Someone stole my caiman hide boots from underneath my styrofoam homeless shelter mattress. My boots are a rich polished brown with chunky scale nubs rising from the foot area. My Dad gifted the comfy caimans to me as a 27th birthday and university graduation gift, he purchased them online from Leathers of Louisiana. It took me seven years to obtain my BA in General Studies due to my schizoaffective brain problems, though my measured IQ is 132. Psychosis is eating away at my cerebrum. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell what is real and what is illusion, but I know for sure my boots are missing.
I met my friend Pass at the shelter. I met him at university first, and he’s fallen further than me. He dropped out after second year. Pass is an algebra aficionado. He understands Euler’s identity equation, which unites the five most important symbols of mathematics in a universal singularity. That’s what I want to do with poetry, unite my life into cohesion. I loudly asked him “hey did you see anyone take my boots?” as he lay prone on his styrofoam mattress.
Pass’s eyes popped open. He threw back his blanket and leaped up. “No, no I didn’t. You should find the thief by any means necessary!” He gesticulated and explained that he’d been dreaming that Australia’s Ayres Rock was a steaming pile of Chinese food, and he couldn’t find any chopsticks. I’ve never seen a man go from deep sleep to vibrant awakening so quickly. “It’s a survival skill,” he said. Pass is a skinny half Asian guy with bad breath and facial tics, so many teeth with blackened fronts. “I’ll be your companion today,” he leaned forward. “I’ll be your Yoko Ono in the search for leather.”
Those gifted boots. My Dad’s thoughts are all bound up in them. He worries about whether I’ll become a drug addict yet he believes in my ability to self-control. He has fears about my mental decline, though pride at my late graduation. All the positive aspects are manifest within his gifting. He provided me with a means of travel, of moving ahead, of striding into the future. His optimism is in those boots. I press them fully with each step. They can take my 180 pounds; they can hold up my toes and shelter my heels. Now some drug addict’s likely selling them for ten bucks at the “Thieves’ Market” on Hastings street where junkies and crazies lay out their stolen wares on the sidewalk. I partly blame myself for not being more cautious. I passed out on that dirty shelter cot because I hadn’t slept for three days.
I didn’t waken as the thief felt under my mattress. My body stayed on automaton, breathing in, breathing out. Nothing disturbed the return of Morpheus. When I awakened, and found the boots gone, my mood disturbance broke in like a fever. Its incredible awakening energy told me I needed to deal with this situation according to my own personal mantra, which is from Hamlet, “To thine own self be true.”
Pass and I hike the grungy crowded streets of Vancouver’s downtown east side, searching for the caimans. He keeps up a running patter about good and bad. He says good people are born again after they die into strong young immortal bodies like the ones they owned at 17. Bad people become cockroaches and silverfish like the vermin he finds in the shelter and keeps in a box to look down on from time to time. “What do you think, Tucker?” he asks me and I say that since in the Bible God relates that we come from nothing, that’s where we go when we die, back to God. “Maybe it’s possible to figure the time of death out mathematically,” I said. “Perhaps using the Euler theory you mention.” I also told him I would not keep anything in a box, it’s more merciful just to crush their tracheas. “Cockroaches don’t have tracheas,” Pass says.
How did I run into Pass, right after I lost my boots? I believe that my personal Universe is governed through a web-like union, and any breaking of that structure will result in a weakness, and set forth a cascading series of events, similar to the falling of lined-up dominoes. The finding of Pass after the boot disappearance is the first domino tipping coincidence.
Thinking and perception are all about balance. What’s vital about footwear is that it balances the rest of the body, especially the head. If one boot heel is shorter than the other, the head will slip and soon there will be a kink in the neck and in the thoughts. The neck itself contains the trachea. We breathe in and out and that trachea is the pipe linking vital life-giving air to the body’s inner sanctum. If boots are balanced perfectly, a person doesn’t think about where he’s walking or how fast he’s going, he simply concentrates on breathing, feeling that air rush down his trachea and into the lungs. Boot balance makes head balance makes clarity of mind.
Since I’d been wearing the Dad-given caimans, I’d felt much sharper and had almost written a third of my three hundred poem goal to explain the connections between myself and the outside world. The oxygen returned to my consciousness, and I felt repair happening in my damaged brain. Now some nasty little bandit has thrown my balance off completely. The first task and central purpose is to track this bandit down. One unbending principle I muster is the concept of private property. What’s mine is part of me and if you steal my possessions it’s like ripping off skin. I must right the unity of my Universe, heal the wounds.
Pass and I reach the “Thieves’ Market”, there’s a couple of dozen people selling bicycle parts and CD’s, clothing and knick-knacks outside closed up storefronts. “The economy is vibrant here,” says Pass. The traffic roars as customers jaywalk over to check out the goods. I scan the whole market, and right away my boots stand out. They look new and undisturbed, set up beside a pile of packaged noodles on a moldy green blanket partly covered with old newspaper. I catch a look at the vendor.
He’s a pale-faced long-necked youth with a tiny jaw jutting out from a sunken, scabby marked face. The cut chinned guy rocks back and forth as he sits cross legged smoking a tiny cigarette butt. I note how his body is out of control with that moving rhythm, the head not well supported. He’s a person who acts on impulse, breaks rules he doesn’t even care exist, and now must reap the results of his offence against the covenant, of the trust between people. At least, I believe there’s a covenant. “To thine own self be true,” I say to Pass, who grins and I notice he’s chewing a toothpick.
At this point, what is definitely real is that I have discovered my stolen private property. My heart beats deep, I feel its power. There’s a squeeze in my trachea, my mood and rhythm altered. Mastering oneself is true power, according to Lao Zhu. Once I took mescaline and became a very aggressive person, outside of all limits. Control is key and that means control of breathing and also of thought. I try to follow that approach.
“Those are my boots, guy,” I tell the vendor. He looks about nineteen.
“Hey man, don’t get freaky,” says this boy junkie, lifting up his cap. I look into rheumy blue eyes that should be on someone in their seventies. “I’m going to take back what is mine,” I tell him. “You have violated one of the essential principles of my Universe.”
Pass says “It’s only fair, and you don’t want to be reborn as a cockroach.”
I think how many other people are missing clothing items or deck chairs and garden gnomes from their backyards.
“My Dad gave me those boots,” I tell the junkie. “For my university graduation.”
“What’s up?” a long-haired pock-faced fellow limps over.
“These are my boots,” I tell him. “And I’m taking them back.”
“You don’t have to scream, man.” His eyes look big into mine.
I imagine who the young guy and his friend are looking at. A very muscular six-foot- four one hundred eighty-pound man leaning forward staring at their tracheas, and his buddy a whisker-faced grinning sylph of an hombre exercising his fingers by moving them rapidly around in the air. I take note of my breathing, it’s very ragged and shallow so I inhale for better tone control. Then I deke one way and back the other, like I learned in fencing class in high school, and grab the boots before the two junkies realize I’ve done a Houdini on the gap between their space and mine.
“This is communication,” I tell them, holding the boots high. “OK, OK.,” the young guy’s standing now, he’s imp short and skinny. Now that the caimans are in my hands again, what moves through my mind is a kind of sorrow, how this guy has to live. He has to break the normal principles of life to feed a body craving.
“I understand the music of your life is bleak,” I tell him. “And that affects your overall tone. If I had five bucks I’d donate for your hourly high. But I don’t. “
“Tucker’s as poor as you,” says Pass.
He’s wrong, of course. Junkies are drug rich. They make hundreds of bucks a day and send it all up their arms. I start to expound on this wastage in a loud voice. Pass says ”I think we should get out of here,” though apart from the junkie’s dominant older friend, no one is paying much attention. The long-haired companion’s chewing on a toothpick as he listens. He’s moving too close to me. “I don’t want to break anyone’s trachea,” I tell him. “My arms are exceedingly long.”
He backs away. “O.K. it’s just that Garrett here owes me a hundred bucks.”
“Come on,” says Garrett. “Can you at least spot me ten?”
I say. “Here’s my last two dollars and fifty cents,” and drop it near him.
“Thanks for the fraction, man,” he says.
I’m up at my Dad’s place, walked all the way. He works at home, I see him bent over the computer, he’s a manager for a meat packing company and he loves it. He still has that full head of salt and pepper hair, I like the way he’s leaning, the intense concentration on what he’s doing. His thoughts always directed outside at the world, making things happen, mine mostly inside and whirling uselessly round and round. I’m amazed he can still focus like this, after Mom died of cancer last year. He never stops.
“Hi Dad,” I say through the open window. He looks up and blinks for a moment through those thick glasses. “Hi Tucker,” he says. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
I go inside and show him the boots. “I very much appreciate these,” I say. “I almost lost them, but regained the balance.”
Dad’s breathing evenly. “Do you need any money?” he asks. “You look like you haven’t eaten much.”
“No, I’ll just butter some colourless bread from the fridge,” I smile widely. “What I’d really like is for you to buy me a jacket to go with these boots.”
“Sure, I can do that. I imagine it should be brown.” We both chuckle.
“My goal is to go completely bourgeois,” I tell him.
“How’s the medication working?” he asks.
“I haven’t been taking it much, I keep forgetting.”
Dad shakes his head. “Come on, Tucker.”
“I need to take it, though.” I emphasize. I open my day pack and look for the stuff just to show it’s there. I search mostly for him, but a little for me. I think of that street thief who stole my boots. No one’s making him do anything. No one’s watching his back. The consequences of that, total chaos. A life of stealing bits of other people’s lives, to needle some peace towards his soul.
“Maybe I could use a hundred bucks,” I say. “I’m sorry I disappointed you.”
Dad leans back in his chair, rubs his hand over his face. I see his Adam’s apple bob, picture his trachea behind that, with the air coming in and out. So vulnerable. “You have an illness,” he says. “It’s not your fault.”
“I wish Mom was here,” I tell him. “I don’t want you to be so lonely.”
“There’s a job open at the packing plant,” he says. “It’d make me very happy if you tried it.”
“Would it involve killing anything?”
“No” he says. “Just wrapping.”
I leave with a few tears dripping down my face. It’s not like me to be maudlin. Dad’s optimism affects me greatly. I want to focus on the unity, the calmness and balance of self as Lao Tzu describes, and move forward in life with that centerdness.
My immediate positive idea is to take my Dad’s hundred bucks and give it to the junkie, because that’s what the addict needs to feel better, to afford another hit. It’ll make me feel better too. I should be able to walk in these boots without remorse. “I must pay my guilt taxes” I think, as I hike towards the library to check on Pass.
I realize my street boy charity idea is a Catch 22, because I need the dough myself. Maybe I’ll give him fifty. The junkie thief did upset my personal balance for his own selfish needs. My mind considers and considers. It’s so hard to come to any conclusions these days.
I feel the boots assertively crunching the ground.
My breathing goes in and out as I stride up a long hill. I wonder what sort of wrapping I’ll do at the packing plant. I want to try it out, just for Dad.
I want to live in his optimism, give him something to be certain about. I pause at a bus stop to take my medications from my daypack.
Over top of them is my priceless binder with all my notes and poems regarding unity. I check it out. The scribblings look off base today. I’m trying to use metaphor and the written word to find connection, but the unity conceived in my work doesn’t seem real. The concepts came from inside me, but that inside always changes. How can there be balance when everything moves?
I sit there for a long time, then pop the required pills, swallow them without liquids. I want to help my Dad. He’s going to buy me a brown leather jacket. I must try and earn the rest of a matching wardrobe, to dress myself away from disarray. What lives inside, the thoughts and formulas written in my unity poem, won’t stay still. I can only understand the verse connections dependent on my state of mind. When my thoughts are in chaos, the formula makes sense. My thoughts are set on the theme of the boots, and the formula is gobbledygook. If I become outward in my resolution, I’ll leave distraction behind. The first step is to dress totally in brown leather. First the boots, then the jacket.
I walk into the library. I see Pass’s head bobbing before a computer screen, he’s the world’s biggest fan of bad boy rock.
“To our own selves be true.” I tell him.
He takes off his headphones, grins, hands me a small box marked “insects,” which I pop into my pocket.
A young woman with blue and green hair pops out of an aisle. “Wow, those are incredible boots! I hope they’re not made from an animal.”
“Yes,” I say. “they definitely are.” I feel the mind dominoes tip again, as her lips curl down. She shakes her head. “That’s gross” she says.
“I am part of that animal,” I tell her, “and that animal is part of me.”
I breathe deep. In my pocket my fingers clutch both the insect box and the hundred dollars Dad gave me. In every moment, there’s a union, a synapse flash joining inside and out. I have no control over what happens outside my mind, but it’s possible to choose the response from inside, pick unity from the chaos. I reclaimed my caiman hides. Becoming real is starting to feel normal.
I walk towards the “Thieves’ Market”. I will give the street boy twenty-five dollars for stealing those love-given boots.