When I was young and impressionable I was enthralled by stories of Andy Warhol and his silver-painted Factory. I think that was why in later years I was really into painting my shoes silver.
When I was twenty-four I worked in a salon called Shear Madness. The name was very apropos. The drama there was constant. It was located right next door to the police station, the fact of which would figure prominently in stories to come.
Anyway, I showed up for work one day in a pair of silver spray-painted boots. The owner, Brian, a very…mercurial individual, was working on a woman’s hair, but watching me through the mirrors at the same time.
“You painted those shoes yourself,” he growled, eyeing me. He was a tanned, muscle-bound man with his head shaved on the sides and teased into a blonde rooster quiff on top. Before owning the shop he had been a stripper with a huge fan following. Or so he said. “You can’t wear painted shoes in this shop!”
Now, Brian was known to wear lace-up pirate shirts most days, with his chest exposed. He owned a bizarre pin-stripe zoot suit with no sleeves. And a pair of denim booty shorts with the American flag printed across the ass. One time, it was medical scrubs tucked into cowboy boots. And he thought my silver boots were going too far?
I assured him that since I was at the front desk, no one could even see my boots. He grumbled and shook his head, and I thought that was that. But then at one point he whirled around suddenly and said “NO!” He pointed his finger in the air, all thundering brow and booming voice, like he was acting in a performance of Othello. “I won’t stand for it! Go home and change into different shoes!”
So I did. But I asked, “Can I at least wear silver boots if I buy a pair that come that way?” He said yes. But “none of that hand-painted shit.”
Later that very week I was walking down the street on my lunch break and saw these silver Doc Martens in a store display window. I bought them on the spot and wore them back to work. Brian sighed heavily and rolled his eyes, but allowed it.
I have many, many stories about Shear Madness. There was the day Brian disappeared, and I answered the phone to learn that he had stolen a car and the police were after him. Shortly after, Brian himself called and instructed me to take all the cash from the drawer, put it in a sack, and wire it to him at the Jersey Shore. I never learned what that was all about. I was afraid to bring it up.
There was the time that Brian decided out of nowhere that he was desperate to be a father. Like, immediately. And that he had gone from gay to straight. Effective immediately. He would dress in his American flag shorty-shorts and hit the clubs, where he intended to find a woman to impregnate. When that didn’t work out, he did the sensible thing, and stole the wife of a Mafia man named Flash, and essentially kidnapped Flash’s kids, driving across the Canadian border in a rented van.
I was wearing these boots when my employment at Shear Madness came to its dramatic conclusion. Sort of a mass defection of girls on the staff, with a police escort from next door who was happy to oblige. Afterward we all piled into the getaway car and were high-fiving, when a wild-eyed Brian came running out and attempted to chase the car down on foot as we screamed and floored it. That’s the last image I have of him.
I’ve had these boots ever since. I wore them for years. They made supportive and comfortable footwear when I was pregnant with my daughter. Then years later, my daughter used them as snow boots in a pinch. In high school she wore them when she was going through a punk phase.
They are sort of retired now. But the soles are immaculate. No wear to the tread in all these years. I should toss them. But I keep thinking maybe I could pass them on to my grandchildren?
I wrote short stories back in the Shear Madness days. (Remember zines?) I write novels now. People have asked why I never used Shear Madness material in any of my stories.
I always say, “Because it is not in the least bit believable.”
Leah Erickson is the author of the novel “The Brambles” and the forthcoming novel “Blythe of the Gates.” Her short fiction has appeared in many magazines and journals, including The Fabulist, Pantheon Magazine, The Saint Ann’s Review, and many others. Visit her blog. She lives in Newport, RI with her husband and daughter.