One of my friends is moving from Marathon to the Lower Keys. Her days are filled with plumbers, pool cleaners, and absent cable installers. Her speech is disjointed; her eyes glitter feverishly.
Is this the face of a boot thief? (Photo by Joanne Denning)
I recognize her symptoms from the time, years ago, when I moved home to Key West with my then-boyfriend Gerry after 18 months in Nashville. In fact, I still can’t look at a moving van without twitching uncontrollably.
It all began with Clyde.
Nashville, Sept. 29. We hire a mover despite his peculiar nickname (Clyde the Magic Mover), and he asks how many boxes we have. Gerry and I are not fooled. We have moved before. We do what any other experienced householders would do. We lie.
Nashville, Sept. 30. Clyde the Magic Mover and his partner, Ezell (E´-zell), arrive. Both are in their mid-50s and so strong they have enough energy to joke as they lift our 300-pound couch into their moving van, a vehicle seemingly big enough to hold Sloppy Joe’s Bar.
When all our belongings are safely stowed, we hop in our car and follow the van south.
Exuberant blossoms add a lush beauty to Key West homes ... like our beloved cottage.
Key West, Oct. 1. Arriving at our new cottage during an island rain shower, we realize our attractive tropical yard is filled with tropical mud. Unfortunately, we must cross it to get the furniture in the back door.
Undaunted, we do what Keys residents have done for generations — we improvise. We lay a large board from the moving van over the mud. Clyde and Ezell speedily unload our household goods and disappear. With their board.
Key West, Oct. 2. While I wander the Historic Seaport, glorying in being back on my island, Gerry stays home to unpack. Unfortunately, another tropical shower turns our backyard into a mud puddle again. Carrying boxes in from the car, he removes his favorite cowboy boots and leaves them outside the back door so he won’t track mud inside.
Shortly afterward, he spots a floppy-eared puppy racing past the kitchen window with something in its mouth. At first he thinks the object is a dirty rag — but then realizes it’s one of his boots! Frantically, he gives chase but can’t catch the culprit.
After returning, I quickly headed down to the Historic Seaport.
When I get home, Gerry is pacing the kitchen (barefooted) muttering to himself. The remaining boot sits on the counter.
Gerry does not handle this kind of thing well. Indignantly he relates the boot-snatching episode. I collapse into a chair, laughing uncontrollably.
Later, as we dine on Key West pink shrimp at the Hogfish Bar, Gerry says, “I’ve heard that animals do only what they need for survival. So why did that dog need my boot? He can’t wear it!”
We fantasize briefly about a local dog pack indulging in boot worship on Dog Beach beside Louie’s Backyard. I try to finish eating my shrimp, but can’t stop laughing.
Key West, Oct. 3. Gerry starts the day in his flip-flops. He’s not amused when I hum “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”
The missing boot reappeared behind the Southernmost Point marker, delineating the southernmost spot of land in the continental U.S. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Outside, savoring Key West’s tangy salt air, I begin chatting with two kids trying to crack a coconut on the sidewalk. Gerry unobtrusively searches the area for a boot.
Finally one of the kids says, “Mister, are you looking for something?”
Gerry relates the whole sorry tale.
The older kid grabs Gerry’s sleeve and urges him down Whitehead Street. There, behind the Southernmost Point monument, the boy indicates a boot. It’s muddy, bedraggled, and appears to have a few bite marks.
Gerry snatches it up with a glad cry.
Key West, Oct. 4. I bike over to Fausto’s Food Palace for groceries. On the way back, I encounter a puppy that looks suspiciously like the boot thief Gerry described. He’s carrying something in his mouth … but nevertheless, he manages to give me a wide canine grin.