March 22: “Dirty Boots” by Samuel Ligon

“Dirty Boots” by Sonic Youth

Here we go to another candle I know

All the girls there playin’ on a jelly roll

Time to take a ride—time to take it in a midnite eye

And if you wanna go—get on below

Pinking out the day—dreaming out the crazy way

Finger on the love—it’s all above

Everywhere it’s six-sex-six by luck

A satellite wish will make it just enough

You’ll be making out with a witch in a coffee truck

Time to rock the road—and tell the story of the jelly rollin’

Dirty boots are on—hi di ho

Pinking out the black—dreaming in a crack

Satan got her tongue—now it’s undone

I got some dirty boots—yeah dirty boots

I got some dirty boots—baby

Dirty boots

Hey!

Hello, Story366! For today I read from Sam Ligon’s collection Drift and Swerve, out from Autumn House Press in 2009. I read several stories—more than I usually do before writing a post—but ended up going back to the story I read first, “Dirty Boots.” I picked it out of the table of contents because it had the same name as a Sonic Youth song, and Sonic Youth is/was one of my favorites bands (because I’m 42). I read the story, looking for correlations to the song—perhaps someone wearing dirty boots, either in actuality or metaphorically—but found none. Still a really great story, and then I went on and read more great stories. When I looked at the acknowledgments later on, lo and behold, “Dirty Boots” had been in an anthology of stories inspired by Sonic Youth songs. That led to a couple of questions, like Where can I buy such an anthology? and Wait, where was I when they were putting this together? Since Thurston Moore start schlepping his PA a few years ago and broke up the band, I doubt there will be another, but that’s cool. Plans for my story “Crème Brûlée” will have to go uninvestigated.

What’s weird about this post is I read the lyrics for “Dirty Boots” for the first time, as I wanted hints as to what inspired Ligon to write what he did. Like with many rock lyrics, the wrong words have been in my head for years, more than twenty now. For example, I thought the first line was “Here we go to another candlelight bowl,” because that makes more sense (instead of what I’m guessing is an allusion to the Daydream Nation cover). And who would have guessed they are actually singing “six-sex-six” instead of “666,” some kind of nod to Satan? They’re a rock band, for crying out loud. Haven’t they seen The Pick of Destiny?

But again, Ligon’s story isn’t really about filthy footwear or jelly rolls or witches in coffee trucks (unless I’m grossly misreading the story). It’s instead about Nikki, who is in her dorm room during an Upward Bound program. Nikki is not alone—she’s just been caught having sex with fellow UBer, Sean, by the resident advisor, Doug. Doug has heard them having sex, which is forbidden, and is ready to use his pass key to break in and dish out punishments. The amorous pair will be booted (pun intended) from the program, their futures will be bleak, and of course, they’ll both go to Hell. All in the name of awkward college-boy dorm sex. I know, right?

The story only occupies five minutes or so of real time, so not a lot happens, physically. Sean is devastated, knowing how much trouble he’s in, but Nikki is suddenly not. What the story is, overall, is her epiphany. She suddenly realizes that she doesn’t care about Upward Bound, she doesn’t care about the consequences of being caught with Sean, and more than anything, she’s realizing she doesn’t believe in God. That’s not an excuse, either—it’s a feeling she sort of comes upon, in the face of all this tension, RAs and fellow Christians in the hallway, both screaming at her and praying for her soul at the same time. Living in Springfield, Missouri, the big gold buckle on the Bible Belt, I’ve run across quite a few former Christians, all of whom have had revelations like Nikki has had in “Dirty Boots,” I’m guessing, though maybe not as intense as Ligon depicts in his fast-paced, tight story.

Once Nikki decides this is all for the best, that she can go home and start living her new heathen lifestyle, she makes one more pitch, for scared-shitless Sean to join her. The story is told in a series of countdowns, given by laughable Doug, at the end of which he swears he’s barging in. All Nikki has to do is say, “I’m naked,” and Doug retreats, as he wants none of Nikki’s evil woman-flesh burning his virgin eyes. This buys her time to connect with Sean, spiritually, to try to relay her point of view, to incite an epiphany in him. Turns out, Sean is still terrified of what his mother’s going to do to him, and even agrees to try Nikki’s original suggestion, to jump out her window, a ploy that’s challenged by the team of RAs out in the grass, watching for that very thing. You can’t escape Jesus, after all.

The second story I read in Drift and Swerve is the title story, another story that’s told in real time, a tough few minutes in which a family experiences a savage car wreck (among other things). I wondered if this is what Drift and Swerve was, a collection of pedal-to-the-medal real-time tales, each one capturing an intense moment that alters its players’ lives forever. Nope. I read four more stories, and none of them use that technique, though they’re all still pretty intense. Ligon has a knack for capturing people at the moments of their lives, the moments that define them. It’s Story 101, really, and Ligon is the personification of this lesson. I love this book and will use these stories in my classes to show my students how it’s done. Rock ‘n Roll!

Sam Ligon

 

 

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  1. Pingback: September 13: “Copper Top” by Karl Taro Greenfeld – Story366

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