The Puffy Boot Betrayal

On a winter morning in 1993, I popped out of bed and checked the window. It felt like Christmas, 3 inches of snow had fallen overnight. In the living room my mother clicked on the TV and smiled as I read a news ticker flashing along the screen: “Due to weather conditions all Albuquerque Public Schools are closed.”

Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, snow days were rare and cherished. Yes, it snows in NM. The desert landscape you’re likely picturing is Phoenix, Arizona. There ain’t no palm trees or saguaro cactus in New Mexico.

Albuquerque’s elevation is a mile above sea level, the air is thin, crisp, and cold. That said, snowfall is scarce and quickly melts in the winter sun. At most a kid can hope for school to be canceled once a year.

I felt urgency. I had to get dressed, call my friend, and get to the park before all the other kids trampled the snow. 30 minutes later, I was walking up the street in a pair of puffy, velcro snow boots (Napoleon Dynamite style). I was with my best friend, Derek.

We were both 10, Derek lived four houses down from me. He had an older brother, Craig, who was 13. Derek was the toughest kid I knew, mostly because he had to deal with his badass brother. For instance, when Craig was 10, I saw him break a kid’s nose in the schoolyard with one punch. And Derek fought Craig like everyday.

The park was empty but a steady stream of people were showing up. Derek and I got to work building snow boulders. You pack together a ball of snow the size of a bowling ball and keep rolling it through the snow until it grows too big to move. We pushed the boulders together to build a snow fort. Derek noticed a group of bigger kids headed towards the park from the direction of our street.

“Shit,” he said.

“What?”

“Here comes Craig and his asshole friends.”

“Shit,” I said.

“Run for it.”

We ran. They chased. We split up. Derek booked it down a residential street; smart move, lots of cover. I headed across the park; dumb move, out in the open. My pursuers closed the distance fast like lions chasing a gazelle. A slow, prepubescent gazelle wearing cumbersome, puffy snow boots.

One of them tackled me mid-stride and we tumbled to the ground. I turned and swung my fist. My punch landed on the shoulder of Dave Brinton, the most athletic kid in the neighborhood. He laughed.

“Why’d you run?”

“Leave me alone dickhead.”

“Time for your snow bath.”

Dave and his friend rubbed snow in my face and stuffed it down my shirt. I tried to kick Dave but he caught my foot and pulled off my boot. Then Dave and his friend jogged away laughing –– with my boot!

I emptied the stinging slush from my shirt and started walking home. I was near tears. Angry tears. My foot was painfully cold but I had a plan: go home, get a shoe, and then kill Dave Brinton. I wasn’t sure how but I had to kill him.

At the top of my street, I spotted the boot sitting on a short adobe wall. Mercy or further insult? It felt like bait but they were nowhere in sight. I figured they’d stuffed it with snow but I found the boot empty. I slipped it over my numb foot and stepped into something warm and squishy. The trap was sprung. I slowly removed the boot. My foot was caked in steaming dog shit.

Yes, I’m certain it was dog shit. But where did they find such a fresh turd? Did they have a dog shit directly into my boot?

Now, I faced a gnarly predicament. Option one, put the boot back on and finish walking home with a warm, poopy foot. I’d have to throw the boot away. My family was poor. I’d be in trouble. Option two, continue walking home with one bootless foot, wearing only a damp, cold, caca sock. I imagined my toes turning from doo doo brown to frostbite black.

I shook out the boot, slipped it on, and walked home. That was my last snow day as child. And from that day forward, I only wore snow boots I could run in.

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