Mukluks Monsters This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Before I launch into a narrative about the acquisition of mukluks, I must first describe this unique item of clothing. They are knit booties that reach the mid-calf and have soft leather soles. Besides being warm and comfortable, these Afghani socks come in myriad color combinations, from black and white to various shades of pink, blue, green, yellow, magenta, chartreuse … The list spans the colors of the rainbow.

These foot insulators were all the rage at the San Francisco Ballet School Summer Program a few years ago. Hardly a man or woman could deny having at least two pairs stashed in a closet or drawer. Aside from being uniquely stylish, mukluks serve to keep the dancer’s most valuable instrument, her feet, warm and “in tune” before a long day of classes or during a lunch break. They could be seen on the feet of almost everyone while they sat, chatted, or contorted themselves into inhuman positions (a practice known as “warming up”).

Yet almost as colorful as the mukluks was the process of attaining these booties. Naturally, in all of San Francisco there was only one known dealer, and every day we heard stories of the misadventures of dancers who had journeyed to this somewhat shady establishment known as Afghan Treasures. Although this merchant was by no means located in the worst part of town, one would not travel there unaccompanied, or at night, or particularly unaccompanied at night. This purveyor of Middle Eastern wares was sandwiched between a dodgy theater and some sort of electronics dealer; a variety of unwashed hobos lurked nearby. Fortunately, the municipal bus stop was directly in front of Afghan Treasures, so our little group could hop off the bus, link arms, and make a beeline for the shop.

We battled our way through the thick cloud of incense filling the doorway and raced past the strange statues and tapestries lining the narrow hall, until we reached a small alcove in the rear – always keeping the front door in sight, mind you.

Once we’d taken roll and reassured ourselves that none of us had fallen prey to any vicious mukluks monsters, the proprietor inquired whether we needed assistance. We nervously muttered, “Not right now. We’re just looking,” avoiding staring too much at his scarred face.

Tightly clutching our purses, we fanned out through the store, browsing the wares. I sucked on my Starbucks frappaccino and almost gagged. The scent of incense was so strong I could taste it. I peered at the statuettes. They appeared to be having a cultural fusion party – a six-armed Shiva was situated next to a meditative Buddha, who was seated atop a carved giraffe that was most likely the icon of some unknown African religion.

After we looked around for a few moments, the bravest of our group piped up and asked for a selection of mukluks to be brought out for our perusal. A young, dark-haired girl disappeared behind a curtain and returned moments later with a neatly folded bale of mukluks, tied with thick twine. After the string holding the mukluks had been cut, we set upon them like locusts on a field of wheat, picking up booties, examining the color and texture, and pulling them onto our feet. Once the first bale had been thoroughly ravaged, the girl brought out another, filled with even lovelier colors. Once again we attacked the mukluks. By the time this process had been repeated four or five times, almost everyone in our party emerged with at least two pairs, ready to pay the $10.85 for each set of the handcrafted footwear.

While waiting to pay, I observed a sticker on my mukluks informing me they had been made in Pakistan. I envisioned a team of underpaid, emaciated children slaving away over these lovely socks, while American planes threatened to annihilate them. For a moment, I saw beyond my little world and my “need” for these mukluks. But when I heard the manager’s lilting voice say, “Ten eighty-five, please,” I was jarred from my musings and handed him my cash.

We left the store with our arms full of our new woolen wares that still smelled of incense and something exotic. As we boarded the bus to return to our dormitories, the aroma of the store trailed us and lingered in our hair and clothes.

Comfortably situated on the bus, we said a brief prayer of thanks that we survived the ordeal of purchasing mukluks.

But that was before the bus broke down.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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