was just a kid begging his mom to take him to Foot Locker. The ritual was always the same: While she asked the zebra-striped salesperson what was on sale, he wandered through canyons, peering skyward at walls made of colorful leather and smooth rubber. He saved the Jordans for last, carefully averting his eyes from that holy corner until it was time, allowing the thrill to build with clerical willpower. The smell was intoxicating. In a childhood checkered with happy moments, that aroma of cowhide and fresh polymer was perhaps the finest.
He grew up. Slowly at first, then all at once. He got a fake ID that said he was 18 and bought cigarettes for his high school friends. He charged them a premium and bought sneakers with the profits. His mom thought he was dealing weed and he enjoyed this fiction. He didn't enjoy the fights. They quarreled constantly—mother and son, father and son, mother and father. After they screamed, they made up profusely, lobbing extravagant apologies into a deepening pool of dreaded certainty. His collection grew.
Despite the mounting distress, they were proud of him. Why not? After high school, he went to college and graduated with a decent GPA and student debt to his name. He got a salaried office job. He didn't do drugs and drank in moderation. His vice was manageable and even at their most distraught, his parents admired the obsessive passion with which he pursued it.
He moved out a few weeks before his 23rd birthday in a hail of hugs, handshakes and tears. In six months they were separated, his father in a condo across town with smooth granite countertops and a gas fireplace, his mother trapped in a house furnished for three.
He didn't keep in touch with the people he knew in high school or college, so there wasn't much reason to go home. He stopped speaking with his parents too, except on holidays. One phone call, then another.
By then, his friends were a loose flock of PayPal accounts, Twitter handles and numbers he texted on the eve of a big release. You got me? I got you. Buy two, one to wear and one to flip. Ship to Europe. Receive from Japan. Repeat. He spent his time in front of a glowing screen, reading bits of code and taking comfort in knowing their various meanings. HTM. QS. NIB. BRED. ISO. DS. He hadn't been inside a Foot Locker in years. GR. SMFH.
One weekend, he came back home from his apartment to retrieve the remainder of his collection: three shelves of premium leathers, gum soles, rope laces, plus a towering stack of Jordans. His mother looked older and he wondered if she knew he was only there because his old pairs were fire and he already had buyers. Loading his car, he felt her watching him from the kitchen window. He shivered with the chill of a nameless guilt and slammed the trunk shut. He felt older too. On the drive back to the city, he glanced into his rearview mirror at the neatly stacked shoeboxes and began to cry.
After parting ways with Johnnie Suburbs, he wandered the streets for a while smoking cigarettes. When the sun set, the cold rolled in. He flipped up his collar and headed back to his apartment, where he returned the burnt orange box to an empty slot between two others just like it. "NIKE," the letters croaked drowsily as he slid them back into place. His phone buzzed in his pocket. Text? DM? Low battery? It buzzed again, longer this time. Phone call.
With one fluid, involuntary motion, the phone was out of his pants and into his sightline. "Mom," warned the screen. He froze. The walls of his apartment soared skyward, lined with the finest sneakers money could buy. He didn't have to save the Jordans for last any more. He got them first. He got them all.
Grabbing the nearest burnt orange box, he opened it an inhaled deeply through his nose. He smelled the stink of cigarettes on his hands. He looked back at his phone. "Missed call," it whispered gravely. He slumped onto his couch and smiled grimly to himself. Everyone dies at the end of everything, he reasoned bravely. Then, he rapped the space bar on his laptop and pulled up the forums.