Friday, July 09, 2010

22, La Bota

I bought a pair of black "engineer" boots once, a little more urbanly masculine and a lot less sleek and gentlemanly than the ones shown above, many long years ago. I thought they would look hot. They were the most uncomfortable fucking things I have ever worn in my life. I didn't feel like an engineer, or a biker, or any kind of stud. My life as a gay leatherman was immediately cut short. Blisters are not sexy.

I've done female drag a handful of times. The first time was probably Halloween, 1981. My friend Steve took me to the Village to the Halloween parade: in a sort of sparkly bluish-silver shift I looked like a seriously frumpy housewife out on the town for the first time in twenty years. Yes, that's me in several photo albums of Japanese businessmen who were visiting at the time. Hi Mrs. Businessman! No, your husband only took a photo of me. But those equivalent-to-men's-size-12 heels...I was hobbling in minutes, neither beautifully nor glamourously. My life as a drag queen was cut short: when I tried it again at an office party in this century I wore sensible flats.

I don't really understand the urge to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on shoes. I like shoes, I mean who doesn't. Set me loose in Century 21 and if they fit I can happily leave with two or three boxes under my arm. But that Sex and the City nonsense, the decadently expensive Manolo Blahniks and all, hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a few ounces of dyed leather cut in bizarre shapes. Redonkulous. I guess I'm glad I'm a boy. Or maybe the relatively expensive engineer boots were a lesson. I did see a Manolo Blahnik shoebox artfully arranged for maximum label exposure in a clear plastic garbage bag in the Village a couple weeks ago and briefly fantasized about taking it home. Still not sure what I would have put in it. My cat's old, male, and not likely need a place to drop a litter of kittens.

I learned to tie shoes like most people when I was a kid. I had a lot of Keds, and Converse. I think I only once had a pair of Golden Goose shoes, the ones that came with a toy in a plastic egg; Captain Kangaroo assured me I wanted those. It was a pretty good marketing gimmick. This was when sneakers were made of just canvas and rubber, smelling a little bit like a new car when you bought them. There were no fancy lines, and you pretty much had a choice of red, white, blue or black. Thing is, as an adult I seem to do a terrible job of tying shoes. They always come undone. Is it modern laces? Or did my training lack commitment? It's one of the reasons I've taken to wearing, weather and pride permitting, the world's ugliest shoes, Crocs. Like walking on ugly little plastic clouds. With no laces.

In Santeria it's very important not to wear shoes on the sacred straw mats you use in building shrines, altars and ceremonial thrones. The mat symbolizes the earth itself in an extraordinarily sacred way, and trodding upon it in shoes is like flinging shit on a Bible: it's breaching the sacred symbolism by walking mundanity all over it. Also, if you're not initiated into Santeria and you set foot on the sacred mats of a throne, with or without shoes? You better save your money cause it's commitment and you're gonna need it because that means the Orishas want you to join them on the mat and get initiated. Interestingly enough, some Santeros receive a letter in their lifetime Ita, or sacred divination upon initiation, that they should never go outside barefoot. Thank God, literally, I didn't get that letter.

The truth is I would rather be barefoot than anything else. In winter I hate that my house is cold and drafty and I have to wear slippers, because all summer long I'm flinging off shoes and socks the minute I arrive home and putting them on again at the last minute before I have to go back out to work. I like the feel of warm wood, or cool tile, or soft grass -- less hot sand -- or soft worn carpet, or wet sidewalk after a rain, or sacred straw mats under my feet. My favorite moment of the year is when my Brooklyn block turns on the fire hydrants twice a summer in the morning before a block party so that we can all wet down our stoops. I stand in the once-hot gutter by the curb feeling the cold cold water rush over my bare feet. At those moments I never want to wear shoes again. It's the urban earth beneath my sometimes achy and gnarly tired feet blessed by the lifeblood of the city and I feel hot and glamourous and alive and sacred and clean until my feet are as cold as though I was wading in snow.

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