I threw away my old Doc Martens combat boots after 27 years of ownership. As I pitched them into the trash and they clunked towards the bottom of the can, they yelled, “Do they have a steel toooooooooooooooe?!” on their way down, because after so many years of excellent service, this was unfortunately the memory I associated most with them. Because teenage boys.
Oh! Do tell, Myrtle!
I remember the day I got my Doc Martens in 1992. Grunge was now all the rage, and no teenage grunge queen was complete without a pair of Doc Martens to go with her sundress, tights, and flannel shirt. They were all I wanted in life that year, and I begged my mother to buy them for me.
Things had finally started to turn around in our household, our roof had been fixed up after Hurricane Andrew (thanks to insurance) and Mom had landed a better-paying job. Plus, it was just me and her left in the house since my sisters had both moved out. We were no longer destitute and there was even a little left over for spending.
I told her I needed a new pair of shoes, so we hit the mall. Just a few years before, besides my yearly pair of $15 sneakers from Fayva the discount shoe store, my two sisters and I shared a single pair of black flats that we fought over mercilessly.
Three teenage girls, one pair of dress shoes, you can imagine the carnage. You could make ten full wigs out of the amount of hair we pulled out of each other’s heads over those black flats.
As Mom and I stood in the shoe store, she flipped the Doc Martens boot over to see the price tag and said, “Ha! $120?!! Not in your wildest dreams, kid!”
She started to walk away, so I had to jump on her to present my proposition.
“Okay, okay, I know this seems nuts, but just listen to me! If you buy me these boots, I promise I will wear them every single day for the rest of high school. For two years!”
She said, “You have almost another two years of high school, and you’re telling me, you’re promising me, that you will wear these stupid, ugly things every day? EVERY day?”
I nodded my head like a maniac, “Yes! I promise! Every single day!”
The next day, I swaggered into school in my black sundress, red plaid tights, and my brand-new Doc Martens. I felt like the coolest mofo on the planet – until the first teenage boy saw me.
“Nice Docs,” he said, pursing his lips and folding his arms. “I bet you got them at the mall. Do they have a steel toe?”
(Like he got his Doc Martens trying to fight the Krauts back from the border of Poland in World War II.)
I looked down and said, “No? Why would I need a steel toe?”
He laughed, “Heh. Well, mine have a steel toe, so…”
Soooooo…what? What the hell did I care if his OR my Doc Martens had a steel toe?
“I’m just saying only poseurs wear Docs that don’t have a steel toe.”
He walked away, still laughing.
I had never spoken to this guy in my life, and we didn’t even know each other’s names – but he felt compelled to walk up and insult me.
Were we doing construction work there in the 11th grade, where steel-toed boots would be the only thing standing between me and a pile of broken toes?
As it would turn out, in the two years that I wore my Doc Martens to school EVERY DAY JUST LIKE I’D PROMISED, this was an unsolicited question I was asked by teenage boys on a weekly basis. I got so tired of having the steel toe conversation, I considered just writing, “No Steel Toe” across the top of one boot in white-out and “Poseur” on top of the other to save myself the time and aggravation.
It’s so funny, too, looking back on the whole thing and realizing what stupid ass hats those guys were. My shoes bothered them so much that they felt the need to barge up to me, a stranger, to interrogate me about them and then try to make me feel like they were better than me?
I don’t think I’m better than anyone except Melissa’s mom, and everybody knows that.
They acted like they had somehow “earned” their combat boots as teenage boys and I was merely trying to game their system. Like they were wearing them for actual combat when I was just wearing them for fashion, even though it was the 90s and we were all just wearing them for fashion.
And what are we even talking about here? Did they think I wasn’t cool enough to be into grunge? Is there even such a thing as a person who isn’t cool enough to be into grunge?
I present this photograph of Jeff Ament and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, as Exhibits A through Z in my case:
If you’re reading this and realize you were one of these steel-toe jerks back in the day, I want to impress upon you how obnoxious I thought you were then, and still think you are today.
I hope your closet is filled with nothing but ill-fitting, moose-knuckle khakis, GREG.
I hope you have a neverending hangnail that catches on your pants every time you put your hand in your pocket, JASON.
I hope it burns just a little every time you stop peeing, like you had to cut the stream short even though you didn’t actually cut the stream short, MATT.
I hope you have the short stream burn, Matt.
Years later, I got a job at that same shoe store so I could get the employee discount on further Doc Martens purchases, but I had to quit after my first day because of herpes.
Stay tuned for that one next week.