Monday, April 06, 2009

COLUMN: Flat Feet

I think I'm pretty good at the art of the unspoken conversation.

You know, that moment when you're wandering down the sidewalk and encounter a total stranger. For a split second, your eyes meet. Words might not be exchanged, but clearly thoughts are expressed. Sometimes it's a bit tricky to make out what Jim or Jane Passerby is thinking, but sometimes it's totally transparent. That happens to me a lot.

And the transparent thought I often read on the faces of others is:

"Aww, lookit the poor little awkward guy so intimidated and unsure of himself. I'd say hello but he's so self-conscious he can barely make eye contact. I feel awful for him. I bet he's even so pathetic that he assumes everyone he meets on the street is passing some kind of short-sighted and cruel judgment upon him. I bet he'd make a good newspaper columnist."

Okay, so maybe I'm prone to the occasional bouts of doubt and neurotic self-loathing. But if you're a regular reader of this nook of newsprint, you know that my total lack of self-confidence did not come about without merit or experience. Just last week, I touched on two recent embarassing moments that sent my self-esteem reeling.

One of those was the time I wandered around in public for an entire morning without realizing I had a big ring of dried toothpaste around my mouth. Ahh, good times. As a result of that day, I can't step foot out of the bathroom now without double-checking my face for lingering trace elements of oral hygiene. And even after such a meticulous inspection, I still find myself licking the corners of my mouth every day on the walk from the parking lot -- you know, just in case I was unknowingly attacked by Colgate Fairies on the drive to work. Truth be told, it's probably a better fate to be Frothy the Rabid Man-Boy than "the weird kid who can't control his tongue."

The other was my recent break-through that I apparantly say the word "cookie" oddly -- based on the fact that every time I ask for cookies at the Hardee's drive-thru, I'm asked to repeat my order. When my co-workers read last week's column, they were quick to put my mind at ease. Kinda.

"You say the word 'cookie' like a normal person," said Chris, my colleague of so many years that she now calls me her 'work husband.' "You have no problems with 'cookie.' It's the word 'October' that you can't ever say right."

Greeeat. So my fear is ungrounded -- unless said cookie transaction happens in October. Apparantly, as I'm told, I say it like "Ack-tober." Which I sure hope isn't the truth, because it seems like it'd be hard to say "Ack-tober" without coating the faces of friends and family in spittle.

But these neuroses have taken a backseat to the newest self-confidence buster in my life -- one that comes courtesy of my dear sweet mother.

Let's get one thing clear: my mother really IS dear and sweet, and I love her to pieces. I especially say this because she reads this column weekly. (And all this time, you thought I didn't write about strippers, beer, and porn because I'm a moral guy and this is a family paper? Yeah, right.)

But I do love my mom like nothing else, and she's been having a rough go of things lately. She's super active, but between osteo-arthritis, bone spurs, and something that sounds like Plant-Yer-Face-In-Ice-is, she's not been the most comfortable of late. So when I found out she'd made a trip to to visit one of those orthopedic shoe-makers, I was happy for her.

The good news was that she got shoes and socks that alleviate a lot of the pain she's been having. The bad news was her choice of words.

"They did some testing and told me that I'm really flat-footed," she explained. "Apparantly it runs in your genes. SO THAT EXPLAINS WHY YOU'VE ALWAYS WALKED SO FLAT-FOOTED AND WEIRD."

Oh, that's niiii -- wait, WHAT? I WALK WEIRD? FLAT-FOOTED? Great news, mom. Perhaps this was a fact best NOT shared with your already self-conscious progeny. This was great, just great. Do I walk like a total spaz? Well, at least I no longer have to worry about dressing up for Halloween -- apparantly I'm already stomping around like a freakshow foaming at the mouth and coating everyone in toothpaste-coated spittle when I say, "Happy Aaacktober, everyone!"

I guess I always knew that my stride wasn't particularly graceful and sort of oaf-ishly clompy -- twinkletoes I certainly ain't, as anyone who's ever seen me in a rare appearance on the dancefloor can attest to. But I had always chalked it up to your standard male clumsiness rather than UNSIGHTLY GENETIC ABNORMALITY.

Laugh all you want, but I set up a mirror in my apartment and paraded down the hallway and back. I haven't noticed anything particularly unsightly, but I'm still obsessing on it every time I stand up. "Okay, Shane, focus. Heel...toe. Heel...toe. Heel...toe."

But I did some research to quell my nerves on the internet. This is NOT recommended for a neurotic hypochondriac like me, as you quickly learn about arthritic flat-footed conditions with treatments like "ankle fusion" and "ultrasound guided needle fasciotomies" and I'd rather not learn those definitions. On the bonus side, I learned that an estimated 30% of the world's population is flat-footed, so take THAT, Mom. I guess it's like I always say, the world IS a mighty weird place.

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