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Sean Kirst: Two men, four mismatched feet and one Irv Weinstein connection

Jim McCormick has a favorite story about his feet. In 1961, at an Army ROTC summer camp at Fort Bragg, he was standing in formation outside his barracks, waiting with his buddies to be released for the weekend. One of his responsibilities was leaving his boots cleaned by his bed, and McCormick had them ready and waiting when his sergeant went inside to take a look.

The astounded sergeant saw those mismatched boots — size 9 left, size 13 right — and went ballistic. He rushed out of the barracks, steaming, demanding to know why McCormick was insulting his intelligence. Just what was he trying to pull with two loose boots?

"Sarge," McCormick said, "I got the feet to match."

It was true. Raised in the City of Tonawanda, he was born with feet of different sizes. The doctor said it was simply chance and was not due to any particular condition. Even as a boy, McCormick looked at it philosophically. There were plenty of worse things that could happen, so he simply did his best.

Still, he was a kid who loved sports, and mismatched feet meshed with a reality that began in early childhood: If he wanted shoes or sneakers, his parents had to buy two pairs. His dad would then chuck out the two shoes McCormick could not use.

Not in his wildest dreams did he figure he might have a mirror opposite, a kid only a couple of years younger and a few miles away, who was going through exactly the same thing in nearby Buffalo — but with the opposite feet.

McCormick, 78, recently told that story at the Oak Stave Drinkery & Eatery on Transit Road in East Amherst, where he sat side-by-side with Peter Talty, 76, a retired occupational therapist who still does a little teaching.

Talty's feet were size 9 right, size 13 left. Their entire friendship is based on the way they solve the other guy's shoe buying problem, a difficult situation for anyone whose feet are of significantly different size.

For more than 40 years, after Irv Weinstein — Irv Weinstein! — provided an indirect introduction, the two men chipped in to buy their shoes, especially their running shoes, together. The only thing that would change is that gradually, as they grew older, they shifted into size 10 and size 13.

The impossible symmetry brought them a certain level of celebrity. Sue Austin, one of McCormick's daughters, wrote an article about the friendship that appeared in 1993 in Runner's World, which led to a separate piece in the National Enquirer about the "perfect pair."

I had been hoping to get them in the same place since last January, when I learned their story shortly after the death of Weinstein, the legendary Buffalo newscaster. Talty, as a means of saying thanks to Irv, wrote a little essay for The Buffalo News Opinion Page.

Jim McCormick, left, and Peter Talty, right, have mismatched feet that work perfectly together for buying shoes. They met as young men and bought shoes together for decades. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Talty was born with clubfoot. Childhood surgery to correct that condition gave him mismatched feet. While he found a specialist who could make dress shoes he could wear, just about anything else — sneakers, boots, slippers — demanded buying two pairs and discarding the extras that Talty said even Goodwill did not want.

"In desperation," he wrote, "I placed an ad in the personal column of The Buffalo Evening News in 1971: 'Man with two different-size feet .... looking for man with opposite sizes for purpose of buying shoes together.' "

Weinstein spotted it. Delighted, he read the ad on the air. Mildred Maccubbin, McCormick's mother-in-law — who lived to be 100, by the way — happened to be listening to that broadcast.

She told McCormick. He immediately called Talty, who had almost lost hope after receiving only two other calls. One was from a shoe salesman. The other was from a friend of his brother's, who joyfully collaborated on a prank call to Talty of a suggestive nature, based upon the wording in the ad.

McCormick, however, was absolutely for real. The two men, in disbelief, made a couple of trips to shoe stores together, but "Jim was the shopper," as Talty put it. For the most part, for decades, McCormick would deliver shoes to Talty or even mail them during the years when Talty lived in Liverpool, just outside of Syracuse.

My View: Irv Weinstein saves two runners a small fortune

It is hard to explain, they both say, just how much it meant. They had a one-of-a-kind friendship, built on an extraordinary need. To the best of their knowledge, their wives — Janice Talty and Jean McCormick – have never met. "We're going to fix that," said McCormick, who also told Talty to call if he wants to make a shoe-buying trip this summer.

The two men learned, over time, that they have plenty in common. They are both Western New Yorkers, from their heads to matching toes. Both loved to run — they were far more interested in staying in shape than in speed — and they started a few road races together. Today, they are grandfathers who remain dedicated to fitness.

Their younger years, in some ways, were also parallel. After Talty's South Buffalo childhood, he tried to join the Navy, until a sailor measuring uniforms took a look at his feet and cursed out loud, astonished. McCormick, who grew up in Tonawanda, made it into the Army, where he became a first lieutenant.

As an occupational therapist, Talty taught at Keuka College and the University at Buffalo. McCormick built a career in the insurance business. Neither man, even now, is 100 percent retired.

While their feet are a perfect match, their annual routines are opposite. Talty spends much of the year in Florida, and his summers in Clarence. McCormick lives in Amherst, but travels for much of the summer to a family cottage in Canada.

Those different cycles helped slow down their shoe-buying partnership. Besides, Talty said, they bought so many pairs together he was able to "live off them for years."

During that recent interview at the Oak Stave, Talty and McCormick began casually discussing the ways they stay in shape. While it might happen through long walks McCormick takes with his dog, or through the cycling and elliptical workouts embraced by Talty, all of it is made easier by one pivotal moment in their lives.

Against all odds, they both found two rare feet to match their own.

Sean Kirst is a columnist for The Buffalo News. Email him at skirst@buffnews.com or read more of his work in this archive.

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