Tuesday, August 13, 2013

These Boots Were Made for...Me

About the boot thing: it's been a lifelong problem. I think it started in 1964 when my father was working in Tuscon, AZ, while his family remained in New Jersey (he was an up-and-coming electrical contractor and somehow managed to win a bid to help built the Titan Missile bases, so off he went, leaving mom with four children still at home (and I was the equivalent of three myself). So for the summer, he suggested we all come out and spend June, July and August traipsing around the southwest.

Let me repeat that: June, July and August. The southwest. And my mother agreed to this? Clearly, she was sick of managing her two teen-age sons, whiny pre-adolescent daughter and 3-year old future Catholic school terror, me. We boarded a plane and landed in Phoenix where we lived in a long-term motel kind of place that had a pool, which was, understandably, where we spent most of our time other than when Dad took us on road trips. I remember several things from that summer, aside from the cell-sucking heat: large Gila monsters on the side of the road were cool-looking up close. Roadrunners looked NOTHING like the cartoon version, nor did they go "beep-beep!" as they ran across the highway.

And boots. I remember boots. Cowboy boots for men and women, boys and girls. I got my first pair, along with my first cowboy hat, at a boot shop somewhere along a dusty highway, and it was a revelation. I have never since felt as cool as I did when I first pulled a pair of boots on and walked with a new-found authority around the boot shop. I can imagine the salesman probably called me "little cowgirl" or something equally cliche, but I was three and was not yet offended by sexist remarks (though cliches were starting to bother me at that point). I just knew I had found my defining fashion feature.

Upon returning to NJ (my father followed not long after and launched his business, called Titan Electric in honor of his first big contract), it appeared my mother was not going to feed my new-found hunger for tooled leather, heels, pointed toes and cowboy swagger. I began nursery school (that didn't work out too well, but that will have to wait for another blog) wearing stupid freaking maryjanes that said nothing--NOTHING--about the southwest heart beating in my chest. No wonder I was out of place at the Little Red House Nursery School in Caldwell, NJ (yes, it was called that). I was meant to live a life on a horse, tumbleweeds blowing by me as I galloped across the mesa. There were no mesas in New Jersey, unless you count the long, flat stretches of the Garden State Parkway, and I never once saw a cool girl on a horse trotting down the median. My dreams were drying up and blowing away.

And then, in 1966, Nancy Sinatra entered my consciousness with the song that became the closest thing to an anthem I've ever had (Jimmy Buffet's "I'm Growing Older But Not Up" and, of course, "Day-O" are up there too). It's my karaoke go-to, my party-pleasin' guitar solo choice. It's that rare song that delivers an anti-authority, mid-60s feminist message, has a good beat, and you can dance to it (American Bandstand: another '60s icon). Somehow, that song got me over the hump--the bootless, horseless hump of life in a Jersey suburb.

One fall, right around that time, the Sears catalog arrived. Remember those? The Christmas version? Huge books full of everything from table saws to lingerie, toys to tires. And a large section of children's clothing. Like many children, I pored over that catalog, making crisp lists in pencil on yellow paper: all the things I wanted. Needed. And that one year, I wanted an outfit worn by a girl in the catalog, a girl I envied for her incredible good fashion fortune: red cowboy hat and boots, red skirt with fringe (I would have preferred jeans, but those were not available for girls). Red vest (with fringe). It was the boots I coveted most.

Santa was good to me that year, starting me down a long, dusty trail of boot-wearing. I know I have too many, but you know how it is. One pair of black (or brown) boots is not like every other pair. Different heel heights, different lines, different comfort levels. Some are ankle-high, some are calf-high, some are knee-high. But all make me feel cooler and more confident when I wear them. When I pull on a pair of boots in the morning, I got me some shwaggah. Pumps do not do that for me. Who DO they do that for?

About two years ago, I found myself at the NCAA convention in San Antonio, Texas, and came upon a boot shop. I went back three days in a row, debating the merits of purchasing a genuine pair of Texas cowboy boots (as opposed to the East Coast girl collection in my closet). With the support of my patient colleague Rebecca, I tried on about ten different pairs before settling on a pair of black and tan beauties made of leather and...python. Seriously. Snakeskin boots. If I had been able to wear these while attending the Little Red House Nursery School, my entire life might have been different.

I write all this to explain just how challenging it will be for me when boot season comes 'round (and it is just around the corner). I will get twitchy in that way I did poring over the Sears Wish Book. I will be filled with envy of some cute girl in a red fringe vest, cool hat and...then I will remember that in my closet, yes, I have my very own trip down memory lane. And that lane is a trail, a dusty trail. And that trail? Maybe it ends in Phoenix, where I will pull these on, give a steely-eyed look and order myself a glass of Chardonnay. Straight up, pardner.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

And So It Begins...

It's August 1, the first day of my self-imposed regalia retreat...garment getaway...retail jail. [Okay--I think "retail jail" is a bit much, having watched the first season of "Orange is the New Black" on Netflix, which I highly recommend. I don't want to make light of even a minimum security prison experience. Ironically, though, at "Litchfield Prison," an other-corner-of-Connecticut stand-in for Danbury, known for being Martha Stewart's temporary abode, solitary confinement is known as "the shoe," which is actually "SHU," which stands for "Secure Housing Unit," and given that my retail jail experience involves divesting myself of shoes and avoiding shoe purchases, well, it's hard not to make that particular idiomatic connection. Anyway...]

What did I do during the last few days leading up to August 1? I didn't make it easy on myself. I spent time in two cities, Burlington and Montreal, that have some nice boutiques and shoe stores. I managed to avoid them all. My last purchase prior to the boutique banishment? I made a trip to the Jockey store in the outlet mall in Essex, VT. I won't go into details. Let's just say that I do own certain items of clothing that eventually wear out and need to be replaced, and like a lot of us, I stick with what I know.

I have to be honest, though. There is something oddly liberating about having made this deal with myself (and publicized it to the world; that is, the portion of the world that might read this blog). I have now given myself a built-in excuse for walking past those boutiques, for recycling those catalogs, for ignoring those really cute boots in the window at Dear Lucy, a most excellent Church St., Burlington, shoe store. "I can't buy anything." That's what I find myself saying. As though some external force has been imposed on me. Huh. Imagine you have a real passion for a particular food--say, chocolate. But one day, you develop an allergy to it. And so when you see that nice chunk of Cadbury, or even Hershey's, it's not even an option. You simply can't eat it. Do you miss it? Sure. But you don't have a choice. I have taken choice away from myself. Again: huh. I mean, I made the choice to do so, right?

I am now caught in a complete existential pretzel knot.

I was talking with one of Betsy's friends about this (after Betsy brought it up over dinner. I'm not planning to make a habit of sharing this adventure with everyone I meet). I was telling her about an anti-hero hero of mine, Eustace Conway. Eustace was the subject of a wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert ("Eat, Pray, Love") book that came out in 2002, "The Last American Man." He is the owner of a beautiful 100 or so acres in North Carolina's High Country, where I used to live. His land, which is called Turtle Island, is carefully preserved, a pristine stretch in the midst of ridiculous gated communities that dot the Blue Ridge Mountains and separate holler from holler. Eustace is a staunch conservationist of sorts who uses his land as a classroom to teach sustainable living. Eustace says that the politically correct mantra of "Reduce, reuse, recyle" doesn't go far enough, that we need to add two more R's: "refuse and reconsider." If we don't have the object to begin with, we don't have to reduce, reuse or recycle it. Of course, this doesn't work for all objects, but geez-it sure does for clothes. And various household items like Tupperware and bookcases. And the pretty things I see in a craft gallery that might look nice in my living room...except I like supporting artists. Hutch! Shari! Can you, my downsizing heroes, help me out here?

Back in the pretzel knot. Damn.

I do just want to say that there is no truth to the rumor that Zappos stock has plummeted since my first post on this blog. There are still plenty of good folks out there who are shopping for perfectly good reasons. I, however, will not be one of them until February 2. And who knows? Maybe my boot jones will have disappeared. Till then, I'll keep on this particular adventure. Adventure? As a character in "Orange is the New Black" says, "'Adventure' is just hardship with an inflated sense of self-importance." And this isn't really 'hardship,' is it? It's just, to paraphrase Julia Roberts in "Notting Hill", "A girl, standing in front of her closet, asking it to forgive her."