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Scarvey column: The agony of da feet

Believe it or not, dreamboat actor George Clooney used to sell women’s shoes, back in the days when a salesman perched on a stool in front of you and measured your foot on a metal thing called a Brannock device.
During this career, Clooney became aware of a grisly reality: Kentucky women of a certain age were likely to have had a toe on each foot amputated ó the better to fit into pumps.
So who, I wonder, actually performed these amputations? Did a doctor with a black bag show up, whip out a little saw and say, “What’ll it be, Mizrus Jenkins: a pint of Old Crow or an ether-soaked rag?”
My grandma’s toes were intact, but I was shocked as a child to peek at her naked feet, gnarly and grotesque from years of ill-fitting shoes.
Why have women historically been so amenable to pain in the service of beauty? Imagine being one of those women in imperial China who were subjected to torturous footbinding in order to achieve the three-inch “golden lotus” look the culture revered.
In a less drastic way, some women continue to abuse their feet, in order ó like Carrie Bradshaw ó to wear pointy, stylish Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks.
In a surgery euphemistically called a toe tuck, a doctor cuts open the toe, removes some bone, then sews the toe back up. It works, but there are often nasty complications.
Why do women accept shoes as torture devices?
When girls are little, shoes are generally their friends. I loved my Stride Rite saddle shoes. I didn’t care what others thought of them, or my clothing for that matter ó which was often accessorized by a blanket safety-pinned to my shirt, like Mighty Mouse, my flying rodent hero.
In my 20s, seduced by a luscious pair of dark red high-heeled leather pumps, I succumbed to a dark feminine impulse and made them mine.
Flash forward to the side of a New Jersey highway: me, dressed for a wedding in teetering heels, mincing in agony through broken glass and garbage, wondering how many miles to the exit.
I remember gazing enviously at my fiance’s sturdy black dress shoes.
And right there on the Jersey Turnpike, I had an epiphany.
Life is unpredictable.
Sometimes, life deposits you unceremoniously on the side of the road. Or in an emergency room for hours. Or in a parking lot threatened by an assailant, who’d surely be wearing practical shoes. Did I really want to be faced with any of those scenarios wearing footwear that even in the best of situations was so uncomfortable it made me mutter colorful phrases I wouldn’t want my mother to overhear?
What if, like Mighty Mouse, I had the chance to save someone from a burning building? I’d need to be able to use my feet to run, since any cape pinned to my shoulders would not, I now realized, actually confer the power of flight.
After my turnpike revelation, I shoved my beautiful, hateful shoes in front of a friend.
Her eyes lit up.
“Take them,” I said. “They’re the devil’s shoes.”
“In that case, I’ve got the perfect blue dress,” she said, pulling them close.
Just don’t expect her to save you from a burning building. Contact Katie Scarvey at kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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