Monday, February 4, 2008

Improg word: Boot

Be warned. If Hayley ever says to you, “I’ve got a great idea for a project. We’ll send each other slips of paper with words on them and we’ll blog about them. It’ll be so much fun. C’mon, c’mon!” be warned that she is not nice. She doesn’t pick easy words, words that, when you pull them out of the envelope, cause the ideas to just flow. Case in point: today’s word is boot.

I was tempted to pretend I hadn’t seen this word at all. I told myself that I could just slip it back into the envelope or accidentally drop it into the recycling box and pull out another one. After all, there’s no one here to see me and I know for a fact that Hayley has no recollection of which words she sent, so she wouldn’t notice if I never wrote about it. Hayley may be a mean improg partner, but I’m sneaky.

But no, I can’t do that. Part of my Year of Living Differently is keeping the promises I make to myself and following through on my own projects. So boot it is.

I’m not all that fond of shoes, much less boots. I’d go barefoot all year if I could, but since I live in a place where that might involve frostbite and amputation of my toes—or, at the very least, having soggy feet an average of 154.5 days a year—I don’t. And I wear boots in the winter because snow is not my natural element and walking in it is sometimes a challenge, although not the green-beans-up-the-nose challenge it used to be.

I was 14 when I moved to Vancouver the first time. I came from California and I’d spent my entire life in Keds, flip-flops (which were still called “thongs” then), and roller skates. The only boots I remember owning were two pairs of very shiny vinyl go-go boots—one black and one white—that I had when I was around 8. They looked oh so groovy but were a real pain because the long zippers always stuck. Plus they were hard to jump rope in, which was more important to me than looking groovy.

I don’t remember ever wearing rubber boots, although I may have (I have to admit my memories of those days are spotty). My big brother was sent to school in rubber boots on rainy days, but he changed into his regular shoes as soon as he got around the corner, so maybe my mom had given up on rubber boots by my time.

Anyway, when we moved to Vancouver, I needed boots. It doesn’t snow a lot here, but snow it does and we lived in a very steep area. When I say “very steep,” I don’t mean get-a-little-huffy-and-puffy-walking-up-a-hill steep. We lived on the side of a mountain. When my mom was younger, before the highway was put in, she could ski (downhill, not cross country) from the ski lodge right down to her parents’ back door.

We lived with my grandparents for the first few months, on the same steep road that my mom had skied down, and when I got to the top of the first hill on my first walk to school, I thought my 14-year-old lungs would burst. I really did think I was going to die. I had grown up in a town with bad bus service, so I was used to walking or skating or riding my bike wherever I had to go, but this was unbelievable. First it had rained in August—something I’d never seen before—and now I was having to climb a mountain to get to school. What next?

Well, snow of course, and the need for winter boots. Because we had very little money, I was limited to the selection at Sears. I had no idea what was considered cool in boots, but even I could tell that Sears did not have happenin’ boots. I chose the least horrible ones—fake leather with rubber heels. They were ugly but also very plain, so I hoped that they would fit in. What was I thinking? This was high school, after all, and it was the kind of place where kids got cars on their 16th birthdays and where you definitely didn’t want to be the daughter of a divorced secretary, living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.

On the first snowy day it became completely clear to me that I could never wear those boots to school again. Everyone else had Moon Boots or Daytons or whatever the latest in winter footwear was, and I had faux-leather, rubber-soled Sears specials. So I took a lesson from my brother and changed them as soon as I was safely out of sight of home, balancing on one foot at a time in the snow and stuffing the boots into my backpack until I could hide them in the back of my locker.

This worked fine until one day I had to go to my grandparents’ after school. Remember that road? Well, it’s so steep that when it snows the kids use it as an extreme toboggan run. As I took my first steps downhill that afternoon in my regular shoes, just as I passed one of the cutest guys in the school—the star basketball player, of course—I lost my footing and slid half a block on my butt. As I struggled to get up, he said something extremely witty like “It works better with a sled, you know.” Oh, the teenage mortification!

But I never did wear those boots to school again. The occasional humiliation of falling in public or of arriving at school with a snow-wet butt was a fair price to pay to avoid the embarrassment of wearing those boots.

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