An English In Kentucky



















July 11th 2009

    A comrade amongst the beans this morning.  A little orange yellow frog.  All the way down one row he kept two bean plants ahead of me.  He was slow moving, confident and visible on the leaves.  Very polite with that air of one who might be poisonous.  

    But it was his color more than his character that combined with recall to produce one of those memories that retain virulence.  Had he been green or blue, or slippery I might have drifted happily to the end of the bean rows and come away content with the knowledge that possibly poisonous would keep my fearless little friend safe from Kingbirds.

    His color reminded me of a Kiwi boot polish tin.  The shallow kind with a little twiddle on the side that opens it.  And now pretend for a moment that you had never seen one before.  Which of course at the dawn of the twenty first century in a land wealthy in shoes is very possible.

    At boarding school, a correct relationship with shoe polish is central to discipline.  A well polished shoe is synonymous with obedient character, proper upbringing and correct breeding.  And inevitably for such a central feature of social structure the polish itself requires an adequate palette.  The shoe must be leather, bulky and held in place by laces, not straps, or buckles or hemp thongs, or bits of rubber cut from the inner tube of a bicycle tire.    


    The footwear I found myself wearing was uncomfortable in the extreme.  The shoes were heavy, I could not feel the ground.  I felt like an unbalanced duck.  And, retention, being never positive in the collection that is me, I had forgotten how to tie those elegant bows.

    Then in the morning, before breakfast, we gathered in the courtyard to polish shoes.  Each with our own shoe care kit.  One cloth, two brushes and one tin of polish.

    Perhaps had I joined the class with all the others, instead of arriving one term late, I might not have been such an object of curiosity.  Instead I was the only one with Kiwi boot polish.  All the others had Nugget boot polish.  Apparently I had in my hands a social faux pas.  And it might have helped had I been able to open the tin.

    Some, when they are teased, shrug and understand the nature of good humouredness.  They understand banter as that road to belonging, a steep climb toward purpose.  A calculated trip for so many on a journey to a uniform end.  And sadly, it appears to be a journey that too often demurs to power.

    The fight ended with words in the masters study.  But ignorance is rarely forgiven, until someone gets physically hurt.  Then, because words so often fail, compromise is achieved.  And at age seven, boys are like nations.  Compromise is mostly maintained by fear.  For my part, fear of a ritual called 'the slipper'.  For my school chums, fear of a new comer who was clearly irrational and probably dangerous.

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(Kiwi boot polish)  (Nugget shoe polish)