July 10, 2009
As a kid I went barefoot all the time. Everywhere. It was impossible for my parents to get shoes on me, even if we were going to restaurants. Of course those "no shirt, no shoes, no service" signs don’t generally apply to five-year olds, especially since I wasn’t making a lot of purchases myself. Although there was one nice convenience store clerk who thought I was so darn cute he happily let me buy a six-pack of beer and a pack of Lucky Strikes, which I then split with some teenagers out in the parking lot. And running around barefoot all the time did have its advantages. I never had to worry about whether my socks matched my shirt, and since I didn’t learn to tie my shoes until I was twenty-seven it saved me the trouble of tripping over my laces with every other step. Sure it had disadvantages too, like when I would accidentally step on a thorn or when I went running through the neighbor’s collection of old boards with rusty nails which he thoughtfully left out in his backyard. Amazingly enough I never got tetanus. Maybe that had something to do with getting immunizations, although I know the common name for tetanus is "lockjaw". I don’t know if that really describes what tetanus does to you, but I’m pretty sure my parents would have been thrilled if I’d gotten lockjaw at some point.
For instance there was that time at Uncle Harry’s funeral when I was running around barefoot and screaming at people, "Hey, did ya hear the one about the priest, the rabbi, and the minister walking into a bar?" It wasn’t until several years later that I read about hookworms, which you can get from running around barefoot. That scared me–for at least a month after reading that I didn’t take my shoes off, and, as a result, started the bellbottom jeans fad. I know it looks stupid, but I was doing it because it was the only way I could get my jeans off without taking my shoes off. Then I remembered that I’d had ringworm, and I’d had head lice which, although they weren’t worms, were still a parasite, so maybe I should try and get hookworms. Just to have a complete collection, you understand. Parasites are fascinating creatures, really. I read somewhere that more than eighty percent of the life forms on Earth are parasites, and that’s not even counting talk show hosts, but that’s another story. Thanks to Boy Scout camping trips I’ve also had numerous ticks, although ticks don’t really count because, let’s face it, everybody’s going to get a tick at some point in their life. Ticks do have advantages over ringworms, hookworms, and head lice though. One of my favorite ways to dispose of a tick is with an open flame. Try doing that with head lice. Or tape worms for that matter.
There was another parasite I was briefly scared of getting after a friend told me that tapeworms will move into your stomach and eat all the food you swallow. He was also nice enough to tell me that doctors had pulled tapeworms out of people that were eleven miles long. How was this possible? According to him–and he was one of those guys who knew everything–the small intestine is over twenty miles long, and I’m pretty sure he added something about how the large intestine could, if unraveled, circle the globe three times. I might have gotten over my fear of tapeworms sooner, but my friend kept coming up with new horror stories every day. Then finally I invited him to go running through the neighbor’s yard barefoot and he got lockjaw.