His feet are his shoes, literally. There’s a homeless man I pass each morning in the Columbus Circle station. He is always asleep, tilted to the side, his plump body wedged between the wooden bench he inhabits and the wall. He wears a black coat and black pants both so dirty they are starting to look grey. I’ve never really seen his face, and I’m not sure when I began to notice his feet.
His feet are large, plump, and uncovered. They are cracked and scabbed, calloused and worn. These feet fascinate me, maybe because being barefoot in New York City is so forbidden to start with. Maybe because comfortable footwear for the daily trekking that happens here is of utmost importance as I’ve learned firsthand. His feet look like eggplants to me, when you broil them and the skin turns from purple to dark purple brown and begins to crack and blister up. Everyday I try to sneak a peek at his feet as I walk by. At first I thought maybe I should bring him a pair of shoes, but the bottoms of his feet have already become as hard and leathered as the souls of shoes and it would be weird to put a shoe inside another shoe. And then I began to fantasize about washing his feet.
I am fully aware that this is bizarre, and I don’t even know how the idea got into my head, but I really want, in some crazy way, to wash this guy’s eggplant feet. At first it was a strange impulse, and now it is a full color fantasy that plays like a movie in my mind each time I walk by. I would carefully carry a circular white plastic or soft pastel color basin of warm water up to him. I would gently and quietly place it on the ground next to his feet. Then I would place a fluffy white towel, folded in half, in front of his feet and kneel down onto it. Slowly I would touch and lift his feet, one at a time, and place them like treasures into the warm water. The water would have a layer of soft suds floating on it – lavender which I really like might be too strong for all those cracks and sores, so maybe it would be scented with something more gentle like honey, or vanilla, or maybe chamomile. In this fantasy movie I wash him with a soft cloth, like the kind I use on Cub each morning. A little square the size of a coaster made of the softest terrycloth you can find. I would move it slowly between his toes, and along the sides of his feet where the black line of dirt sits like a water line reminder left on a wall after a flood. Then I tenderly swaddle each foot in another fluffy white towel and gently pat them dry. I place them back on the subway station floor, gather my things, and walk silently away. He never wakes up in my foot-washing fantasy, nor does he know I exist and think of him everyday as I walk by in real life.
Sometimes I find the things that go on inside my head surprising, amusing, entertaining even to me. Like my subconscious mind is a circus, a carnival, playground, taking in all the stimulus from the day – the sights the smells the interactions and thoughts – then scrambling them up in a big tilt-a-whirl and feeding them back to me in fun-house style Technicolor sleeping dreams and waking fantasies. If the world, especially New York, is a big fun crazy place, the world inside me is bigger and more fun and definitely at times much crazier. I was smiling to myself about my weird foot-washing movie this morning as I sat on the floor in front of the bathtub. I was gently washing between Cub’s toes, combing out her hair, lifting her into a fluffy white blanket and tenderly patting her dry. That’s when I realized what the carnie circus master in my mind was prodding me to notice. This man with the eggplant feet that are his shoes was once someone’s baby. And I didn’t feel crazy anymore.
Helped with stroller on stairs downtown: somewhat non-descript white guy with a bad haircut, about 6 foot tall, navy shorts and maroon polo shirt, grey suede sneakers with no socks, looked like a graduate student. Shuffled near me with hands in pockets too shy to ask if I needed help until I looked at him and gave him a subtle nod and half smile indicating it was okay. He then asked if I needed help, I said yes, and gave him the rest of the smile.
Tip of the day: if you are going to visit new york or move to new york, just know whatever you consider your comfiest shoes are most likely not going to cut it. This is good because it makes things more simple in a way – you will get a truly comfy pair of shoes, and you will wear them every single day. I wore the same pair of Merrell boots everyday for the first three months I was here, and now I wear a pair of Sketchers Go Walk loafers every single day. This also frees up closet space, which you will undoubtedly be grateful for.