There are varying degrees of zipper malfunctions: leaving your fly open for your important meeting, busting the zipper of your coat in December while on a ski lift, or finding your luggage strewn on the carousel in the airport when your duffel breaks mid-flight.
Then there is finding yourself in DSW with a knee-length leather boot stuck on your leg.
I had tried gently jiggling and also jerking. The zipper had caught some of the leather liner on the way up and would not budge.
This is not because of my giant calves. My calves are not giant. I am being overly self-conscious about my body. This, my pep talk as I tried to work my (giant?) calf out of the still-zipped boot. If your calves were smaller, you could totally get your leg out. Shut up, inner voice.
I was a junior in college. My academic studies had taught me the literary theory of deconstruction, but not what to do when you have a leather boot stuck on your person.
I hobbled around in one boot, one bare foot. “Excuse me,” I said to a boy with a name tag. He looked about sixteen, a spray of acne across his cheeks that flamed into a blush. “The zipper seems to be stuck on my boot.”
“Um.” He knelt by my leg. Even his scalp was blushing. Bless his heart.
My mom chose this moment to find me. “What are you doing?” We had split up upon entering the store: she to fashionable heels and me to shoes she did not like.
“The zipper is stuck,” I said.
She looked down at the boy, the boot. “You’re not buying them, right?”
“I’m going to get the tools,” said the boy, making eye contact with my neck.
“That sounds ominous,” said my mother. I found my real shoes (which my mother also hated) and sat down on the bench. “I hope you don’t have to pay for them.”
“Me too. They aren’t even on sale.”
The boy reappeared with a manager and a wooden toolbox. The manager looked at me, looked at the boot and, I imagined, my calves. My stupid, giant calves. “It’s the zipper. The zipper malfunctioned.” Not my calf. The zipper.
“Sure,” he said. He did a fabulous job managing the still-blushing boy yanking at the zipper with needle-nosed pliers. His mustache only half-hid his smile. We were now a spectacle: other shoppers slowing down to rubber-neck. I was sweating through my sweater.
After letting the boy struggle for a few minutes, the manager took the pliers and with a solid jerk, ripped the leather seam all the way down. I freed my leg from the mangled boot and pulled my jeans down over my calf. I waited for applause, like when they rescue children from the bottom of a well, but everyone just went back to shopping. The boy took the boots away for burial.
“Lunch?” asked my mom.
“I think I’m going to head to the gym.”