These Boots are no Longer Made for Walking

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat." Rudyard Kipling

middle life crisis

I’m a city girl, as in The City, The Big Apple, New York City. He’s a western, small-town-kind-of-guy. I’m a Gucci-kind-of-girl. He’s always been a cowboy- boot-wearing-guy. And I don’t mean the fancy, handcrafted, custom-made, snakeskin, gold-and-silver encrusted Tony Lama or Lucchese kind of cowboy boots. I mean unadorned, work boots. “Shit-kickers,” as my father so eloquently – and accurately – described them.

Yet, East did meet West; the earth did move, and we became engaged.  Set to marry in my second hometown, Las Vegas, a locale more like NYC than the Wild West, we met with the rabbi at my brother’s home, where the ceremony would be held. 

“Rabbi, please tell Jon he cannot wear Nocona ‘Let’s Rodeo’ cowboy boots with a tuxedo,” I said to the rabbi.

“We can’t? said my brother, mid-stride, as he passed in the hall.

“We can’t? echoed the rabbi.

And so it was ordained. The three wore cowboy boots at the wedding. Oh, well. I admit Jon did a helluva fine job when it came time to smash the wine goblet, commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago.

Now, please do not get me wrong. My husband is not a country bumpkin. He is an accomplished and internationally-recognized leader in the field of energy efficiency and renewables. He has twice held presidential appointments, twice been confirmed by the US Senate, and has influenced energy policy across the globe. He is, as my grandmother would have said, a “big deal.” Yet, through it all, pin-stripe suits, silk ties, toney briefcases and all, he has worn those same boots –boots that have been mentioned in newspaper articles and even been the subject of a tweet! 

Jon’s got cowboy boots in brown and black, but he mostly wears the brown ones.  In fact, he mostly wears the brown ones. And by “ones” I mean the same one pair. He’s had them longer than we’ve been married (almost 30 years). He’s had them re-soled countless times and polished hundreds of times in airports on at least three continents.

Until one month ago …

Then the left boot leather, worn out at long last, split open across the front. Jon cried out in such sharp pain that I thought he had hurt himself. I ran into the bedroom and he held up the boot for me to behold. Even I was sad. Jon had to go to work and so, he reluctantly put on another pair of boots. I promised to take the maimed brown boot to the repair shop that very morning, but we both knew the outcome. There would be no salvation for the shit kickers.

As promised, I lugged the weighty maimed lefty to the shoe shop. The guy looked at me, “Really?” he said. “I’m a repairman. Not a miracle man.”

I thought of getting a quote for bronzing the browns for Jon but figured it would cost a fortune, weigh a ton and in the end, I’d be the one stuck dusting them.

“Do you want me to toss them for you, lady?”

I almost said yes, but thought that Jon would likely want to conduct some sort of private memorial ceremony for his bestie boots. So, I lugged them back home and put them discretely in the corner of the garage, delicately covering them up in a makeshift shroud (you know, an old, stained towel).

Sure enough, quicker than you can say “Hi, honey, how was your day?” Jon asked for a “sitrep” on the boot’s condition. What could I say? I just put my hand on his shoulder and kissed him gently on the cheek. It felt like a scene from a TV show when the ER doc comes out to tell the family that their loved one has just died.

Jon reclaimed the boots from the garage, lovingly (and to my mind, excessively) caressed them in farewell and then handed them to me.

“Please throw them out for me. I can’t do it,” he whispered.

I half thought he’d sneak out of the house during the night and retrieve them. I half thought he’d chase after the garbage men the next morning, entreating them to return his beloved boot buddies.

For the next few days, he wore another pair of brown boots that had resided in the closet for so many years that I had indeed regularly dusted them.  Jon went around with a pained expression which I mistook as a cowboy equivalent of shiva for gentiles. Then, I noticed Jon was limping. He was in pain alright, but it was physical, not mental. The new boots hurt. I went back to the repair shop to see Bob – we were now on a first name basis. Bob stretched the boots. Jon wore the boots and proclaimed they were better. Better, but not the same.

The next thing I knew Jon had torn an ad from the newspaper for Samuel Hubbard shoes, which the company touts as “Remarkably light. Ridiculously comfortable. Crafted from the finest leathers and materials from all over the world for you to move, walk, work, live and play.” That may be so, but I’d describe them as fancy-looking sneaker-y shoes for older guys with beaucoup discretionary income.

Jon bought a pair and now he’s wearing them everywhere. We live in Berkeley where casual style rules supreme, so he’s OK for now. I just worry that these shoes doom him from every securing a presidential appointment again. They look more ready for the country club and retirement than Capitol Hill.

I’m glad he’s comfortable, but I confess. I’m a bit sad. This feels like a real rite of passage and not a welcome one at that. My youthful cowboy is gone at least from a sartorial standpoint.

Oh, well, he’s got bunions. What the heck. I can’t eat raw onions anymore. Maybe that’s what happens when middle-aged East meets West. Love and understanding. Bunions meet onions.

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