Discussion in 'English Only' started by AlexanderIII, Jul 1, 2012.

  1. AlexanderIII Senior Member

    Dear all,
    could you please help me out with a difficulty in the novel by Peter Mountford "A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism"?

    Were it not for the presence of the stout indigenous women in their antiquated garb — shawls, petticoats, tunics, and felt bowler hats worn at an incongruous tilt — the city could have been Florence, and Gabriel on his way to a cafe behind the Duomo. But this was not Italy. There were beggars everywhere, and grubby shoeshine boys zooted on shoe polish.

    I am not sure how to interpret the words in bold.
    1) Shoeshine boys were smoking marijuana while working.
    2) While working they got excited as if they were smoking marijuana.
    The novel is set in La Paz (Bolivia) but I know too little about this country to decide whether the 1) is possible. Nevertheless the 2) seems more probable.
  2. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    As you can see from the context, it is highly unlikely that the shoeshine boys would be smoking marijuana on boot polish.

    From Urbandictionary.com = Zooted: 1966 up, 439 down
    Shoe polish can be melted to provide a drink (?) that will have strongly intoxicating effects. It is usually drunk by severe alcoholics or others too poor to afford proprietary alcohol, beer/wine/spirits/etc. (Do not try this at home.)

    From Urbandictionary.com
    However, you will see that zooted is an adjective describing intoxication by whatever means.
  3. AlexanderIII Senior Member

    I see. Thank you very much, PaulQ. I've checked Urbandictionary but somehow have not found about drinking the melted shoe polish. This seems to suit best.
  4. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    I don't suppose it is very fashionable and those who do would have little interest in blogging about it. :D
  5. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Drinking melted shoe polish??? This seems absolutely incomprehensible. Sniffing it is far more likely, as the volatile chemicals are far more easily (and effectively) ingested through the nose. But, "whatever rings your chimes."
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2012
  6. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    That was exactly what I thought too: they're getting high on the fumes/vapours from the shoe polish.
  7. AlexanderIII Senior Member

    Unfortunately the link does not work, PaulQ. Now that I have thought it over I think I was wrong. Of course they warm shoe polish and inhale the volatile matter from it.
  8. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    Oh, try this one (although the last one worked for me) using cut and paste: http://www.intelligentanswers.co.uk/index.php?topic=3332.0

    If not
    ewie and cyperpedant just don't appreciate the finer things in life...
  9. Ironicus Senior Member

    English & Swahili - East Africa
    I've never heard of filtering boot polish through bread, and I doubt the anecdote. I mean, how many people have actually done this sort of thing and can speak from experience?
    Methylated spirits are a mixture of ethanol and methanol, colored with methylene blue. The methanol was added by order of the US government, to punish by death or severe disability, without trial, those foolish enough to disobey the prohibition on alcohol. Methylated spirits were very cheap, and easily obtainable - anyone could buy the stuff. So it was the preferred intoxicant of those low on funds because of the other major government program of the time - the Depression. Consumers knew the stuff was poisonous, and thought that the poison was due to the lavender color. They found they could filter the color out by passing the spirits through bread, leaving a dirty grayish liquid much less appetizing than the original.
    Boot polish does contain volatiles with an intoxicating effect, and the favored method of ingestion was to cover a rag in polish, warm it in the hands, put it over the face and breathe deeply.
  10. AlexanderIII Senior Member

    I see, thank you very much, Ironicus!
  11. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    You are not alone in the way that people refuse to believe just what other people will and do drink.

    A search of the internet will bring up many other stories related to drinking the alcohol from boot polish there is also a youtube video. I am afraid that there are many strange people in the world. Here's a reported death from the Lewiston Sun 1928

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