On a whim, I put on a random selection of Carter Family songs as I was opening this morning at work. One that I hadn't heard before is called "Cannonball Blues," and has the following wonderful line in it:
My baby's left me, she even took my shoes.
I love this because it packs such a huge amount of meaning into those nine words, even though (or maybe because) that meaning isn't overtly stated. If I rephrase this to be less subtle, it loses all its power: My baby's left me, she took everything I own, I have nothing left, or whatever. I doubt I would ever have noticed my revised line, but as it was, it really hit me -- wow! His shoes, even! Ouch! Somehow this way the sense of his having lost absolutely everything really comes across.
So what's the deal with shoes, anyway? I guess they're such a basic utilitarian thing everyone needs just to spend a day in civilization that to be deprived of them seems like the final decimation. I'm curious what other words, if any, we could put in that slot to elicit a similar emotional reaction.
My baby's left me, she even took my mattress.
My baby's left me, she even took my stove.
My baby's left me, she even took my guitar.
My baby's left me, she even took my guitar picks.
My baby's left me, she even took my alarm clock.
My baby's left me, she even took my extension cord.
My baby's left me, she even took my asthma inhaler.
My baby's left me, she even took my glasses.
I dunno, some of these seem to pack no punch at all (stove), while others just seem too mean and not disinterested enough (asthma inhaler). My favorites in the bunch are alarm clock and glasses, but I'm still not impressed. Apparently shoes have some special psychological value I had never realized. I give thanks to the Carter Family for my continuing education.
Addendum: Amelia's recommendation is pants -- My baby's left me, she even took my pants. I feel like this is getting pretty close, but here's the thing I'm realizing about shoes that make them so special: unlike most of these other options, they don't have a lot of emotional baggage attached to them. If she takes his asthma inhaler or glasses, for example, the act seems cruel and petty, and she appears genuinely to wish him injury. Taking his pants likewise seems cruelly embarrassing, as our hapless protagonist will likely have to appear in public unclothed unless a phone somehow got left behind in the rubble.
But shoes don't seem particularly cruel, nasty, injurious, embarrassing, etc., at least to me -- sort of emotionless, in fact. She dispassionately, coolly, calmly took every last thing with her when she went; she exists less as a person, and more as a symbol of the now emptiness of his life and total bewilderment as to what to do next.