Smelly Feet on the Subway

Several nights ago, on the F home from 14th St station, after an assault on Old Navy’s “Fall collection” to the tune of around 100$ [Cue the theme to John Carpenter’s Assualt on Precinct 13not the remake] (I know, I know, I could have picked up a vintage beige-blond version of the corduroy blazer / sports jacket in Williamsburg for twice the price, but I decided to avoid the potential for hipster bed bug infestation of the seams), I found a spot at the end of the carriage which everyone was mysteriously avoiding – except for this blonde white woman, early to mid twenties.

I sat opposite her, and immediately noticed (1) that she had her black boot runners off and (2) she was caressing her foot in a manner that also involved a certain amount of picking. Less immediately, but after the first minute and a half had passed, I noticed the reason for her quarantine: a smell was emerging from her naked feet, upon which she was performing her own version of smelly Reflexology, a revolting, stinky Shiatsu. The smell was either cheesy or feety – a fetid Brie, a sweaty gooey Camembert with a touch of Athlete’s Foot, a good unpasteurised Stilton… Now I understood why pregnant women are advised against eating Stilton.

I also noticed her meditative posture: occupying both seats in her “booth” at carriage end, one naked cheesy foot sat on the floor, upon the removed shoe; the other rested yogically, half-lotus-esque, on her knee. It was this foot she was picking at, meditatively exploring the crevices between the toes, casting off dead skin. More fascinating was the vacant, spaced, spazzing-out, drugged or drunk expression on her face, and the way she moved her head slowly upon the swivel of her neck: left to right, up and down. I couldn’t be sure if she was mentally unstable or if she was, in my favourite politically incorrect American expression, “retarded”. Impossible to tell. Maybe she was “New York retarded”, that special subcategory in the book of neurotic conditions.

A man from the Indian subcontinent to my left caught my eye; he was furious. He then turned to her, and said, “hello? Hello?” She swiveled her neck to look at him, vacantly. “Shoes – on. Put – shoes – on.” She looked at him uncertainly, and in a hectoring, bullying tone, as if dealing with an animal, he said, “yes, yes. You. Put shoes – on.” She, uncertainly, her mouth half-open, put on one sock, and then proceeded to fit the shoe over her cheesy foot, and he continued: “yes. Good. Good. Now. other shoe? – On. Other shoe? On.” It was like the script from a late Beckett play. “Nohow on. No shoe, too much smell. Cheese, I can’t go on.”

I was, on the one hand, pleased that some purchase still holds in the public space; that some do not cede to the general apathy and separate-bubbledom of the big city agora, but did find it significant that the one person who restablished the social contract was not traditionally “American”.

Anyway, I didn’t wait for the outcome. Thoroughly feet-ed out of it, and cheesed off, I got out at the next station and moved up to the next carriage, where another world, a whole other set of phenomena awaited me.