My wife is frugal. That's like being cheap, but classier because if you pronounce it just right it sounds French.

So when she came home from a trip to Omaha, I knew she'd found a good thrift store. She had that manic look in her eyes.

She greeted everyone, arms laden with bags.

“Look at these,” she beamed thrusting a pair of ankle-height black boots at me. “They were only four dollars.”

They were good-looking boots. I've often wondered why so many nice things find their way into thrift stores. Do people simply get tired of their clothing? Did they wear the clothes when they were diagnosed with hepatitis? Would the right law enforcement agency refer to the clothes as "evidence?"

It doesn't matter. Four-dollar boots are a good deal, even if they are key to a murder investigation.

The next morning my wife called for me with a hint of panic in her voice. "Can you help me?"

She wore a new boot. Just one.

"I can't get this one off."

This wasn't the usual repair job, where I carry the broken item to the garage and no one ever sees it again. And it wasn't a "kid's pet" repair where I replace whatever's broken with a duplicate. I actually had to fix this.

"Why can't you get it off?" I asked.

"Probably because they cost four dollars," she said.

Made sense.

The diagnosis was easy enough; the pull tab had broken. Why were these boots at the thrift store? Mystery solved.

However, this boot was stacking up to be a problem. I couldn't fix it with my typical methods, such as hitting it with a hammer or using a hacksaw.

There are various ways to remove a stuck shoe. The Reverse Horseshoe method, the Hot Grease method, the Tie the Shoe to a Truck Bumper method and, my personal favorite, the Put on the Other Shoe and Never Talk About it Again method.

From the look on my wife's face, none of these would work. Instead, I repeated my father’s mantra, the phrase he uttered before solving our household problems: plumbing, electrical repairs, removing stubborn baby teeth and changing television channels when the knob fell off.

"I'll need pliers."

"They were only four dollars.”


The zipper still wouldn't budge. It hung on as stubbornly as student loan debt. In the end, all it took was the vague memory of an old episode of "MacGyver" when Richard Dean Anderson stopped the Cold War with a paperclip. I used a paperclip and suddenly, the boot came off.

"Can you still wear them?" I asked.

"Of course. They were four dollars."

“They cost four dollars” can mean a lot of things. But I think from now on we should say it in French – “Ils coûtent quatre dollars.” It sounds classier.

Jason Offutt’s newest book, “Chasing American Monsters: 251 Creatures, Cryptids, and Hairy Beasts,” is available at