SOMEONE ELSES SHOES
Every five or six years, I lose the weight that I’ve gained in the past two or three, and can again fit my feet into my cowboy boots. As a walking billboard to regained will power, I can once again strut on tall flat leather heals sprouting my cooler than cool worn leather uppers.This is how it’s always been and I had no reason to doubt it would always be.
A turkey gets fed with love for 364 days a year of its life and has no reason to believe that the next day would be any different.
Yesterday, I slid on my worn brown leather boots. So soft, so cool. I fit into some narrow jeans that had boot cuffs and off I went on a trek of walking slow y’all. In cowboy boots everything moves at more of a Clint Eastwood kind of drawl. The problem this time was that I’ve been wearing flip-flops on my pudgy hobbit feet so often these days that the weighted leather prison I just slipped my paws into, didn’t seem to fit.
They fit my feet fine, but not my pace, not the way I see myself anymore. Clippity clopping down the pavement in my cool heel toe shuffle felt like someone else of long ago that I had left behind. It was an uncomfortable day that I marched forward into anyway.
I had gone to a place called Ibor City, supposedly the hot spot of Tampa. Maybe it is at night, like the bar rows of New Orleans but midday on a Saturday in loud heavy boots offered a bit of a different view. I parked the car in a lot behind the now closed bars and there was a street market in progress behind the main drag. Me, the camera and my damn heavy, loud, hot, leather boots walked over to take a look.
Unlike the puppy parades of Main Street Sarasota, this park market was a little funkier. Think, large girls pulling around little dogs who didn’t want to walk.
Think, odd vendors who made fascinating but ugly standing and dead animals, out of pots, pans, metal utensils, mufflers, gears and garden pots.
Think mothers who dress up their daughters in polka dot rain boots when there’s not a cloud in site.
But with all weirdness comes the magical conversations; if one is brave enough to engage. Sometimes in the unspoken language between folks, they come together in common recognition and continue the conversation that they’ve never had before. I approached this man’s booth because he was displaying these beautiful drawings of 50s cars and women’s faces with feathers wrapped around the eyes.
“Who did these?” I asked. He went on to explain, in a thick Cuban accent, that his son, who is still in Cuba, has done these since he was very young. He finds beautiful pictures of women in magazines, then he draws their beautiful faces in pencil and then he adds feathers around their eyes and various swirls around the rest of their face. I resisted the urge to imagine myself talking to Tony Montana.
Occasionally his son draws an old Chevy parked on the street. Apparently, they still drive those cars from the 50s in Cuba. The father was so proud of his son that he had produced color copies of the drawings, put them in plastic sleeves and was attempting to sell them at this market. A fathers pride, so strong, that it could make you cry. He let me photography him next to some of his son’s drawings.
I left the market and tried to head down to the famous streets of Ibor City. I passed this romantic couple taking a break from their day. I just took the shot for no good reason as they seemed to just be sitting there posing.
A little further down the street , a left and a right, I reached the main drag. I couldn’t help but focus on the lack of activity on a Saturday at noon. My back was starting to hurt from the hard heel pounding of those damn heavy boots. My big toe was starting to sting from the constant sliding into that pointy tip.
I walked and looked at everything but was unable to see anything. Just then, another sense kicked in. The beautiful smell of horse shit entered my nostrils. Ahhhh… the days of trekking through Manhattan near Central Park. Horse drawn carriages and romantic pulls through the city like in a fairy tale. I thought it marvelously quaint that Ibor must have that too.
I opened my eyes after smelling my little dream and looked around for the horse or the carriage at least…or even a place that would house such romance. I saw nothing to my right, scanned ahead of me, nothing, to my left, nothing then back around to where I just passed and saw this bum sleeping in a wheel chair. That’s where this smell was coming from.
I got a little closer to him and all his worldly possessions as they took a snooze in their own feces. The contents of his life contained in a bowling ball bag, covered in a hoodie with shades. Compassion filled me as another homeless story was presented.
The more overwhelming thought was how the sweet fragrance of his odor brought such romantic memories to mind until I was able to identify its source. I smell shit and think romantic blanket covered, evening carriage rides through Central Park during a Christmas snow fall… someone else might smell shit and look for shit.
Lots of bars later, lots of restaurants after that… and even a movie theater, I strolled some more. Stinging toes, aching heels and back, feeling foolish in shoes that no longer fit who I was, how I walked or where I lived. That’s when I came upon a woman and child if not a mother and her daughter.
The homeless in Florida are very industrious at times. They make these little flower things from swamp reeds. They sit on corners and weave these knot flowers and kindly offer them for sale like craftsmen at a show or market. But they are not. The flowers aren’t pretty and the artists are low and sad.
For me, this shot wasn’t about the odd-shaped mother in her magenta shorts or the way they set up shop against the backdrop of the metal gated store front. For me it was about the weird expression on the child’s face as they both seemed to nourish themselves from those little plastic bowls of Cheerios.
I couldn’t quite explain what I saw. Thankfully she turned toward me and I got her to give me her best weird look. Something in her eyes… I dunno. I felt like I was transported to some dark gritty scene in a movie with Mickey Rourke as he stumbled throughout Louisiana looking for someone else who turned out to be his own lost identity.
Further down the street was shop after shop of people hand rolling cigars. I guess that’s what Ibor City has always been most well-known for are all the shops filled with Cuban immigrants who would roll cigars. Sometimes a Cigar really is just a cigar.
By the port of Tampa and this village of bars and cigars, one can’t help but think of a time when pirate ships would dock and swashbuckling antics would ensue. At another time and another place I used to know some ladies who fancied themselves as pirate women.
They drank and fought and bore their breasts proudly and were just too wild for chubby obedient Long Island Jewish men in heavy boots that just didn’t fit anymore. When they would carouse and do shots and stumble and wrestle I would always just see them as celebrity pirates coming into town for shore leave. Someone else would just see disgusting drunk bitches at battle.
Further down the road was a Greek Restaurant packed with people waiting for Saganaki. Wednesday night is Lamb night for me and I always keep an eye out for a good place to serve me braised lamb shanks. So Greek places always get some special note in my mind. On this day I got lucky enough to have camera in hand as I walked by a plate that was just about to be lit.
To me it reminded me of New York again… the romance of 8th Ave. and the special feeling of entering a restaurant that hasn’t changed in 80 years. Passed down from generation to generation, perfect recipes made special for world travelers. To someone else, it looked like someone lit a McDonald’s fish fillet on fire and yelled Oprah’s name.
They’re shouting “Opa!” not Oprah… and it’s a celebration cry or another word for “Cheers!” as they flambee’ goats milk cheese at your table and then extinguish it with lemon juice. It’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted even though the ritual of torching it before it’s consumed is a little unusual.
I waited for the flame to go out and walked back to my car eager to get off smooshed aching feet. It’s a life long story of wanting to be like everyone else but consummately being unable. I’ll have to just accept that I can’t wear those boots anymore as well as remember that where I see celebration, someone else will just see their food on fire.