Thursday, December 10, 2009

Of Blizzards and Duck Shoes

Let me set the scene.

Me. Bundled up like Nanook of the North (whoever that is—it’s just something B always says) with my truly ugly Ugg knock-offs, my warmest fleecy sweat pants, and my ski parka with its hood pulled over my head. Top that off with mismatched ear warmers and mittens and you’ve pretty much got a beauty on your hands.

Dog. A little antsy from being cooped up in the house for a couple of days. I brought the long leash so she could get just a little more exercise, but even so it seemed like she really needed to run.

Weather. Does the phrase “arctic tundra” mean anything to you? Well, it should because that’s what Thunder the Wonder Dog and I were walking in. We’re talking snow and ice blowing sideways.

So we were walking along happily, enjoying the blizzard all around us, when we came to a street corner and Thunder thought she’d dart across it to check out the next yellow fire hydrant. The leash pulled mightily, I jerked forward, and she nearly pulled me down into the slushy mess.


Thankfully I caught myself before I got covered with it. Thankfully it was getting dark so nobody would have seen me fall anyway. Thankfully there wasn’t a car coming.

Anyway, the scene yesterday afternoon, the one of the snow and ice and slush and of me nearly falling down, brought back a memory of a few winters ago when I was in college. Let me take you back there with me.

Winter was brutal when we were in college, but I barely remember it being bad. Except that there was one building that we had to walk past on our way to class that created what everyone called the wind tunnel. Walking through the wind tunnel every day was kind of harrowing—you didn’t want to do it very often—but other than that, I don’t remember hating winter as much as I do now.

Must be an age thing.

My roommates and I used to have contests every day to see who could stay on their feet the most. Pathetic, really. We’d tally up how many times we’d fallen down each day and the person with the most “falls” was the loser.

It was usually me.

Our campus was small. So small that we only had one dining hall that was situated on two floors. For some reason unknown to me, the “cool people” ate upstairs. The only time you would eat downstairs was if you had nobody to eat with or if you really wanted to have a serious conversation with someone. That’s it. Otherwise you ate upstairs.

On one particular winter evening, a guy I had gone out with a couple of times asked me to dinner. So, we walked across campus to the dining hall and, of course, we headed upstairs. Really, the entire campus must have considered itself cool because most everyone headed upstairs.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about the dinner “date” until it was time to leave. We grabbed our coats and headed down the stairs with me a step or two in front of him. Now, you have to know this part—it’s crucial to the story. The stairs were made of this smooth cement—you know, the kind that looks like there are little pebbles in it, but really it’s honed to a very smooth texture. The college tried to keep us from hurting ourselves by putting those black grainy strips on the edge of each step, but over the years the black strips had themselves become smooth and were even worn away in places.

One other thing you must know, as I proceeded down these smooth, slippery stairs was that I was wearing duck shoes. Remember those? The must-have Preppie accessory of the ‘80s? Just in case you don’t remember, this is what I’m talking about:

I have no idea why they were so popular. I mean, look at those shoes. You don’t get much uglier, unless you’re wearing my Ugg knock-offs. But the good thing about the Ugg knock-offs is that they are warm. Duck shoes were pointless because not only were they ugly, they were not anything close to warm. Sure, there was a little felt lining in the bottom of the shoe, but warm they were not.

And why L.L. Bean still sells them today is beyond my comprehension. Just goes to show you what a hardy bunch those New Englanders are.

Oh, and did I mention that the tread on duck shoes is virtually non-existent? Well, it is. Not. There, I mean.

So, all that to say that with those smoothly honed, steep steps, the snow that had melted on them, and the duck shoes I was wearing, you can imagine what comes next. Yes—BAM! I slipped and fell down the last two steps, onto a landing. My Kelly green cords were all wet, but worse than that I had fallen down in front of the boy I had just eaten dinner with.

Humiliation doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I picked myself up from the landing, brushed myself off a bit, and laughed. It was funny, after all.

Remember how I was on a landing? I still had two more steps to go until I was all the way downstairs, into the “uncool” part of the dining hall which was probably a “cool neutral” area because everyone had to walk through there, but whatever. It matters not to my story.

I headed down those last two steps and, you guessed it—BAM! Down the last two steps and into a huge, gloppy puddle. Now my Kelly green cords were not just wet, they were a muddy mess. And instead of laughing I felt like crying. My backside hurt like crazy, and people were starting to stare.

And that boy was sure no gentleman because he just stood there and laughed, not even offering to help me up. Should have been my first clue, but that’s another story for another day.

In the end, I slunk back to my dorm room, got myself cleaned up, and counted myself the biggest loser of the day for taking two falls in a row.

Seriously, though, whenever I’m walking in slushy snow and I feel like I’m going to fall, I think about that day. And I laugh.


  1. Duck shoes! I never had any but I do remember them.

    If it makes you feel any better, I fell a couple years ago in JUNE on a broken up old sidewalk and really hurt my back. Now I'm terrified of falling ANYWHERE.

    I applaud you for taking Thunder out in this horrible weather. I'm glad I can send my dog out the door alone.

  2. I guess there's one advantage to living out in the country--no leashes!

  3. My fond memory of duck shoes goes back to college days as well. I commuted to college for several years and on a particular snowy, icy day I set out for school 10 miles away. I parked in the lot, crossed the street and heel/toed it to the sidewalk where I proceeded to (try) to walk up a wheelchair cut out of the sidewalk and all I could do was slide backward. The grass the just as slick. So I got back into my car and drove the 10 miles home. No tread on those duck shoes plus they were made out of rubber and I should have known would be slick.

  4. Lisa, that's just hilarious! Thanks for proving my point.

  5. According to Wikipedia, "Nanook of the North: A Story Of Life and Love In the Actual Arctic (1922) is a silent documentary film." So there you go!


  6. Oh my! Don't you just love humiliating moments? Funny how they stick with us so long. Glad to know I'm not the only one who has them (of course!). And as for the duck shoes, I had some. I wanted so badly for them to work, you know. I think they're supposed to be good warm shoes for when it rains or snows, but ...they're not.

  7. While eating dinner by myself at the same college caffeteria I was asked out on a blind date by a football player. I was a freshman and he was a junior and I was so excited! We went bowling with two other couples. On my first turn I stepped over that line at the end of the lane onto the super slippery part. I fell and landed flat on my back. The worst part was that no one even laughed. They just looked at me like I was a totall idiot. Needless to say I never went out with that guy again.

  8. Oh my gosh, Linnea, you made me laugh out loud! Not only because your embarrassing moment was so funny, but also because I did just about that exact same thing at (probably) the same bowling alley. Thankfully I was with my kids and not on a date, although they sure haven't let me forget it! (It was the very last throw of the day and I did a "Bambi-on-the-ice" kind of thing. I told the girls to go turn in my shoes because I was sure they guy was watching me and laughing his head off.)

  9. OK, I'm a little embarrassed to say, but I still have some, here in Sofia, I call them river shoes. They're reserved for those days that it rains so much, the water overflows the streets and makes rivers and lakes - literally! On those days, I'd rather have dry feet than to not be stylish. Everyone is running for shelter on those days anyway...

  10. I still have mine, too, Julie. And--as long as you're being bold, I will too. I still think they're cute! I used them once recently but can't remember why. They have a hole in them, so they're not all that useful...

  11. Stand up and be counted, you Duck Shoe wearers! But, Jodi, they really lose their effectiveness if they have a hole in them.

  12. Hahahaha! I had duck boots when I was in college in New England. They perfectly complimented my baggy jeans and oversized plaid flannel button-downs. ;-)