I Tried Walking Barefoot in New York City

©. Ilana Strauss

My brother thinks shoes are the Devil. He tells me that being barefoot makes you healthier and that Olympic athletes run barefoot.

I have never seen my brother walk outside barefoot.

But he put the Fear of Footwear in me when he suggested that maybe shoes keep breaking my feet.

My feet break a lot. I have no idea why. You probably have a theory; everyone has a theory. And my brother’s theory is shoes. So I decided to walk around barefoot all day. The universe, as I later found out, was not into this plan.

Ideally, I’d be in some small town, maybe in Vermont or California. I’d skip shoeless through velvety pastures or take long walks along the beach. Alas, I was in one of the worst places for barefoot walking in the world: New York City. I didn’t want to sludge through what a friend once called the New York’s “fetid garbage slime puddles.” But I’d do it anyway. For the people.

Having taken on this sacred duty, my first act was to cheat.

new york city trash

© Mrstam/Shutterstock

I fished around in my dresser for orphaned socks and found a black one and a white one to sacrifice to the cause. I nobly proceeded to take selfies for this article and spent 20 minutes trying to scrunch both my head and my feet into the same photo. I didn’t get a good photo, but after 17 mosquito bites, I declared the last one good enough and ran inside to wash out the mosquito saliva. It had been a better venture for the mosquitos than for me.

Having cleaned my wounds, I once again prepared to walk into the sunny day, over dusty construction piles and trash heaps, but I was thwarted. In a few seconds, clouds covered the sky and it started thunderstorming. I wondered if foreshadowing happened in real life.

One thing was clear: the universe was taunting me. I faced a choice: Do I walk through the Brooklyn thunderstorm in socks? That would be the heroic thing to do.

I wrestled with this decision while watching TV for the next hour. Then the rain stopped, and I had a realization: this was probably the cleanest New York would ever get. So I strolled outside.

I was immediately blocked by broken glass. Someone had dropped a Malta soda bottle, and its brown shards dotted the sidewalk like the mosquito bites on my leg. I picked my way around the pieces.

Broken Malta soda bottle.

© Ilana Strauss

I could feel the concrete's sandpapery texture, the painted white lines on the crosswalk. It was like having a pair of eyes in my feet. I wondered if blind people got around better before shoes.

Still, I continued to pass a lot of disgusting stuff. And maybe it was just in my head, but I could feel people watching me. At one point, a couple snuck behind a lamppost and stared at me for a few minutes. Eventually, another guy approached me.

“What happened to your shoes?” he asked.

“I’m trying something out.”

“With one white and one black sock?” he pressed. He was not buying my story.

“Something like that.”

“How’s it working for you?”

“Surprisingly not bad.”

The truth was, walking barefoot was like unlocking a superpower. I felt like a tree discovering it had roots.

But in all honesty, I probably won’t go shoeless too much in Brooklyn. I’m saving that for Vermont.