The Great Boot Adventure
What’s up with that?
It all began with my buying a pair of Abilene Bison (leather) boots some time ago, maybe three years. The reason? I had bought a used pair of Tony Lama boots about twenty years ago from a little boot store in Muleshoe, Texas. They lasted me about twenty years (and might have been that old to begin with) and I was very happy with them. (I’ve been wearing boots for about 60 years and love ‘em because they’re comfortable and very useful in snake country, not that I’ve ever stepped on one (a snake that is) and I had the experience of being “protected”. I don’t even know if I would be but they feel “safer” then low-quarter shoes.
So my Lama boots had finally given up, the uppers were separating from the soles……by the way, boot wearers, who REALLY love their boots often just get them rebuilt because of these love-affairs can become obsessive but I’m not quite that far gone. Anyway, I finally found a pair I liked. They would have to be a sort of all-round boot, not-quite-a-work-boot which would be something I’d paint the house in and not worry about splashing paint. I have a pair of those, they’re old Red Wing boots that I found at a thrift store for $49…..good ones but not “dressy” in any way.
I also have a pair of custom made “dressy” boots that I had made in El Paso for only $100! (Got a pair for daughter Lia too!) They were quite a buy, made by a good boot maker during a promotion he was doing. I had the style copied from a pair of Lucchese boots I had been given but that were too narrow for comfort. (my repeated attempts to stretch them just never worked so I wound up giving them away to my son in law who has a narrow foot.)
As an aside here, for those who don’t have a clue about boot costs, a good-to-fair pair of boots will run about $160. Good to better around $200 and up, “classy” boots like Luccheses will go for 400+. The sky is the limit when it comes to the custom mades. They can run into the thousands.
OK, on with the story, so I got these all-round boots in Albuquerque. Boot buying is something seldom but carefully done ‘cause they last a long, long time and must fit perfectly. I wanted a pair that would be low maintenance, so didn’t need polishing, and sturdy (dress boots are neither. Dress boots are for dancing and for “class”.) I found a pair of Abilene bison boots…..and liked them…BUT! my OCD overcame my laid-back concept and after a month or two I made the mistake of polishing them. This turned them into quasi-dress boots. So then I kept spending time taking-care of them. Dumb.
One day, fed up with the taking-care thing I sanded all the polish off. But the “damage” had been done. Now they didn’t look right for either dress or roughing it. So, back to the polishing routine. Then I decided to sand them again having forgotten that it didn’t work the first time. Results? Same.
Then we, Elizabeth and I, made the BIG mistake. She suggested we try Palm oil. I concurred. The outcome? Boots were now a dull brown that would not even polish……..in short, butt ugly…..not even fit for work duty. So I took them to a boot shop in town. They said the only thing that could be done would be to “strip ‘em” meaning apply acetone to get the oil out of the leather. “They might not shine though.” the guy offered.
He was right, they didn’t. Now they were just to the left of “butt ugly” like “Ugh”. So; I decided to buy another pair of boots, by any maker and LEAVE THEM ALONE!
That was when I discovered that the boot business had changed considerably over the years. American cowboy boots are no longer made in America. They are made in Mexico and/or China! Old well known American boot companies, Tony Lama, Justin, Lucchese have all moved out of the country. Lucchese boots are made in Mexico AND China, though they claim a factory in El Paso. Ariate claims to be made in the U.S. but they are designed here and are made in Mexico, China, and Italy.
Tecovas are promoted in magazines and on TV as “American” but are made in Mexico. The ONLY boots, made by a major manufacturer in the U.S. are Abilene boots (made in Pennsylvania).
By the way, it’s not that boots made in Mexico are badly made, they are not. Mexico has a long history of good boot making. (China not so much.) According to a salesman I talked to at the local “Boot Barn” who has been in the business for “49 years”, “Quality, whether from Mexico or China, has suffered”.
I wanted Made in the U.S. boots and FINALLY found the Abilene’s I wanted and ordered them on line. And that’s when I discovered something else about this whole boot-buying journey; I buy a lot of my shirts, not my pants, at the Salvation Army thrift store right down the road from us. Many of those shirts have never even been worn, I often wonder if the guy who had them last just up and died and his stuff had been donated. I imagine that’s how my “stuff” will wind up too. Now that I’m 86 I suddenly realized that these were very probably going to be the last boots I would ever buy.
For the first time in my life, I would not be outliving my boots. That makes the “issue” of mortality a very tangible proposition indeed.
Outcome? I think I will enjoy them as fully as I can, every day and in every way. And just to keep the whole experience as smooth and simple as I want my remaining years to be………….and I WILL NOT polish them! They will not be bronzed I’m sure. They won’t wind up in Muleshoe either (they’re out of business.) But one day, somebody wanting a really good pair of 10.5 “D”s will be walking around in my Abilene’s. He won’t know my story but I do hope he won’t be dumb enough to polish ‘em.
Thinking About What’s Going On
Here’s a little thought experiment. One morning you’re taking a shower and you reach up with one arm to soap your hair and suddenly realize that your skin has changed color. (Let’s start out here with the idea that you are a white person, but this journey works the other way too.)
You look down and you see that you are unbelievably, a person-of-color! (Yes, white is a color too but very differently perceived and reacted too as you well know…..or at least will soon discover.)
Note your first response to this occurrence. What is it?
Franz Kafka wrote of this experience in “Metamorphosis”. If you haven’t read that horror story, it’s about a guy who wakes up one morning and discovers that he has been turned into a cockroach! Unsettling would be a massive understatement. How do you think the rest of your day, and then the rest of your life will go?
Imagine all the circumstances and note what you might feel in every interaction with people, not just strangers, but friends as well. How might things you felt about every aspect of your life be different just because the color of your skin is “different”.
If you believe that nothing would really BE different, then you are not understanding the reality of a person-of-color. You are denying their experience.
Here’s a small example, when a white person uses the word “cool” as a description of how he or she feels about their response to something as in, “I’m cool with it.” Or as in a general expression of a way of being, this is a different personal experience for a person of color. “Cool” for the white person means “I’m calm. I’m laid back.” For a person of color it means, “I’m going along with this constant insult because that’s the way it is for us.”
I “got” this one day when I was refused service at a funky drive-in restaurant because the person sitting next to me was black. I was outraged, agitated, gritting my teeth and I turned to him, “How in the hell do you stand this? I’d be wanting to kill people who treated me this way!” I growled.
He said in a calm matter of fact voice that took me off guard, “You just do.” That’s what “cool” meant for him and for every other black person who has, day after day experienced this kind of treatment both overt and covert. It’s what must be done to deal with the “attitude” day after day all life long in many an interaction with white people. Cool. As in, “You just keep on.”
Louis Armstrong once recorded a song called “What did I do to feel so black and blue?” and in music the people who can REALLY sing and play the blues, are people of color. The blues for we white folk are usually about lost love or feeling down about life in the moment. The blues for black folk are about LIFE….all the time. We skate on the surface of this only empathizing, a kind of knowing, to some extent, and caring, but not really KNOWING what this daily experience is like. We can guess about it and that’s about it.
The author of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffin found out about racism the hard way. A white writer, he used chemicals and dyes to color his skin dark and then went out into a world he thought he knew well, and as a white person he did. But as a person-of-color he was shocked to discover he didn’t know it at all. If you’ve never read that book, get a copy and learn.
My first wife, a dark-skinned Mexican-American girl born near El Paso, Texas knew about this stuff but as her white husband I did not. When it came to everyday interactions with white people her irritability, about the way she was sometimes not so subtly, treated, both by the Border Patrol agents around El Paso and white people in Chicago where we lived for a time, used to bother me because I felt she was creating trouble over nothing. I couldn’t understand, and did not see, literally did NOT see or feel or hear what she did. I blew these “little “ insults off. I really didn’t “get it”. Yes, now we have a phrase for it, “White privilege” but that term doesn’t really say it. It’s white ignorance and white arrogance that denies that this is going on all the time for people of color. ALL THE GODDAM TIME!
Every day, in almost every situation, social or commercial interactions have embedded in them this “attitude” that white people direct at non-whites that most non-whites react to by being “cool”.
It’s no wonder we whites are so afraid of black anger that our response is to overreact, like the woman in N.Y.s Central Park who felt so threatened by the black birdwatcher who asked that she leash her dog that she called the police in a panic. Yes, we know damned well that if we were on the receiving end of this “attitude”, we’d be full of rage. We don’t know HOW to be “cool” about such a thing. We don’t know, as I didn’t know, how we could stand living with this situation.
I only know about this at an intellectual level….at an emotional level I can hardly talk about it without choking on my own impotent anger and tears, but I have the luxury of not having to live it, I am only imagining it, imagining how I would feel to not be white in our society.
Try this “imaging” for yourself. To the extent to which you can inhabit the fantasy, you might begin to have an inkling of just how “cool” you would have to become in order to get through life as a non-white person and respond to even subtle racism by all the “just dos” that are necessary to be able to get along. …and just how long do you think you could………just get-along?
What I have been doing as sort of my one-man-"crusade" is that when I spot a black person, male or female, (I select older people usually) I sidle up to them (so that I'm not felt to be intrusive) and say; "Just thought I'd let you know, your life matters to ME!" The responses I've gotten range from, "God bless you and thank you!" to, "Man, you have just made my day!"
It's a good thing to do.