Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Footwear, stories

I am hoping to throw away a pair of boots tomorrow.

They are sitting in the playroom under a chair; neither toe nor heel sit evenly on the ground, and what was a rich cordovan leather is now murky with filth and dust or, at the toe, worn beige. I know the insoles are gone, and if you inspected the toes, I suspect you'd find mice pellets and fluff. I haven't worn them for years, and still the boots span some of the biggest happenings of my adult life: "Testing" products for a national magazine; hiking with my now-wife in New Mexico, the red cliffs of Sedona, around the Grand Canyon. Walking with her another time up a steep pitch in Vermont and being surprised and delighted when she threw off her clothes and plunged into a mountain pond, truly, that wasn't very remote at all. Leftover guacamole after. One misty day slogging through quarry gravel to get to a beavery slick of a pond and hearing from the man going the other way that a moose had "just" swam by. These boots have done things; they have stories.


I think about stories a lot these days because I am trying to capture some of my life here and elsewhere and I find that I am not very good with stories. Jokes, yes. Observations, sure. Laments, complaints, odes -- fine. But beginnings, middles and ends, with me as the star, are hard to come by. I'm maybe not the guy you want at your campfire.


I read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy when I was first sick during a week that shimmered around the edges with fever. I read the triology as quickly as I could, until an episode near the climax of the final book ripped me open. The book's protagonist ventures into the world of the dead to free a friend and finds it a gigantic sham; there is no endless reward or baroque torment, just hopeless stasis where harpies torture wispy ghosts by droning miserable recitations of their dead victims' mistakes and miseries. Then it emerges that the harpies will escort the dead out of stasis and toward resolution -- for a price. A true story of real life. The message, one of them, is that we all have stories, and that that they are central. They may be the only thing that can save us. And I cried and cried when I read because I had no idea what my story was, and an uncertain amount of time to find it. Forget "the" story of my life: I couldn't even summon a story. 


The boots: When they were barely scuffed, I wore them to a photo shoot in hills above Malibu for a magazine I was working for. The two models were playing a couple who were having a very fun trip with a suspicious amount of stuff. I buzzed around and fetched things and gossiped as the photographer and stylist and assistant did their work. The male model, a decathlete, was an ass. The woman, who was just a hair shorter than I was and played the violin, was not. She was lovely, of course, but not intimidatingly so and fun to talk with. She was a model, but not a model; no dreams of stardom here, just an occasional few extra bucks for college. I stayed a couple of hours and found out later that she asked about me. More than once. She had told another editor that I was kind and funny, and hearing that, swelling with that praise, made me love her a little, or rather the idea of her, or rather the idea of her and me.

I never saw her again. (I told you, I don't know that kind of story.) But the flattery and feeling of possibility left in the wake of those few hours in the woods wearing those stiff boots is enough make me redden now, worlds and time later. And part of me thinks -- this can't be one of my stories, it's embarrassing and nothing happened. But it is.

The boots are going in the morning. The story stays.


Elise said...

You're wrong, you are the guy I want around my campfire. And these are stories, and they are adding up to something. Something I've missed, hearing your voice, going on about any damn thing. —ewh

SG said...

Hey! You're here! Thanks. I'll take foil packet and joke duties around the campfire, and leave the storytelling to you or your spouse....