Why leave just one shoe behind?
September 4, 2005 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Abandoned shoes: why is there always just one?

I'm not sure if it's just me but I frequently come across shoes on the street, presumably abandoned in an inebriated state. But why is there _always_ only one? How can people just leave just one shoe behind. When I have been with drunk friends they have left both or given me both. But why would you just leave one behind and walk with one foot barefooted and one with a shoe? Or am I going mad? I keep seeing this almost every day in London because I walk everywhere. And it is always just one. This question keeps driving me crazy because I do not understand it. So if anybody had some insight why people leave one, not two, shoes behind them, I would be grateful.
posted by keijo to Society & Culture (18 answers total)
Could it be that when people leave both they quickly get picked up by someone who wants them? I bet there are a lot fewer unipeds than bipeds looking for shoes.
posted by fvw at 8:20 AM on September 4, 2005

If they are losing them accidentally, why would people lose two shoes at once?

Say the average drunk guy has a 20% likelihood of blindly losing a shoe while stumbling around, and is too stoned to feel the loss profoundly enough to either go back and find it or sit on the corner and even the score by leaving the other shoe as a memorial to the first. Thus, it could be that only down to ~4% of the time someone would be so drunk as to stumble out of their shoes simultaneously. So most of the time you will only see one shoe. The other shoe is probably on the floor of a cab, in the bushes around the corner, or still on the passed out dude's foot.
posted by dness2 at 8:24 AM on September 4, 2005

Not that I would know from experience.
posted by dness2 at 8:25 AM on September 4, 2005

Besides, a pair of shoes abandoned and not subsequently claimed as a pair are likely to be seperated by goonery and other such things, since shoes not being worn don't have any value in pair-hood. If you feel like throwing a shoe, why would you feel compelled to throw the other shoe as well to the same exact place?
posted by cortex at 8:31 AM on September 4, 2005

Some highlights from a google search for "one sandal", which may suggest various possibilities regarding unmatched lost footwear:

When Cretheus 1 died, Pelias 1 seized the throne, but feeling a certain unease, he consulted the oracle concerning the kingdom, being warned that his death was drawing near if a man arrived wearing only one sandal. At first, the king did not understand whom the oracle was referring to, but afterwards, when he was about to offer a sacrifice to Poseidon, he sent for Jason, among many others, to participate in it. Jason came to the sacrifice, but in crossing the river Anaurus in Thessaly (or the Evenus in Aetolia) he lost a sandal in the stream and appeared with only one. When Pelias 1 saw him, he remembered the oracle, and asked Jason what would he do if he were king and had received an oracle that he should be murdered by a certain citizen. Jason answered: "I would command him to bring the Golden Fleece."

"If a married man dies childless, the widow must not marry a stranger outside of the family. Instead, the dead man’s brother must marry the widow. If the brother refuses to marry the widow or refuses to give her children, the law shall fine him one sandal, and he will be forced to go about wearing one sandal for the rest of his days, and he shall be called the Unshod One" (Deut. 25:5-10; Gen. 38:6-10).

A few years after his death, which is conservatively given as 528, a Chinese official reported encountering Bodhidharma in the mountains of Central Asia. He was described as walking with a staff from which hung a single sandal, and told the official that he was on his way back to the land of his birth. Legend also says that when this account reached India, the monks opened Bodhidharma's tomb where they found only one sandal.

"She was in the middle of the jungle," says Herb Golder, who in 1998 revisited Peru with Juliane—now 50 and a zoologist living in Germany—while working as assistant director on Wings of Hope, Werner Herzog's documentary about the ordeal. "And this 17-year-old girl in a torn miniskirt and one sandal walks out alive."

In Life Of Brian: When Brian is being chased by people who believe he is the Messiah, Brian loses a sandal. They all think it's a sign and run after him with one sandal in their hand. Thing is, when you see them, thay all have both sandals on their feet, yet most of them are holding a sandal. Where did they all get their third sandal from?

Anyway, back to the "Monkeys"! I climbed up to the roof and desolately dropped my sandals outside the Kutir door - the next moment one of a troupe of monkeys grabbed a sandal and bounded off with it. The nimble creatures used the rooftop as a 'playground'. Being young, agile, and temperamental I raced after the offender, who skilfully devised a game that kept me running from one corner of the patio to the other, attempting to retrieve my sandal. Finally in a display of consummate acrobatics the creature leapt six feet through the air to an adjacent rooftop. The little beast turned, smirked at me and gaily waved my sandal in the air.
posted by sfenders at 8:45 AM on September 4, 2005

I have actually lost one shoes before. I was back packing and I had my spare shoes wrapped up by their laces and bound to the outside of my pack. Somewhere along the trail one went missing. I have since always assumed that when you find one shoe, the person who lost it wasn't wearing the pair it is from at the time.

Don't let the fact that shoes come in pairs mess with your reasoning. Each shoe is still just one thing and it is easier to lose one thing than it is to lose two things.
posted by 517 at 8:47 AM on September 4, 2005

I have friends who, whenever they were heading out on a long road trip, would buy a big box of shoes at a thrift store and throw one out the window every half hour. Why? Just so people would ask "Why one shoe?"
posted by wsg at 9:44 AM on September 4, 2005

The shoe issue was addressed in one of the "Imponderables" books, but I don't recall that any good answer was arrived at. I could be wrong though.
posted by misterbrandt at 10:46 AM on September 4, 2005

I figure this is related to the fact that when flipflops wash up on a beach, all the right shoes congregate on one beach or one end of the beach, and all the lefts on the other. Yes, really--we've surveyed beaches in the Med and the Caribbean and Bahamas and this holds; I can't speak for the Pacific Ocean. Ultimately, I think, it's a corollary of the law of physics that controls what happens to pairs of socks that go into the dryer and, as we all know, fail to come out as a pair. Maybe a pair is just an inherently unstable structure in this universe.
posted by salt at 10:49 AM on September 4, 2005

Why do you always see just one shoe by the side of the road? from The Straight Dope.

related question: what about loose, tangled cassette tape? I could have sworn there was a This American Life story about it.
posted by furvyn at 10:53 AM on September 4, 2005

Socks don't disappear -- socks are the larval form of coat hangers.
posted by winston at 11:46 AM on September 4, 2005

I lost one shoe when drunk once, don't ask me how, I have no idea.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:18 PM on September 4, 2005

Salt, I do like the thought a a pair being an inherently unstable structure in the universe. That explains a lot of failed relationships of mine and my nearest and dearest. Therefore voted as best answer since there seems to be no consensus.
posted by keijo at 7:30 PM on September 4, 2005

Although the sock question is interesting as well. This is another similar thing the I just have never understood. Where on earth do they go? I am sure there is a sock eating monster living in every washing machine. This is what I was told by my dad at an early age anyway.
posted by keijo at 7:33 PM on September 4, 2005

In Imponderables, the one shoe thing is one of the perennial unsolved questions (he deems "frustrables"). Closely related is why there's so often one boot hanging on a fencepost.
posted by abcde at 9:23 PM on September 4, 2005

The sock thing, too.
posted by abcde at 9:24 PM on September 4, 2005

Baader Meinhof, Diegogarcity, plate of shrimp...and now, the single shoe phenomenon. Even flip-flops rarely fall off together, but every time you see a shoe by the side of the road it fuels that "why?" feedback loop. It's not exactly pareidolia, but it's so often commented on there's gotta be at least an Ignobel for whoever definatively names this effect. I just hope all those single children's shoes I see aren't evidence of a untold legion of drunken kids...
posted by ellanea at 10:10 PM on September 4, 2005

Drunk amputees. They are a curse upon logic.
posted by peacay at 3:47 AM on September 5, 2005

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