Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Decisions in Footwear Ethics, Part I: Dr Martens

Recently, the toe creases of my trusty, well-worn Dr Martens began to crack. I had hoped to mend my boots, but when I called customer service for advice on repairing “quilon leather,” they told me, with a hint of wounded pride, that Dr Martens are not supposed to fissure; this was a structural defect. I was therefore entitled to trade-in my old boots for a new pair.

Of course, following their offer, the usual stream of annoying ethical dilemmas trickled into my Jainistic brain, starting with the occasionally-lax approach to veganism that led me to buy the leather boots in the first place. On the one hand, by accepting the offer, yet another cow would have to die. On the other, unlike the first time, I wasn’t technically paying to kill this second cow, and besides, Dr Martens supposedly last a decade, and I did pay good money for my pair...

The boots were “Made in England,” and I initially assumed my footwear to be the product of unionized labo(u)r. Although I have not been able to determine whether Dr Martens’ English workforce is, in fact, represented by a union, the workers apparently have the right to form or join one even those in China.

Essentially, by accepting a new pair, I again reneged on animal rights, but likely supported fair labor. I could have done far better and I could have done far worse.

(Additionally, unless the company changed their policies since I bought my first pair in 2009, I might not have done the best job of researching their environmental-friendliness. Back then, I could swear I read somewhere that Dr Martens are vegetable-tanned, but as it turns out, the company does not disclose details about their impact on the environment.)

I bid my old Martens a sad adieu, for they were perfectly broken-in (save for the part about actually being broken), and as every Dr Martens-wearing ethicist can testify, breaking-in a new pair of those boots is about as painful as an IMF/World Bank Structural Adjustment Program.

The new boots came in the mail within two weeks:

shiny shiny, shiny boots of leather
The Dr Martens people were kind enough to throw in a pair of white laces upon my request. White goes well with oxblood. I was afraid to buy white bootlaces when I lived in Glasgow because, in 1970s UK skinhead culture, bootlaces carried political connotations, and white bootlaces were once aligned with white supremacy; according to the occasional random website, that is. My Glasgow flatmate laughed away my concerns, never having heard of this nonsense before. If I’m not a 1970s UK skinhead, and if I’m not white by British standards (even if I am by American standards), why should I worry?

I nevertheless wore black laces when in Glasgow. Red and black: I could deal with being mistaken for an anarchist, even if not an animal-friendly one.

(In case you're wondering, "Decisions in Footwear Ethics, Part II" will be posted when the Macbeths I've been waitlisted for finally arrive...)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kale Migrates South for the Winter

Not long ago I realized that my racially-ambiguous self looks more Middle Eastern in some contexts than in others. In the airport, before and during flights bound south of the Mason-Dixon, I look incredibly Middle Eastern.

My initial discomfort among Southerners prompts me to imagine all sorts of awkward in-flight scenarios: suspicious frowns from Texans in Stetsons the size of an oil tycoon’s gut, or one of the many nervous, squat, secretarial gentlewomen in the waiting area turning to me and asking, apprehensively: “are you Muslim?”

Although nothing quite like that has yet happened to me, I have gotten selected for "random" searches before, and once, I even got my hair patted-down. This was in Texas. I laughed about it as it was happening. What else could I do? Who's heard of such a thing? I then realized that this laughter probably made me look even more suspect, which caused me to nervously-laugh a bit more, against my will and better judgement.

To assuage possible suspicions, I turned to the woman who flattened my wavy black locks and told her that I've never had this done to me before. Her response was: "that's why I just love them curlicues, heh heh!"


During my flight to Atlanta, I sat in the aisle seat, next to two women that had boarded together. Naturally, in an attempt to be social, I asked them if they were from our arrival destination.

The woman in the center seat smiled. “We’re from north Georgia.”

Uh oh, I thought: a place with a reputation! The other woman in the window seat looked slightly disconcerted by something; I hoped not my presence.

As I reflexively do whenever someone tells me that they’re from a certain place, I blabbered everything I knew about Georgia:  Peaches! The Appalachian Mountains! Farms! The women joined me in describing their beautiful countryside, and the conversation rolled on through the rest of their state. When I mentioned the obscure Atlanta suburb from which my very best friend comes from, southern or otherwise, both of their faces lit up in recognition. “We’ve been there,” they chirped, and nothing more was said about the place. The same friend would later describe his town as “a church and a strip mall,” but I think he’s holding-off, as I distinctly remember him mentioning that his town boasts a well-loved rock.

I asked them if they enjoyed New York. They lit up again. I began wondering if the disconcerted Georgian in the window seat probably had a slight fear of flight, not Middle-Easterners. A big, blue turbine was blocking her window seat view. Going south from LaGuardia gives airplane travelers a gorgeous image of the New York City skyline. The woman revealed that she never had a window seat before, and she had been looking forward to this one.

Fortunately, once the plane took off, a sliver of skyline was still visible. The two women excitedly snapped photographs of what they could. I was happy for them, I told them so, and I meant it.