Pat Cashman | Facing up to our problems, one foot at a time

I can still remember the day Mark Hughes decided he would spend the rest of his life indoors.

We were sitting at our school desks listening to our science teacher. “In 1908, an asteroid crashed into Siberia and wiped out hundreds of miles of forest land,” he explained. “If there had been any humans around, they would all have been toast.”

As we walked home that day, he kept looking warily up at the sky - careful to stay under store awnings and tree branches. “Once I get home,” he declared, “I’m not coming back outside again - ever! I don’t want no asteroid smacking into me.”

I reminded him that a fiery asteroid plunging toward the earth at blinding speed wouldn’t have any trouble crashing through the roof of a house - even Mark’s. But he was unconvinced. ‘My bedroom is in the basement,” he said. “At least I’ll have a chance.”

But if Mark worried about asteroids, he was even more obsessed with his shod feet. He was certain that if he wore his shoes for too long, his feet would suffocate, die and fall off. I told him that as far as I knew, human beings had been wearing shoes for thousands of years with few such incidents. But Mark was adamant.

He would walk to and from school without wearing his shoes, carrying them in his school bag, and then stepping into them just before entering the classroom. During recess, unless told otherwise, he would run barefoot around the asphalt schoolyard.

Mark’s feet knew no fear of gravel, thumbtacks, bb’s, rusty nails or shards of glass. His soles were as impenetrable as a tortoise’s backside.

Most kids in our school figured Mark was nuttier than a pecan pie, but it turns out that his disdain for footwear was not nonsensical, but perhaps commonsensical. In an article published some months ago in New York magazine, a writer named Adam Sternbergh says we’re all walking wrong - and it’s because of our shoes.

He quotes a prominent podiatrist as saying, “In only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument - our shoes - we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait.”

For years, people have been telling my younger brother that he walks weird. I can’t wait to tell him the good news: “It’s not you - it’s your shoes.”

Another researcher, Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, says his podiatric colleagues need to get people out of their shoes and to “actively encourage barefoot walking for healthy individuals.” After all, primitive man didn’t own any wingtips, sneakers or galoshes.

But is it really practical for everybody on the planet to walk around barefoot 24/7? Personally, I don’t think a tuxedo looks nearly complete without including some shoes - even an old brown pair.

It would hard to slide well at the bowling alley without their rented shoes.

And except for Mark, who would want their kid to walk to school barefoot through winter snow?

There are a few new companies that have begun selling shoes designed to simulate walking barefoot. I’ve tried walking in a pair or two, and found that in just a short time, my feet were getting dog-tired. Or, to put it another way, my dogs were getting foot-tired.

Meanwhile, wherever he is, I hope Mark feels vindicated - and will walk his way barefoot into ripe old age.

Unless an asteroid hits him first.

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com.