In 2009, Stephen Reed left his post as Mayor of Harrisburg. His administration left the city with roughly $4 million dollars of debt. Harrisburg enjoyed living well and establishing things such as the National Civil War Museum -- which only has a handful of visitors a day -- but now knows its spending boundaries. Harrisburg is not to be a cultural mecca, although many people hoped along with Mayor Reed that it would be, but it is still the state capital and it must attend to the needs of the bureaucracy, legislature, lobbyists, and attorneys. It must provide hotels for statesmen, restaurants for fundraisers, transportation for consultants, and grimy corners for politicians to hack deals out in. It has accepted its role and is growing within its definition.
This summer I have been residing in the Harrisburg area and interning for some political group that you wouldn’t care much about. Everyday, I park my car on the City Island and walk over the Susquehanna, into the office building where I work. The homeless, unable to find housing or work in a penniless Harrisburg, panhandle along my walk. There is a particularly rambunctious homeless man – dressed in flannel and comfortable looking Velcro walkers -- who addresses me with the same slurred story every time I walk by.
“Hey now, I used to wear cowboy booths. Yessir’ I did. I wore those cowboy booths ever'day… wore them ever'day… until my friends… until my friends started calling me a FUCKING FAGGOT!”
He ends his rant by pointing at my shoes.
And everyday I am still not wearing cowboy boots.
Cowboy boots are dangerous territory for anybody and I would steer clear from wearing them as an adult. The homeless man eventually learned this as, when his friends started to make fun of him, he stopped wearing them. I could go on but you probably know enough to not to go “full cowboy” unless you actually are a cowboy.
But there is greater significance than “don’t wear cowboy boots” to this homeless man’s story. Harrisburg and this homeless man seem to be teaching us the same thing: you can’t know your boundaries until you go past them. Rules are there for a reason yet rules are meant to be broken. Society (the rule maker) can help us decide what is beyond us but the deciding factor isn’t society -- It’s you. You decide what you wear, what you do, and what you think. Money, of course, can be a limiting factor but within it’s jurisdiction you may do as you like. That homeless man could still be wearing his beloved cowboy boots to this day if he had just stuck to the course and become a “full cowboy”. Fake it until you make it, right?
Part of me wishes the homeless man had kept on wearing his cowboy boots. Maybe he’d be a happier guy.
Disclaimer: Cowboy boots are probably uncomfortable. I see rural politicians wearing them with pained looks on their faces all the time.