Some Americans like to tie a pair of shoes together and toss them at a power line or a tree branch until they catch and hang. Very few people have seen these shoes actually thrown, and of the witnesses who have been surveyed, their reports vary as to the average number of attempts before the shoes find their mark, ranging from three to nineteen. This practice is more frequent in urban areas, although this might simply be a function of population density rather than any fundamental difference between the psyche of the city and the country. The style of shoes and their arrangement, however, is worth noting. Lone sneakers are common in the city, but when dangling shoes appear in rural areas, the formations tend to be more elaborate. In some parts of the Mojave desert, dusty shoes cover dead Joshua trees like leaves. Hundreds of black army boots hang from irrigation pipes over neglected crops in Oklahoma.

Some say a pair of tennis shoes draped over a telephone line indicates a place to score drugs. Often referred to as cosmic kicks or crack tennies, they serve as a storefront shingle for the local dealer. Others will tell you they mark a shooting gallery where heroin is used, a reminder that you’ll never walk away once you get hooked. These theories, however, do not explain the shoes strung over desolate roads or beneath the highway overpasses where nobody goes.

Many of these shoes once belonged to children. Seeing a child’s shoes hanging in a bottle-strewn alley bothers the soul, calling to mind Hemingway’s famous six-word story: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. Some say these abandoned shoes memorialize a gangland killing. Others believe they mark the sighting of a ghost. But most levelheaded folks chalk them up to run-of-the-mill bullying in which some asshole kid steals another kid’s shoes and tosses them beyond his reach.

If any of these theories are true, there are an awful lot of victims, ghosts, and bullies in the USA.

This is the third episode of Interstate Scenes, a fictional collection of homeless paragraphs, remixed and upcycled bits from the past, and bloopers from the stories I’m writing.