I had a major condo flood back in February. I guess this is just another example of my expectations meeting reality, but I had figured that all the repair work would be done in a week and my home life (which is also my work life, as both my husband and I work from home) would be back to normal.
NOT SO. I’m still trying to settle on paint colors, which is fine because the insurance business and the contractor estimate really only got settled a little more than a week ago. At any rate, yay, our bedroom carpet is getting torn out, but boo, we are now faced with emptying that room of everything except the actual heavy furniture. It is like moving, only without a moving truck or a new place to put things in. It sucks.
I have made some archeological discoveries, though. For example, under my bed there was a large purple plastic box that I moved from my last apartment nine years ago, and I don’t think I’d even opened it THEN in a very long time. It contains a bizarre assortment of stuff, like a really short-lived time capsule. There are some old mix tapes (one of which perfectly captured the late-90s swing revival, oh my god so embarrassing) and some audiobooks of Shakespeare (including Kenneth Branagh reading Hamlet!), a “DANGER! DO NOT ENTER” sign personalized with the names of me and my college roommate that once hung on our dorm room door, and also a bunch of Lomography cameras.
If you don’t remember Lomography, it enjoyed a bit of hipster trendiness in the early 00s, and as a photographic philosophy basically translated to “taking unfocused unframed spontaneous images on actual film cameras that are made of plastic and super light-leaky.” (My original description was going to be “overpaying for purposely cheap plastic cameras to take intentionally shitty pictures with” but I decided that wasn’t very diplomatic.) It was like art, if art was an accident. It’s probably not a coincidence that Lomo enjoyed a surge of popular attention right around the time that digital cameras were becoming more accessible to everyone.
I remember buying these cameras because I was feeling old and sad that I never pursued the career in filmmaking I had dreamed of, and because I thought maybe this would give me a bit of that experience back. I also did so with the idea of becoming a cool person with walls covered entirely in artsy analog photographs documenting my super-hip life. That never happened. In fact, two of the cameras have half-exposed rolls of film in them still, and I have no idea what is on there. I would have the film developed to find out, but there we run into the main reason I never really excelled at Lomography in the first place: who wants to take film to get DEVELOPED anymore? Are we freaking DINOSAURS?
I also found my high school eyeglasses.
These were my first-ever pair of glasses, procured when I realized I was squinting painfully hard to see the board at the front of my geometry classroom from my seat in the back. Glasses were preferable to having my desk changed; even to this day I despise math. The glasses are plastic, owlish, a weird swirly purple, and HUGE. They were chosen at the optometrist’s office, although not by me, exactly.
The optometrist -- a pale freckled man with brilliant red hair who looked like Archie Andrews approaching late middle age -- was stumped by the apparently freakish size of my head, and kept handing me horrifying men’s frames, most of them aviator styles that at the time were only seen on dudes over 70 wandering around my Florida hometown in black socks and sandals. If I had been marginally cooler in 1992, I might have pulled them off, but I was 15 and didn’t want to challenge popular styles just yet, so I recoiled in terror as the reject pile mounted.
Weren’t there any women’s glasses I could try on? I kept drifting back over to the ladies’ side of the glasses display every time Dr. Archie turned his back, surreptitiously shoving frame after too-small frame onto my expansive face, my anxiety growing with every failure.
Finally he seemed to understand the dismal odds of my ever accepting a pair of men’s eyeglasses, and then he produced the swirly purple pair, clearly a holdout from the recently-departed 1980s. They were purple! That was like, feminine, right? thought the girl who struggled to do the lady things that seemed to come so naturally to all her trendily-dressed, bemakeupped and sturdily-coiffed friends.
I’m not sure why I kept these glasses; I’ve had literally dozens of pairs since and have not felt especially connected to any of them. I was a strange kid who really wanted glasses for a long time before I needed them. I never went so far as to buy fake clear-lens glasses from Claire’s and wear them as a fashion accessory. That seemed weird. (That said, I did sometimes wear sunglasses and pretend they were actual glasses, because it seemed less weird somehow. Like I said, I was a strange kid.)
But then when I needed the glasses, and became used to them, I found the whole thing incredibly annoying and a year later I got contacts instead. And then many years after that I realized I was actually the worst person in the world at cleaning my contacts properly (or even just taking them out to sleep, which I forgot to do at least 80% of the time) and went back to glasses on a permanent basis. But I never loved my purple glasses. Maybe I kept them because of all these memories.
This is probably the same reason why I still have a pair of kelly green steel-toed Dr. Martens boots even though I probably haven’t worn them in at least fifteen years.
These were not my first pair of Dr. Martens. I still have those, in the closet of my childhood bedroom in my father’s house in Florida. I bought those first Docs, 10-eyelet black steel-toed boots, on extreme clearance markdown at The Wild Pair in the mall near my mom’s condo, where I spent two weekends a month, driving the 90-something miles between my dad’s house and my mom's place in my Jeep Cherokee with a near-solid wall of band stickers on the back window and dozens of cassette tapes strewn all over the floor.
I was sixteen and had spent years pining over the Docs I saw in the pages of Sassy magazine, as intoxicated by their total anti-fashion DGAF-ness as I was nauseated by the impossibility of spending over ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS on a single pair of shoes -- I think I paid $20 for that first pair.
On a sacred out-of-uniform day at my Catholic high school, when we were supposed to dress up for National Merit Semifinalist pictures for the yearbook, I wore those first boots with a crinkled floral dress that buttoned up the front. The vice principal looked at my shoes, literally hid me in the back of the group portrait, and then sent me home for dress code violation. He was so angry. I’ll never forget how angry he was about my boots. It was like a personal affront to him. This is not what young ladies wear. He actually updated the dress code to specifically include Dr. Martens boots after that. Because of me.
The boots pictured above weren’t my second pair of Dr. Martens either. My second pair were straightforward brown oxfords; they looked just normal enough to get away with wearing with my high school uniform and the ridiculously overpriced E.G. Smith slouch socks we all wore then. Of course, within a year everybody was wearing Docs and that part of the dress code just evaporated. I should have taken it as a point of pride that I was ahead of the curve; however, as is the way of teenagers, instead I was angry that they were getting away with it and ruining my "rebellion" by making it socially acceptable. Kids.
The green boots weren’t my third pair, either. Those I bought upon my arrival in Boston for college -- and by this I mean I bought them within two hours of arriving in the city and shoving my boxes of carefully-curated belongings from home into my dorm room. But only after hanging up my massive five-foot-tall Trent Reznor poster, of course.
I realize we are already up to a number of Dr. Martens boots that far outstrips whatever a normal person would have, but they were always more than just boots to me; they were a symbol.
It was something like 1997. I was home in Florida for the summer, and drove to see one of my high school best friends in Atlanta. I’d never been to Atlanta. We went to Little Five Points. We went to a store called Junkman’s Daughter, which is still there, and when I looked up pictures to verify it was the right place just now, seeing how much it looks the same made me literally dizzy with nostalgia.
Having bought my boots, naturally I wanted to wear them out that night -- we had plans to go to an 80s night at an Atlanta nightclub called Masquerade, which in my memory looks like a towering gothic castle sketched in dramatic strokes like a comic book, but which was probably just a boring regular building (aren’t memories fascinating like that?). Unfortunately the new boots were of unconscionably stiff leather -- today’s Docs are wearable fresh out of the box, but at the time, buying new boots meant signing on for a few weeks of bruised and bleeding feet and ankles to break them in. I had chronic deep scars on my ankles for years as a result of new-boots break-ins, and was prepared to suffer to soften up my new green Docs as well.
Except the 80s night we went to was actually a foam party. (Does anyone remember foam parties?) Which meant I was standing in soapy liquid for several hours. Once the boots finally dried days later, they were impossibly soft and perfectly broken in and my most comfortable pair of shoes ever. I wore them every day for I don't know how long.
I saw Fleetwood Mac live late last year, and right before “Gypsy,” Stevie Nicks told a story of herself, pre-fame, going to a famous store called The Velvet Underground in San Francisco. Evidently this was just before Fleetwood Mac blew up, and she’d saved some money to go buy some clothes at this place where Janis Joplin shopped, but when she got there, she realized she couldn’t afford anything, and so she just stood there imagining what it would be like to be the kind of person who could buy these clothes and be that kind of famous. And then shortly thereafter, that is exactly what happened. The image of a tiny too-poor-to-buy-even-a-single-shawl Stevie Nicks was pretty mesmerizing.
For whatever reason, I drew a connection between Dr Martens and my personal success in a similar way. I had struggled with terrible body image for so long, the idea of wearing clothes (or in this case, boots) that were consciously attention-grabbing and badass felt like a massive victory, like I was finally breaking out of the self-loathing that had held me back far more than my actual body ever did. Yes, there are better (and less prohibitively expensive) ways of exploring this, but this was the path I chose, even when it meant subsisting on ramen and Kraft mac and cheese for weeks so I could afford my next pair of boots. This was the era in which I really began to embrace style as rebellion. It meant something.
I haven’t worn these particular green boots in many years, and don’t plan to, as the soles are kind of stiff now, and they are scuffed to hell and back besides. Digging through this stuff, I kept thinking I should just throw it all away, because what does it matter, and I am not using it, and what do I need it for? Yet I still find myself putting it all back in the purple box and making a note to return it to its place under the bed once all the work is done. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s worth it to trigger memories I might otherwise have forgotten.
I will probably get rid of those ridiculous cameras, though.