SHAKESPEARE NEVER MADE IT TO JAPAN
Bill was an eclectic guy, he mentioned slings and caldrons, hawks and bodkins, arrows and handsaws, everyday tools and devices all over the place, whenever they fit a niche in one of his plot structures, but as far as bootjacks go, despite their undeniable convenience he never mentions them even once, as far as I know. And there’s a reason for this; it came to me in my genkan a few days ago, which I'll get to in a moment.
Fact is - to stay off the main track for a bit the way Bill often did, though in his case for dramatic purposes, I'm just rambling - Bill was a borrower as far as plots went, so he had to go with what was at hand; still, to never even once mention a bootjack... He himself had a bootjack, if he had boots (and who didn't, back then?), and if he wasn't a noble-- they had their own living vassally hands-on Jack-of-boots, who gave the device its name.
And if you have a bootjack, despite its well-worn humility you know how much it means to you, bringing such ease and decorum to an inelegant task; same for Bill, yet he never mentioned a bootjack, never let it strut it its moment upon the stage, never made it a star, never gave it a bit of well-deserved fame; why might that be? I here hypothesize for the first time in history that it was because, despite his broad reading and deep familiarity with travelers' tales, Bill himself never really got around much. (Who had the time, wazoo shows a week, and writing them, too!) No, he never really got international, deeply intercultural, but mainly he never lived in Japan, which is why he never saw the bootjack for what it was.
These kinds of realizations come to one here in the Orient, particularly Japan, as happened to me one evening a couple of weeks ago when, as I returned from work the Trio of Brio was waiting to rush me at the genkan, where in Japan you take off your shoes before entering the house. I was not realizing anything of bootjack level at the time, it was just genkan city, plain and simple.
Where they stood on the floor-edge of the genkan, the girls were poised to pounce as soon as I slipped off my shoes (as 99.9999% of Japanese persons do, upon returning home). I, however was wearing a pair of rodeo boots I got in New Mexico some years ago, and did not simply slip off my footwear and step up onto the floor; rather, I bent way over...? reached under the shoe cabinet (there's one in every genkan)...?? and pulled out my old and trusty...? bootjack?!
The effect upon the vibrant Trio was like pulling the plug on a house-sized generator: a large and deep silence descended as they gazed wide-eyed upon this object from another reality, this long piece of looked like wood, of alien shape, with a wedge cut for some reason into the wide end, whose edges were trimmed with soft leather-- and underneath there was a single cushioned stub jutting out at an odd angle...
I stood there with the exoplanetary device in my hand, tilting it this way and that, like the steering wand of a spaceship, so that those young and hungry eyes could view it from all angles; I turned it over slowly in educational silence so they could study it. Then I handed it to them, so they could examine it closely, in detail, and determine... no, this did not seem to help; proximity did not clear their eyes of the mystery that was there. Sharp senses and hungry minds were not providing an answer. The purpose of a bootjack does not come easily to one who has been raised in a historically bootless culture.
Six wide and puzzled eyes looked at me for the answer: What was this thing? What was I doing instead of just taking off my shoes like everybody else does? What was the point of this theater? (Bill slipped into thought at this point.) Six eyes went from me to this piece of wood, then back to me, back and forth, looking for answers.
As Bill has demonstrated so well with his many characters, like Hamlet (who could never decide whether or not to bother using his bootjack) and Lady MacBeth (who bootjacked daily, offstage), plus Rosencranz and his buddy, coming and going (rabid bootjackers), timing is everything. The tension built... the audience of big brown eyes looked at me; I turned the object slowly, then suddenly dropped it on the floor! Hooked my right bootheel into the wedge, placed my left foot atop the wooden slab, pulled my right leg upward, and-- VOILA! A boot was standing there empty of my foot, which now stood bootlessly elsewhere!
Amazement filled the genkan. There was a loud and multivoiced kiddy version of all those adult shockwords that were frequently given voice during Bill's presentations at the Globe... Whoa!! What the ***? How the ***? and so forth, in this case followed by Lemme see that, I wanna try that, Can I do that! Me too! And so for the next 15 minutes the little stage that is the genkan was crowded with auditioners, trying on all the boots of all the kinds in all the genkan, shoes too, just to see how that went, and now all three understand and are greatly impressed with this radical new concept and cultural item from the Occident (a place Far East of here), called a "bootjack." Some day it will find a place in their plays, I'm sure.
If only the same thing could have happened to Bill when he was a kid...