Smoke Jumper Boots
Robert P. Kaye
Mrs. Lemsky’s GED Prep
Assignment #7: Write a paragraph about an object or possession that changed your life.
WHEN I WAS sixteen I went to a workingman’s shoe store to buy some manhood. I cut thru displays for cops, firefighters and hospital workers to the Outdoor Work Section featuring steel-toes, metal shanks and Vibram souls. A poster on the cinder block wall featured a bearded axe-toting guy in watch cap and plaid jacket, one boot up on a log with the slogan Tools for Your Feet made out of letters drawn to look like branches. Let’s measure those dogs, Cindy the sales lady said—the pin on her nametag wore big holes in the fabric of her polyester blouse. She had to be my mother’s age, with fire engine red lipstick, reeking of tobacco, but I couldn’t avoid getting a semi as she placed the cold metal foot rule against the bottom of my sock, giving me a view down the canyon of her cleavage. These babies will last forever, she said, lacing the boots so snug they felt like part of me. These are the ones smoke jumpers use, she said. When I got home my Mom said, Are you kidding me? You look like a lumberjack. Good, I said. That’s what I’m shooting for. My parents both had degrees having nothing to do with the professions they detested, but they still expected me to take a flying leap at college. Where’s my change then? Mom said. I forked over the small wad of bills, aware the boots cost double what JC Penney’s charged for sneakers. They’re smoke jumper boots, I said. Then they’re going to have to last until you’re done with high school, she said. I started ditching class to stand in back of the gym, learning how to smoke and bragging about how wasted I’d been at parties I hadn’t even been to. When the Assistant Principal materialized from behind the bleachers to bust our chops, the toughest guys didn’t run, so I stood my ground. Nice boots, the AssPal said, tapping my steel toe with his tasseled loafer. I saw the other guys smirk. Fuck off, I said as I kicked him in the shin. My parents thru me out not long after and I wrangled a job as day labor on a bunch of warehouses building concrete forms and ripping them out after the mud pour, hunched over 90 lb jackhammers in the summer heat, that kinda deal. A nail migrated up from the built up heel of my right boot and wore a divot into me, but I figured I’d get used to it same way as I’d learned to drive hungover to a jobsite before dawn. I mashed the nail down with a hammer and chisel, but never got it flat. After a while, the boots needed re-souling.You pick them up Thursday, the repair guy said.How much for a rush job? I said. The money for new souls was coming out of my drinking, so I failed to mention the nail, figuring those damn boots couldn’t last forever and maybe also that I deserved the pain. I could have found used boots at Goodwill, but that pair provided something to blame when my knee locked up. Work became a non-starter because I refused to shed tears on a job site unless I was already drunk. Limited mobility and sobriety didn’t prevent me from trying my hand at burglary. I committed to this GED thing as part of the plea bargain. When I got this assignment, no question I’d write about the damned boots. I incinerated those bitches in a fire pit at the beach, standing there in a pair of Adidas from Value Village. All of witch is how I came to live in my parent’s basement and work in the shoe store. Smoke jumper boots my ass.
Robert P. Kaye’s stories have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Per Contra, Used Furniture Review, Jersey Devil Press and elsewhere. Links appear at www.RobertPKaye.com together with the Litwrack Blog, about the shipwreck of literature and technology. He currently enjoys throwing knives while drinking gin and tonic with lime and a dash of bitters.