Foot Fetish at the Food Emporium



Broadway & W 90th St, New York, NY 10024

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

It was around 5 p.m. and I was on my way home. It was hot. I was tired. Feet hurt, and that’s not all. Spent all day standing in a heated sardine can courtroom in Housing Court. My back hurt. And my ego – after dumbass judge beat up on me for something I had no control over – as Breslin says, “fuggedaboudit.”

Got off Number 1 train at 86th Street to pick up dried mushrooms for a stew I wanted to make for supper. Guests coming.

It isn’t true that all dried mushrooms are alike. Even if you’re not an epicure, fact is that the plain old dried white ones taste different than the plain brown ones, and the “special” fancies cost ten times what the cheapies do. Damn! Food Emporium (FE) the only place in the neighborhood with cheapie whities.

Zipped up to F(ood) E(mpathy) looking for a cool aire refresh and quick cheapie whities. I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. Walk in; stop; look around. Where dried whities?

Black guy walks up to me. Thirties; cleancut; close shaven. Starts talking while bending over in a move smooth as melted chocolate, pouring.

Grabs my right foot as he says “I study feet. Do you mind if I look at yours? Can I give you a foot massage?” All this while pulling off my shoe.

Panic. Balance tenuous. Is there an accomplice to grab my shoulder bag?

Guy keeps up patter. “Your foot is very unusual.” (How could he tell; I was wearing black stockings?).

Holds foot with one hand: touches each toe, in turn, with the other. Tries unsuccessfully to push them apart. At the point where he tries to lift it to look at my sole (soul?), I pull away, firmly replace foot in shoe, say “sorry, I’m in a hurry” and flee.

If I start shrieking for cops, god knows. Take hours. Looking for dried mushrooms.

Heaven: I find them four aisles away. No time to ponder foot man as my shoulder bag remains firmly entrenched and zipped, like when I started out.

Just as I reach out to grab a plastic container, he shows up again.

Chocolate man: “I need to look at the other one” swooning down to my lefty.

I jump back, say “SO SORRY, REALLY no time.” He starts about how my feet are SO interesting and attractive. I flee to the checkout line. If he comes to bother me again, damn it, I’ll ask cashier to call for help. Or I’ll yell for it myself. I guess. But he doesn’t and I get home without further examination, molestation or protestation. But really!

I think my feet are okay, most of the time. Not great; not too knobby. But at the end of a long, hot day? My consort, an artist, sketches and paints them alla time; says they’re “nice.” He does them when I’m lying on the couch. They’ve been soaked, maybe bathed, and are all pink and white. Not swathed in transparent blackishness; not grotty from sweat. No red lines where my shoes cut in.

I’ve told this story to countless friends, trying to share my sense of weirdness and, frankly, figure out what the hell was going on. One, a professor of English, says it’s the quintessential urban story: foot fetishists (if that’s what he was) can’t do their thing in small towns.

But I’ve always wondered: was it the shape – or the smell? August, 1998

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