May 25, 2012
The other day I was about to step off the patio in my bare feet to take something to the garbage can. My wife said, "Don’t walk in the backyard in your bare feet. You don’t know what’s out there." I realized we have very different definitions of "the backyard". My definition of "backyard" begins about fifty feet from the edge of the patio, where you find the first tree. It’s the every edge of the dense jungle that our backyard becomes where giant honeysuckle bushes have formed bowers and pangolins roam. It’s where I chase rabbits into the neighboring yards so our dogs don’t kill them. The neighbors’ dogs are too small and slow to catch rabbits, and too dense to notice that rabbits even exist, but that’s another story.
My wife’s definition of "backyard" begins at the edge of the patio. It’s more accurate, but it’s also less romantic. Besides since I frequently take the dogs out I have a pretty good idea what’s in the backyard, and where the dogs have left things that I don’t want to step in. Part of the reason I didn’t want to put my shoes on just to walk ten feet to put a rabbit carcass that I’d almost stepped in in the garbage can is because, well, I’m lazy like that. But I also like going barefoot, especially when the weather is warm. At the end of a long day at work when I take my shoes off it’s a feeling of such immense relief that I can almost hear my feet screaming, "I’m free! Free, I tell you! I’m breathing deep of the fresh air of liberty!" Sometimes at work when I’m at my desk I’ll even take my shoes off, although I try not to because as soon as I do someone will come to my office with a question and they’ll stop and look around, trying to figure out where that tiny voice is coming from. Seriously, though, I think we all know that feet, when released from their patent leather prison, tend to not smell very good, no matter how often you change your odor eaters. And I mostly wear sneakers, because they’re the shoes I’m most comfortable in, but they also infuse feet with a slow-release stench. This problem could be avoided if I could go barefoot all the time, which I would do if I could, except on special occasions, or when driving.
That reminds me: have you ever gone past another car on the road and noticed another person’s bare feet either up on the dashboard or up against the window? Not that I’m complaining, but it’s more than a little disconcerting when it’s the driver. And I probably wouldn’t go barefoot at the gym either. I’ve had a couple of cases of athlete’s foot, which doesn’t seem fair because I’m not even close to being an athlete. At least I think it was athlete’s foot. All I know is my feet suffered The Itch From Hell. Commercials for athlete’s foot treatments always show feet bursting into flames, which would explain why athletes go through so many shoes. If they wanted to be accurate, though, they’d show a guy rubbing 40-grit sandpaper between his toes. And I wouldn’t want to go barefoot anywhere that I might step on anything sharp or painful. I envy hobbits who, even though they’re fictional, are still admirable for being able to go everywhere without shoes. When Frodo was climbing Mount Doom I never thought, will he destroy the ring? No, I was too busy thinking, man, I wish my feet were that tough. And then there are parasites, although those can have their advantages. Some time ago I heard a news story about a guy with severe allergies who decided to treat them by purposely infecting himself with hookworms. The theory is that allergies are caused by a crazy immune system, and hookworms suppress the immune system. The only downside is that side effects of hookworm infection include skin lesions, anemia, and impaired mental function, which makes them slightly better than over-the-counter allergy medicines. Since I don’t have allergies I think I’ll try to avoid hookworms, though. And there’s also tetanus. The only thing I know about tetanus is that you can get it from stepping on rusty nails, and it’s commonly called lockjaw.
But I’ll still go barefoot when I can. It takes me back to my childhood when I went barefoot everywhere all summer long. Well, not everywhere. Sometimes my mother would have to take me to the store or some other place where I had to wear shoes. Because it was such a pain to have to put on socks and shoes I’d ask if I could go without socks, except my way of asking this as a child was, "Can I go barefoot in my shoes?" My mother thought this was very cute and clever, so of course I repeated it a lot. My parents often comment on how talkative I was as a child, and how that frequently resulted in me saying inappropriate things. Now that I think about it my parents encouraged me to go barefoot as often as possible. And always seemed to be leaving rusty nails lying around. Maybe they wanted me to get lockjaw to give them a little peace and quiet.