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Happy Feet

By Michael Barmak, Copyright 2004
December 31, 2006

This extremely funny article is about how, when you are open to learning, anyone can be your teacher. Michael shares how the shoe salesman "enlightened" him.

I'm preparing to lead a workshop at a posh health spa when a teenage girl saunters in and approaches me.She tells me she's here for "Happy Feet." That must be her cute way of describing my "Six Steps to Joy" class. So when she sits on the floor and starts removing her sneakers, I assume that she's getting ready to "walk the walk" with the rest of the group.

"I heard," she says, "that spa guests can purchase shoes that make your whole body smile.What's on sale today?"

When I tell her that I'm concerned that she stayed a little too long in the sauna, she jumps up, screaming something about her chow chow and runs out of the room, leaving her shoes behind.

For the rest of the morning, every time I use the words "steps" and "joy" together, I wonder what happened to Miss Happy Feet.

During our lunch break, I notice a man sitting in front of an elevated chair outside the dining room. He is surrounded by shoe boxes and small white plastic pieces in the shape of feet. The teenage girl from earlier this morning is walking away with a shoe box under one arm and her dog, which now looks more like a steam cleaned rug, under the other. When she sees me, she points to the guy next to the chair and calls out, "See? Happy Feet!"

So that's who she's getting this nonsense from. I look at the torn, flattened soles of my only pair of shoes. I could use some new ones but he better not try any of his smiley face b.s. on me. I mean, come on, how much happiness can you squeeze into a size eight tie-up?

When I tell him I need another pair of Rockport Dress Sports, the shoe salesman says, "Shoe up and screw up!"

I ask him if I'm trying on shoes or auditioning for "Foot Fetishes of the Rich and Famous."

"It's this mass production mentality. Mass production shoes won't work," he tells me. "That's where we screw up. I recommend orthotics. They accommodate individuality."

"So then, slipper skipper, how do you feel about t-shirt tags which say "one size fits most?"

He glances at several docile looking customers waiting on the couch. "Trust me, you wear the right shoes, your life will never be the same again."

Come on. If I wanted enlightenment, I wouldn't be wasting my time with some guy who's a shoe guru wannabe. The deepest issue he's probably ever encountered is an ingrown toe-nail. What could I possibly learn from him?

In a stern voice, he instructs me to "claim the throne" and take off my shoes and socks.

I warn him that this is where I draw the line. The rest of my clothes are not leaving my body! "What's up with the skin?" I ask.

"Bare feet," he says. "Nature's most perfect shoe."

"You've obviously never seen my wife's toes." I tell him.

I notice him start squeezing a shoe like it's a stress relief ball.

"Hey buddy loosen up. They're just shoes!"

"Do you know?" he continues. "A person weighs more walking than standing. Walking is dead weight plus push energy which adds about 30% to standing weight."

I can see the headlines now. "Contrary to every study in the world ever done, Joe Toe, shoe salesman, declares that the best way to lose weight is by standing still."

"The average person takes 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day. Did you know that by the time most Americans reach their 50th birthday, they've logged 75,000 miles or more on their feet?"

I brag how my 1995 Ford Taurus has 175,000 miles and is running fine. I suggest to him that maybe all I need to do is to rotate my shoes.

He now starts directing his comments to the growing line of customers.

"That's why it's so important to have a good fit. We are not the problem. We are shoe abused. Bad knees and bad backs are a chain reaction of a bad fit. Your issue can crop up years later."

Did he say bad back? Now his words hit home. I often hurt my back and occasionally suffer from excruciating muscle spasms. For the first time today, I take his comments seriously. What if he's right? Maybe my back pain is a consequence of bad shoe choices.

What am I waiting for? The $200 the shoes and orthotics are going to cost me is nothing compared to the time, energy and money I spend each month for massages, physical therapy, acupuncture treatments, psychotherapy, chiropractic sessions and orthopedic procedures. Not to mention the toll this is taking on my marriage (my wife's feet not withstanding).

Before I can show everyone that I have seen the light and it fits inside a shoe box, a young woman stops by and demands to be fitted for high heels immediately.

"I can't help anyone with high heels." He points to the others that have been waiting patiently and promises her that he'll get to her within the hour if she's open to other options. She replies that she has a facial aerobics class that's just about to begin and she's not sure which to choose.

"If it's important to you then you'll do it."

The warm-up music starts and she begins raising her forehead up and down in tempo to the song. Then with a blink of her right eye, then left eye and then right eye again, she tosses her hair back and heads to class.

I quickly remind him about my back problem and beg him to please help me find a good shoe fit. I know I'm leaving myself open. After all, I've been a non-believer ever since I claimed the throne. So when he grabs my right foot, I'm hoping I won't have to spend the rest of my life buying only left shoes. He places my foot on the Branneck measuring device.

"You have a narrow heel, long in the arch, a medium instep, short toes relative to the length of your foot and your foot is over rotating. You need an accommodating orthotic to keep your foot stable so that you won't roll out of neutral and drift off the front of the arch. You're also wearing a size 8 shoe when you really need an 8 1/2 wide width."

He informs me that wide widths are special orders and he'll have my 8 1/2 wide width within the week. At that time he'll cast me for orthotics and I'll be on my way to a healthier life and pain free back.

"How will I know that the larger size and wider width are a good fit?"

"Your toes will be able to wiggle and you'll walk ten miles and not even think about your feet. All you'll have to do is tie your shoes and it will be like wearing a good seatbelt." Joe Toe smiles. "Taking care of yourself is very empowering. You'll find it easier to stand up for yourself because you'll be standing in yourself."

For the first time since I sat in his chair, I feel like a king sitting in my throne. This guy is the real deal after all. I get down from his chair and tell him that I can't wait to try on my new Rockports and orthotics. As I turn to head back to my class, he reminds me to make sure I get enough fiber.

I'm tempted to come back with, "You mean mass produced shoes also cause constipation?" But I hold my tongue. This guy has just possibly saved me from years of chronic intractable pain.

"Like with food. Fiber should be dominant. You want socks with a lot of fiber. Fiber wicks moisture, whereas cotton absorbs it and makes your feet stink."

He throws me a pair of socks. "Guaranteed to keep your toes warm, dry and happy while you wait for your new shoes." I take off my old socks and put on my new 100% fiber socks.

When I return to my workshop, I inform the participants that I'm adding a seventh step to joy: Happy Feet.

Now that's loving.


Michael Barmak, CSW, LCSW is an Inner Bonding Facilitator in private practice. He works with individuals and couples in person and on the phone and can be reached at 908-276-8191 or


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