Saturday, January 16, 2010


Down at the village doctor's on Wednesday morning for my annual physical, good day for it, crisp and clear with a dust of bright glittery snowflakes blustering down from the clouds atop the mountain and... oh yes, the-- the check up: had the usual stethoscope, blood pressure, weight and height stuff, then the doc asked me to get up on the table so he could check my abdomen, then asked me to take off my socks. My socks?

He'd never done that before, why would he want me to take my socks off? I asked him, just out of curiosity, it made no difference to me if I had to take my socks off, even with the nurse standing there and a young intern too, learning the ins and outs of personal GP dealings with village folk-- even, heaven forbid, foreigners -- which also made no difference to me, I've got nothing to hide, I'm proud of my feet, I like them, they're cool, they got me here.

The doc answered that he wanted to check the pulse in my feet. New to me, but it was his examination, so I took off the socks and while he was prodding my feet for signs of life I sat there examining said extremities in quite a bit of surprise. It's not often - just about never, in fact - that one is as psychologically distanced from one's feet as one is in a doctor's office with said feet out there in medicospace. Suddenly those feet become examinable -- and oneself, among others, is examining them -- and as I say, I was oddly surprised by the fact of my pedalities. They looked so... alien, sticking out there like that at the end of my pantlegs!

Ever since I set off on the long travel road nearly 40 years ago I've said probably too often that all I need to survive is a good set of garb, a good sleeping bag and a good pair of highway shoes. Didn't even stop to think about, and thank, the feet that would fill those shoes and carry me along. Let alone stop and look at them as at a new pair of hiking boots like I was doing now. How often does one really study one's feet? I mean gaze at them studiously and objectively, with an alien perspective, such as when you're a foreigner in a Japanese doctor's office and there at the bottom of your legs are two big, naked, shockingly unJapanese feet lying on the table right there in front of you?

They seemed so Martian or something! Look at those toes! And those nails! The feet down there were size elevens, 30 cm behemoths: narrow, pale, thin and long toed, with a long big toe and a second toe longer than the big toe, and all the other toes - ten of them all together there, stemming from the long narrow feet - were skinny and pale too; all so unlike all the broad, homogeneous Japanese feet and toes I see all the time at the bath and the beach and the gym, feet that are all so alike that the shoe stores practically have one size for all Japanese men and another size for all Japanese women.

That's an exaggeration, to be fair-- I think they maybe have two or three sizes to choose from, a half-centimeter apart, but you see my point I hope, much as I saw those feet on that table. And they were MY feet! How could they be such strangers to me? I know the face of the guy in the mirror, but those feet down there on the floor at the bottom, they're so remote! Sure I clip their nails, bandage their blisters and so on, but that's about it. If I had a horse, I'd know my horse better than I know my feet. This all came to me as I sat there staring at those two forlorn appendages lying there on the table naked, living most of their lives in socks and shoes, delighting in the occasional barefoot romp which to them is like the old days, they get so excited at feeling everything until they hit a sharp rock and start limping, realizing how uncalloused they are, spending most of their days swaddled in socks, cloistered in shoes...

Through aging and traveling to new places, over the years my feet and head have grown apart; but I'm sure we can become close again, in a manner of speaking. After all, they are the very feet that brought me around the world, carried me all the way here, walked me all over the country, lifted me up mountains-- my feet have been with me every step of the way. All without a word of complaint, except a few silent blisters. From now on, I have to relate to my feet more than I have been doing-- get to know them, let them run free more often, have deeper associations with them than just putting socks and shoes on and walking along to the next place in life.

It's best to be on a friendly basis with those who bear you up.

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