Revising the Footlicker Story



256 Bowery, NY, NY 10012

Neighborhood: East Village

1. “Saturday, January 27, 1996. Last Wednesday night, Anna* told me the story of how she made ten dollars letting a guy she worked with lick her feet. From what she tells me, he was really into it–licking her toes, the in-between areas, the heel. She said she even ‘threw in the other foot for free.’ I told her this was clearly an act of fetishism, and insofar as the night guard derived sexual pleasure from doing this, she was in effect prostituting her feet to this man. Anna didn’t agree. She said it was like some ‘summer camp dare.’ ”


*Name changed here and hereafter.

1a. That’s an entry from the journal I kept when in my single dating years. I have long pointed to the Footlicker Story as a cautionary tale from those days as a weirdo magnet for freaky women. Looking again at this immediate account, however, I feel as if I may have pushed the narrative into caricature. What follows is an attempt to, among other things, parse out any details I may have forgotten or gotten wrong.

1b. The Anna in question was a newcomer to New York City. And like many newcomers, Anna worked several jobs. At least three jobs that I can still remember: the first selling expensive art markers in SoHo; a second as a housesitter/overcharged sublettor for a rent-controlled lesbian couple’s apartment on the Bowery who lived in rural Connecticut; and a third as a data entry clerk at a fairly well-known international investment concern that rhymes with “Stare Burns.”

2. It was at that third Stare Burns job where the night guard footlicking story took place. Anna worked the second shift from 4pm to 12am as a word processor, and I suppose things got slow one night.

3. Anna and I were on our third date when I heard this story. This is a major dating event. The first date often counts as meeting at a bar or on the subway; a one-night stand, even. The second might be more formal: drinks at an appointed hour or a dinner party. The third is invariably a one-on-one affair, a summit. Not to sound too Sex and City-ish, but in New York, the third date is also often a chess game, a comparison of career, pedigree, future goals. As the defunct reality TV show “Third Date” calls it, it’s the “make-or-break date with love in the air.”

4. There was love in the air for Anna and I before our third date on Wednesday, January 24, 1996. We had first met on the L train, that hipster singles bar on wheels. Anna was attractive, blonde, tall, with tomboy freckles and no makeup.

5. She was also a painter. I was always a sucker for female painters. They always seem so tactile, with paint spots on overalls that bare their toned, usually tattooed, arms. They are unusually detached in their demeanor. Most seem stoned, mellow.

5a. Female painters never paid attention to me. I have always been a jumpy, approval-seeking comic, who used wit to compensate for a schlubby appearance. Put those two types together–the comic schlub and the effete, foxy painter–and you have an assload of bad date stories.

6. Anna, however, was a painter who paid attention to me, even laughed at my jokes, and so I was smitten. But that night, I couldn’t wrap my head around this Footlicker Story. The detached painter tone I could understand; but “summer camp dare”?

7. Something didn’t feel right. That’s all I knew back then.

8. Anna had been in New York City for two months. Perhaps, as in the case of Joe Buck in John Schlesinger’s 1969 classic “Midnight Cowboy,” Anna was being sucked into the footlicking scene for want of making the big time, getting in a good group show, or to pay the rent?

9. I should have mentioned this first, but Anna is from Utah. She wasn’t, like, a Mormon. But being from Utah, to my mind, makes her more naive about most matters footlicking. I suspect there are not too many other self-identified footlicking enthusiasts in Utah, on the giving or receiving end.

10. Google results of search term variants of “Utah AND footlick AND footlicker” yield bupkis. There just doesn’t seem to be any verifiable Utah-footlicking connection.

10a. There is a “mature busty fitness model” named Utah Sweet. You can book Ms. Sweet for, among other things, “Cuddling/ Hugging Sessions.”

10b. There are a couple of bi-curious men in Salt Lake City who express an interest in licking feet on the relevant discussion boards.

10c. And then there is the public policy tome “Truth and Consequences: How Colleges and Universities Meet Public Crises,” which uses as one of its case studies “the integrity of cold fusion research results at the Univ[ersity] of Utah.”

10d. The author of the above-mentioned book is the unfortunately named Jerrold K. Footlick.

10e. When I switch gears into some real research into more scholarly databases, many of the articles that turn up address folklore’s connections with fetishes and other dark sides of human nature. The first versions of Cinderella’s wide-eyed innocence, for instance, are cast against the relief of a very real, dangerous element of dark sexuality. It’s not just the foot that goes into that missing slipper. The stepsisters chop off their toes to fit into the slipper to meet the prince. The first Little Red Riding Hoods are portrayed as overtaken by the Big Bad Wolf when she goes outside to take a shit, the moral being a little girl should not take a shit outside by herself in the woods. These and other tales are rendered uniform and respectful as they are disseminated in print. It is often the typesetter or publisher who sees these dirty details, which offend their bourgeoisie sensibility. The fetishes and scatological details are in turn expurgated.

11. Perhaps I expurgated the only other detail I can remember from Stare Burns Night Guard Anna the Footlicker for a Tenner Story. The night guard in question was an older African-American male.

11a. By ignoring or withholding this detail, am I too overcautious? What I mean is: Am I too polite, like those middle-class printers? Or am I casting the guard as a black buck, the stereotype described by Donald Bogle in “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films” as “oversexed, savage, violent and frenzied”? Or am I exhibiting an ageism in the very mention he was older?

11b. I know I am doomed to error in the night guard’s portrayal. In casting him as almost neutral in this story, in withholding these two details I knew about him, I am taking him out of the picture entirely.

11c. Another attempt: The guard was an older black guy. That’s all I know.

12. I also did not consider that the guard’s proclivities of footlicking not one, but two feet of his co-worker, in the middle of a cold winter night, behind his guard desk at a midtown building. Namely, the guard’s motives may have been some gesture of love, a mark of tenderness, a crush.

12a. Or hers.

13. I interviewed my wife about this story recently. She had heard it before, but I wanted to know what she thought, on the record. She is a reluctant interviewee.

[I tell her the Footlicker Story.]

Me: So what do you think?

My wife: Two things. One, ten dollars is pretty cheap. And two, I’d prefer you not tell it so many times.

Me: Would you lick somebody’s feet?

MW: I wouldn’t lick anybody’s feet. Not even yours.

Me: What about summer camp? Anna described it a “summer camp dare.” You went to summer camp, right?

MW: Maybe I’d lick someone’s feet at summer camp. OK, I’m eight. I can see that. There’s some conceivability.

Me: But how about when you were a counselor as a teenager, like those trust games they have?

MW: Trust games? I went to Camp Walden*.

[There’s a really well-known Camp Walden, but this is the other one. This is the one that closed because they ran out of food one summer gradually. Everyone had really bad lice and we ate oatmeal at every meal.]


*Name changed here and hereafter.

Me: So you wouldn’t lick anybody’s feet by the campfire at Camp Walden?

MW: No.

14. What do I really remember? That winter night more than 10 years ago, I didn’t freak out. I also didn’t laugh.

14a. More than anything, more than repulsion, more than shock, more than the desire to look at her feet to see what the guard saw in them, I felt jealous. Very jealous.

14b. Anna laughed about the incident; she was giddy; she sounded like she had met the perfect man. It was, actually, the first thing she told me that night as we ordered a round of beers on our third date.

14c. Her naiveté about the footlicker’s intentions must have bothered me, sure. But what really I wanted was her to feel just as giddy about me.

15. I now remember I was also pedantic with Anna that night; I lectured, point by point, the way insecure men in their twenties do, that footlicking is a fetish, that is to say it’s quite possible that this is the only way the night guard can be sexually aroused. I remember she kept smiling through all of this.

16. We did have a fourth date and fifth date. The fourth was the night after two of my wisdom teeth were taken out. The sutures were still in my mouth. I pleasured her–I think in high school we called it “third base”–and she wanted to go to sleep when I was done. Before she did, she told me her younger brothers sleep in igloos in Utah. They burn a candle in the middle of it and it keeps them warm all night. I didn’t believe her.

“Weren’t you ever in the Boy Scouts?” she asked me.

16a. On the fifth date, she bit me on the shoulder. We weren’t even doing it. She just bit me.

17. That was our last date. I never spoke to Anna again after that night. The night guard and Anna may have dated after that. I don’t know. They might be married by now, living in Queens somewhere. Salt Lake City, Westchester.

17a. In the middle of winter, when my wife and I are sharing the couch at either ends, wrapped in blankets to keep us warm, I sometimes lick my wife’s toes to get on her nerves. One night I held onto one of her legs for dear life as I licked away. She kicked back like a horse and gave me a bloody nose.

17b. In the marginalia in my journal’s account of the Footlicking Story, I’ve written down the following language. I am fairly sure it’s by contemporary philosopher John R. Searle. It’s called “How to promise: a complicated way”:

“Given that a speaker S utters a sentence T in the presence of a hearer H, then, in the literal utterance of T, S sincerely and non-defectively promises that p to H.”

17c. I think at some point I thought I could figure out The Footlicker Story using math. Or something. I don’t know what “p” represents in the above point. The truth is, none of this makes sense, especially in the winter in the mid-90s, in New York City, on a second shift in midtown, on the L train, or on the Bowery in an illegal sublet, even with the folklore studies and the philosophy of language thrown in, even now as I write this in my office at a historically Catholic college in Albany, NY. Licking someone else’s feet for ten bucks probably makes just as much sense as anything else.

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