This I Believe

Georgia - Oakland, California
Entered on May 1, 2007

I just got a pedicure. It took about two hours and cost 23 bucks. My feet are smooth and pink, and the toenails gleam with “Champagne Nights” nail polish.

It’s May and my tootsies are already prepped for the sandals of June. As a kid, preparing my summer feet was much different, though equally important and more time consuming.

My pals and I would sweat out the last weeks of May, wilting in wooden desks at our elementary school. Chalk dust floated off the board in the bars of sunshine that slipped through transoms like lasers. Wisps of hair clung to our necks and sweating toes burned and curled in our tennies. We daydreamed of Limitless Summer, when shifts would be shed for shorts, and shoes would be out the window. Not a sandal, not a flip-flop. Zero. Nada. Nothin’.

The San FernandoValley averaged 80 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit in summer months, so standard attire was a bathing suit. Shorts might be added, but no footwear. Along with the need to stay cool, losing our shoes in summer was a matter of pride. We were fierce Indians striding flat footed through fields and playgrounds – lawless possums who could shinny up any tree or fence and plunder apricots, plums, and pomegranates.

Our suburban sidewalks were white cement, the streets black asphalt, the playgrounds covered with sizzling blacktop. Every smooth surface burned and cooked in the sun. Thigh skin was routinely left behind on car seats. Poolside footprints evaporated in seconds.

So, for the barefoot Bohemians on my block, having summer feet was a must. Our conditioning went through June, and required the right grounds: first, sidewalk, then asphalt.

We stepped off curbside grass onto the sidewalk. Cement radiated, heating the balls of our feet until we had to lift up our toes, then spreading to the edges of the soles and scorching them until we leaped to safety.

But we were already tougher, stronger, ready for the next rounds. In those trials we stepped off the curb onto scorching black asphalt in the street, tender tissues sizzling like burgers while our friends counted out 30 seconds, 60, then 120 and we lost it and hopped into the gutter water for relief.

After treatment concluded our feet were forged with a quarter inch of callous. We only put shoes on for grandparents or restaurants or church, and we avoided them all.

We were free, impervious. Foxtails were laughed at, and stickers removed with mere pricks. Rusty nails did not threaten us. Night raids on neighborhood houses were carried out with the silence of the unshod, and in the morning toilet paper streamers waved to proclaim our dominance.

When August came we were dragged to Uncle Bertie’s Bootery, where they measured our paws in cool steel trays and Uncle Bertie advised Mom that acetone could get that tar off our toes.

I read recently that on average, adult Americans only have their feet in contact with the earth twice a year. We trudge from garage to car to work lot to office buildings and back.

This summer, I am going to Maui for two weeks. I will get a fresh pedicure before I go. But I’m going to tell them not to use pumice on the soles of my feet. I intend to kick my shoes off and leave them off, sporting nothing but a toe ring, an ankle bracelet, and my swimsuit. This summer, I want my feet back firmly on the ground.