Boots on the Ground

Boots on the Ground

I have maybe fifteen pairs of boots. Black, brown, tan, and about a dozen variations of those shades. I like them because they give me a sense of invincibility. They’re weighty, solid and make consequential sounds, no matter what surface they strike. The love affair started when I was in college in Poughkeepsie, New York. My school was populated by over-privileged kids who wanted to look like they were anything but. We wore army surplus coats, plaid shirts and distressed jeans. And boots; always boots. The most popular ones were Doc Martens. But as a budding Black nationalist, I wasn’t down for Docs because they looked too much like jack-boots, which I associated with Nazism.

Instead, I cobbled together my own look with anything but Docs. Cowboy boots, calf-high Frye boots that last a lifetime, and lace-up witch-boots (as I called them). It was a whole look, consistent with my artistic pretensions. My crowd—such as it was—was comprised of a similar tribe. We were sarcastic, and spoke to each other more with significant looks than with words. We were introverted, and thought too much; and thought too much of ourselves. We wore black almost every day, we smoked clove cigarettes, some of us did so-called “party drugs” like E and Special K, and most of us spent our weekends doing lots of weed. I mean, lots of weed.

A guy I knew, who wasn’t a close friend but in the second concentric circle of people I hung with, had a full-fledged marijuana farm in his dorm room, complete with sun lamps, humidifiers and dryers. I think he supplied the entire campus. His last name was Wolf, and he looked like one, so that’s what we called him. He had dark, shoulder-length wavy, tousled hair, dark eyebrows and an unnervingly penetrating stare. He was the kind of guy who was so beautiful, you’d have no trouble believing that he could get away with anything. And for a long time he did.

Someone snitched on him during senior year, and his pot operation was exposed to the college administration. But instead of expelling him, or even turning over to the police what was clearly a major drug operation, all they did was strongly suggest he find accommodations off-campus. And so he did, but he remained a full-time student in otherwise good standing, and even graduated on time with us, the rest of his class. And maybe my overactive imagination is making this part up, but I think I even recall that Wolf graduated with honors.

Somehow in my mind, what happened to (or rather what did not happen) to Wolf became symbolic of those days, those boot days. Rain or shine, spring, summer, fall or winter, I wore boots and I felt like I would live forever and my friends would live forever, and we would do big and amazing things. Bad things wouldn’t happen. Not to us. Just like nothing bad had happened to Wolf when his drug-dealing was discovered.

We would clomp through our world, making consequential, substantial sounds wherever we went, and we would leave a big mark. Wolf is a professional photographer now, and captures stark images which he displays on a blog site full of cryptic posts that lead me to believe he is still regularly smoking. Another friend, this one much closer, is an art dealer in New York City. Yet another is a yoga teacher.

Among us, I am the only one with a more conventional career in the law. I love my work. But I am aware of how the mark I leave is smaller, and more incremental. Ripples, rather than waves. And I no longer wear boots every day.


  1. Great post, Nia! I was always one of those people walking around in either my Doc Martens or my Converses. I usually had a baggy sweater on with shorts + leggings. Or jeans. And I was usually daydreaming and had no clue what was going on around me. Or…I was on my own hanging out in the library, dreaming of the day I was out of college and a proper writer. 😉 I should have had some boots to make me feel invincible. It probably would have helped me get through some of the shitty years I went through.

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