A Brooklyn Almanac feature
by Joe Fodor
My new boots are old. The brand name is Red Wing and I got them on eBay for $15.
$15 dollar boots can’t be that great. And I would agree, but because I paid $15 to have them shipped to Flatbush, these are technically $30 boots. Great boots.
I got them used and from a seller in Minnesota so I can be sure these boots have seen ice and snow before. They are scuffed so much that their color is “scuff” and the original laces they came with fell effortlessly apart in lengths of leather jerky. The linings are worn, but not too much, and the former owner imprinted his foot in them, and you can feel a dip in the heel from his posture, slightly different than mine. They are rated for 2500 lbs. of compression, which is quite enough for me most days. The boots are also ridiculously heavy, and walking around in them this summer felt awkward and unnatural.
The Red Wing Company in Minnesota has been putting out solid, bulky shoes that favor the pigeon-toed consumer, like myself, since 1905. You can get Red Wing uniform shoes at Mac’s Uniform store on Flatbush Avenue, where they sell Sanitation, NYPD, FDNY and other service apparel. I would buy regular Red Wing shoes there and the Thorlo socks with the white tips that are advertised for people in uniform. From my ankles down I could be a corrections officer, or NYPD.
I am not any of those things, nor do I deserve to wear Red Wing boots, whose Twitter bio boasts “Our work footwear has been protecting hardworking folks on the job for over 100 years.” I don’t need protection when I work, as I don’t consider myself coordinated enough to be allowed around heavy machinery. My hands are soft and doughy, like tiny un-cooked pastries, and if I tried to swing a nine-pound hammer I would clobber myself with it. I am hard-working enough, but only in a way that I think it is valid to question whether the word “hardworking” requires a hyphen, because it doesn’t show up in most dictionaries. Even the American Heritage Dictionary doesn’t contain the word “hardworking,” and that’s the dictionary I swear the majority of my oaths upon.
But when I wear the Red Wing boots I am hard-working, blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth. People in New York City judge you by two things—your shoes and your haircut. When I wear these boots, the average passerby registers the hard-working, simple-but-gutsy-nature of their former owner, and some of that glory gets transferred to me.
The full power of these shoes was not revealed to me until Brooklyn was hit by 13-inches of snow. When I put these boots on and walked out into the slush and slop, it was if my feet were monsters. Their heaviness forgotten; these boots clomped through the snow with glee, as if I had never walked before in the snow and walking in snow was what I was born to do. I thought of those videos of domesticated yaks or bison who are let out for their first snowstorm and prance in delight in discovering how well adapted they are for the weather. That’s me, I thought, my inner-musk ox released.
Flatbush curbs after a snowstorm, their gutters filled with a greasy river of steel-grey slush, used to terrify me. But my new boots sluiced through that chill slop, and the steel toes kicked the ice aside. I spent time wandering up and down the neighborhood, looking for more obstacles to crush under my Red Wing boots, feeling unnatural when I hit a patch of cleared sidewalk, like a horse walking briefly on slippery tiles.
I marched up the side of a snow embankment, and stood there admiring my view from above Glenwood Avenue, when I noticed a hunched over woman carrying a red shopping bag walking towards me in the street. To my horror, as she approached, she held out her hand to help me off the snow hillock. I was flabbergasted. The message of my boots was completely lost on her, and she didn’t see a confident, snow explorer with the patina of experience glowing from his timeworn boots. All she saw was a distressed-looking middle-aged man on a pile of dirty snow who looked like he was having trouble.
“Ha, no! Do I look that elderly!” I said, embarrassing myself. Did I just insult her? I leapt down from the snowbank, a height of 20 inches, and thanked her in a “ha ha my heart is not broken” kind of way and walked quickly across the street in my Red Wing boots. I don’t deserve these boots – wearing them, for me, is stolen valor. But maybe I can learn from them – learn to be more of the person they were designed for.