Every so often we, as humans, come across places, ideas or thoughts that astound and upset what we think we know with regard to the ways of the world. Questions that we wrestle with in the wee hours of wakefulness fueled by an inescapable uncertainty. We reach out in the dark, grasphing for answers to those things left unresolved in the light, replaying scenes and circumstances in our head like an animated gif on repeat. It might be an odd turn of phrase we heard a under a friend’s breath, a moral or ethical quandry we are facing at work, an inexplicable series of events that form a fateful chain of improbable outcomes, or more immediate and pressing, your inability to discern whether a slurring man on the street was asking for directions to the pawn shop or the porn shop. They are the experiences and encounters where our monkey-brains come up short. Where we must take pause, consider and question what we may not know, or why the fuck are my keys mising so goddamned always.
Most of the time the answers to these questions are elusive or speculative; beyond the immediately knowable and entering into the academic realm of theory and probability. We struggle as humans to ascribe our situation to our understanding, to massage our worldview into a shape that fits the wisdom of common-sense and the rigor of scientific method. I mean, my keys can only be in a set number of places, right? Do they only exist when I can physically see them? Are these Schrodinger’s keys? No. NO. We reject these mishapen mental obstacles as outliers in a predictable pattern. These great mysteries of our time which scholars, amateurs and psychics make their money predicting, modeling and sleuthing have sent countless truthseekers down the proverbial dark rabbit hole, often with little explanation and/or no results.
Such is the hole I have occupied for many months now. I have no answers. There are no ships on the horizon of logic, delivering cargos of reason or purpose. No smoking gun; just an endless landscape of grassy knolls. As of late, I have a a standing reservation at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
What’s worse is I stumbled into this black hole of doubt purely by accident. Like a witness to a murder that goes to trial, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with irrevocable consequences for my emotional and psychological well-being for years to come. I might as well have been a bumbling janitor who walks into the wrong room at CIA headquarters during a Top Secret meeting discussing the communist infiltration of our water supply. I’ve seen too much. And now I’m not sure what to think anymore.
Now that you have a glimpse as to my state of mind, let me tell you how I got here. It’s a simple story:
My wife and I were attending a stadium concert many months ago. About an hour and a half into the performance, just tip-toeing into purple-ish hours of the evening on an otherwise pleasant outdoor music experience, the two of us sat blissfully unaware of our impending doom. Our seats were about two-thirds up from the first row of a large section of fixed stadium seating. My eyes were on the stage slightly to my left, when out of that very corner came a man wading across a row further down in our section, going left to right. He was passing through the complete row as if he had started down the wrong row and decided to just steam ahead to get to the other aisle to my right. But as he finished his awkward amble across the row of upset concert-goers, I noticed something in his hand. Something…large.
Was it beer? No. He was holding it much too casually for a beer that size and undoutable heft. Maybe a souvenir or some swag? Again, no. And then an unmistakeable silhouette came into focus against the backdrop of a young twilight.
It was a fucking boot.
A solitary leather boot, embroidered and emblazoned with all the shit-kicker finery one would expect from a circa-1994 boot-scootin’, 2-steppin’ country western dance hall. Just one boot, held in the palm of this mysterious man on a mission.
He made his way across the entire section with the airs of a squire carrying a sword or lance to their knight in arms at a joust tourney, with a hurried pace in his steps and urgency in his stride. Someone needed that boot and they needed it now. Or so it seemed. But alas, as the bootman descended down the aisle and reached the end of the section, opening onto the field, he encountered resistance.
An enormous, round mass of unsculpted blob-muscle that could qualify as a dwarf planet spun off-axis into the aisleway, swinging the entiriety of its incredible gait outwards into the path. The security guard, who I shall name henceforth Ham Planet, shot out a stiffarm and a furrowed, unfriendly brow towards our intrepid bootman before bellowing something to the effect of “who goes there?” I know this because I could see his face as he questioned the man, facing the crowd and our seats further up in the stands, far enough away to read his expression, but not his lips. And though I may never piece together what words were exchanged, these things I know:
- The bootman pointed several times to the boot he was carrying, and then in the general direction of the field
- The men discussed the situation at length – maybe a minute or longer
- A second security guard, sporting ice-blue mirrored shades and whom I shall refer to as Iceman, entered the fray to provide assistance
- Wild guestures were exchanged, but in an oddly respectful manner
- Ham Planet stroked his wispy facial hair several times as if pondering the matter with prudence of King Solomon
- Iceman pulled Ham Planet to the side for a brief tête-à-tête, after which the dramatic tension seemed to dissolve
- At some length Ham Planet finally threw up his meaty arms into the air in a show of resignation, turning counter-axis away from the bootman and resuming his regular position drifting in orbit to the side of the aisleway as Iceman withdrew to the opposite side.
Channeling the spirit of Moses parting the Red Sea, the bootman sprang foward into the opening, clearly irritated by the delay imposed by cosmic forces working against him. He bound up a few steps onto the field and immediately began casting his eyes towards the human horizon of concert-goers who had assembled onto the field. He stood there perhaps taking in the enormity of the throng of people in front of him, scanning left to right and back slowly, with attention and scrutiny rivaling that of a T-800 Terminator looking for Sarah Connor.
Up until this point, I’ve been telling you what I saw with my own two eyes and from my point-of-view, and I wish I could spin the narrative camera around for a reverse shot of my face throughout this whole episode. About at the point our sole-full sojourner made it onto the field, I began noticing a dryness in my mouth. It occurred to me then that my mouth had been hanging open for several minutes, agape in disbelief and befuddlement. I blinked, almost audibly, for what may have been the first time in minutes and realized I probably was making a scene with my slack-jawed mouth- breathing. Without taking my eyes off of the bootman, I leaned in towards Nicole and asked “Are you seeing this? This guy with the boot?” No answer. I turned to look at her and saw her transfixed, blazing eyes were also riveted to something on the field. I started to ask again when her hand flew up to quiet me, while she pointed with the other hand, finger outstretched “Look! He’s moving!”
Nearly snapping my neck back to the field and the spot where our hero once stood, I panicked, thinking I had lost track of him. I frantically searched a visual radius of 50 some feet, darting my eyes over every boot-like feature and trying to mentally calculate the average footspeed of a boot-laden north-american male. The bootman might as well have been wearing a red and white striped hat and wearing a camera and glasses; he somehow immediately blended into his surrounds more effectively than Trump at a White Nationalist weenie-roast. I squinted, hard, in a dramatic attempt to screen out the inevitable concert haze of vape-clouds and people holding up their phones to record their shitty concert videos which no one will ever want to watch ever again please stop taking them and put your phone away.
And then, for a fleeting moment, the frenetic limb-flailing subsided, creating a small window to within the crowd where a boot suddenly emerged. I locked onto it with laser-beam focus and let out a quiet “I see you” under my breath. First the bootsman’s arm, and then gradually the rest of his frame emerged from the mob as he made his way in and out of the crowd, wading in at times and then coming back out. Clearly, he was looking for someone, searching through this haystack of sweaty young adults for his proverbial needle. All the while he held that boot firmly, switching hands occasionally but never held above his beltline, always parallel to his body, and always in a casual fashion, as if a fucking boot was a standard concert accessory: “Did you forget your boot, Mike?” “Aw shit, man do you have an extra?” “What are you new here? Of course, I always keep an extra solitary boot around as a backup. You never know when you might score some tickets to some fresh jam. What would I do with my hands if I didn’t have this boot around to carry?”
Gradually, the bootman wandered further afield then my eyes could follow, merging as one man with a boot into the pulsing mass of patrons, vanishing into the cosmic ether of uncertainty. My eyes circled the last point of contact for a long time as night came to the stadium, desperately searching in vain for a glimmer of that boot. But like a seaman tossed overboard admidst the endless, unknowable depths of Poseidon’s wrath, the bootsman would never return. Wherever he was going, whoever he was carrying that boot for, whatever his intentions or his final destination – all of the answers had ambled away from where I sat there in the stands, a bewildering tumbleweed of disquiet. Nicole and I had witnessed events so slight and temporal that they barely existed at all, and yet the enduring registry of questions haunted our thoughts for the rest of the evening and well beyond.
Who was the bootman? Why was he in such a hurry to deliver (?) this boot to someone? Was something in the boot? Who was he looking for? What did he say to Ham Planet and Iceman? Why oh why did he happen to pass my way and drag me down in this downward spiral of endless questions. I will never know – I …. I know that. I do. But alas I do not accept it. I can’t. Because Nicole and I are the sole custodians of this knowledge, the only witnesses to this glitch in the matrix. We are the Zapruders of the Enduring Mystery of the One-Boot Cowboy.
I wish you, gentle reader, could have seen it with my eyes and formed with me a fraternity of mutual bafflement and discomfort, if only so I wouldn’t feel so alone in this world. My hope in writing this is that, should you ever see a man carrying a single boot somewhere, you might follow that man and seek the truth that he holds. You can set me free from this prison. I’ll be here. Waiting. Searching. Until the end of my days.
On the plus side, I did find my keys.