Editor’s note. Mike Royko wrote this one for the Chicago Sun-Times on March 17, 1981.
With some people, the problem is always the back. With me it’s feet.
So I wasn’t really surprised during the past weekend when I suddenly found myself howling and hopping on one foot around my kitchen. The thought went through my mind: “It figures, it figures.”
The reason I was hopping on one foot was that I had been cooking some spaghetti. But instead of pouring the boiling water into the sink, I aimed badly and poured it on my bare foot.
On the way to the hospital, I watched without sympathy as my foot changed colors.
If it hadn’t been for the pain, I might have pointed a finger at it and said: “Foot, you got exactly what you deserve.”
The fact is, I dislike my feet. At times the feelings border on hatred. As far back as I can remember, they’ve been nothing but trouble.
You might wonder how a person can hate his own feet. I don’t think that’s unusual. Some people hate their own noses. Or their teeth.
At least they can go to a plastic surgeon and get a nose job, or get their teeth capped.
But when you hate your own feet, there’s not much you can do about it except try to ignore them or swear when you happen to see them.
And that’s one of the problems with feet. They’re hard to ignore. The first thing I see every morning are my feet, sticking up at the other end of the bed.
So I start each morning by saying: “Hello, you lousy, ugly, gnarled, painful b—-s. I hate both of you!”
That’s not the best way to begin the day, I suppose, but it does get me into the proper frame of mind for my job.
As I lie there looking at my feet, I’m always struck by how ugly they are.
Most feet aren’t very good looking. I can’t remember anybody being renowned for his or her stunningly attractive feet, although there are strange people whose pulses race at the sight of a toe. Or so they say when they write about their fantasies to Penthouse Forum.
But for ugliness, mine have always been in a class by themselves.
When I was born, the first thing my mother said to me was: “He takes after his father. Look at those feet.”
She was right. My father had size 12 feet. And so did I — on the day I was born.
And the doctor later said that I was the only infant he had ever seen come into the world with calluses and corns and cracked toenails.
My toes are longer than most people’s fingers. If the toes were extended, I’d probably wear a size 20 shoe. But they curl under about three times so they look more like large, clenched fists than feet.
They’re also very wide. They might be as wide as they are long, which has always made it difficult for me to find shoes that fit properly.
When I was a kid, we’d spend hours at the shoe stores looking for shoes that were wide enough. One salesman finally gave up and said:
“Lady, the only place you’ll find a shoe that fits this kid is at a blacksmith’s shop.”
We finally found something that fit perfectly. They were comfortable, but a lot of people looked twice when they saw someone walking around with two baseball gloves on his feet.
Then there’s the arch. Basically, there are two kinds of arches.
The normal arch curves upward, providing the foot with flexibility and acting as a shock absorber for the spine.
The flat foot has little or no curve.
Mine is in a class by itself. The arch curves downward, sort of like the bottom of a rocking chair.
This makes it difficult for me to stand up without swaying back and forth, which has led to considerable misunderstanding, especially in bars.
When I was in the service, we’d all be standing at attention. Then the wind would blow. With my arms stiff at my side, I’d sway forward, then backward. Pretty soon, I’d be going back and forth like a rocker, first my nose, then the back of my head grazing the ground.
The commanding officer didn’t know what to do with someone like that, so he finally assigned me to the base orchestra, where I was the metronome.
You can learn to live with feet like mine, but you have to take certain precautions.
For example, I took a vacation at the seashore once. In the evening, I’d take long, barefoot walks along the beach.
One morning, I noticed a crowd of men studying my footprints in the sand. They were the police, the conservation department and the local zoo.
One of them shook his head and said: “I don’t know what kind of creature it is, but we better post some armed guards here at night.”
My feet have probably sensed how I’ve felt about them, and they’ve retaliated by getting themselves stubbed and stepped on every chance they get. I don’t even take it personally when someone steps on my foot anymore. I just say: “Don’t apologize, he had it coming. Step on the other one, too. He’s just as bad.”
And I wouldn’t have even gone to the hospital when I burned my foot, except that I have to live with it.
When the doctor came into the emergency room, he asked me what happened.
“I just poured a pot of boiling water on it.”
He shook his head and said: “Boy, it really does look awful.”
“Doc,” I said, “it’s the other one.”
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