High Performance Strolling with my Vibram FiveFingers®

20 May


Let’s start with the obvious. I don’t need these shoes. They are meant for serious runners or, at the very least, people whose natural walk is faster than my average 3 miles per hour. I’m on my feet for approximately 90 seconds a day, which is the cumulative time it takes me to walk from my back door to my driveway, from my car into work, from work back to my car, and from my driveway back into my house. Give or take a few seconds as I walk to and from the toilet. But sometimes my back hurts. Bad backs run in my family. What if it’s the shoes?

I used to have a friend who is no longer my friend, partly because I used to ask her questions like this: “Do you [unnamed former friend] think I’m obviously gay?” When I asked this via email, because all the best communication happens in writing, she replied with a list of things about me that are, truth be told, pretty fucking gay. One of her reasons was the obvious comfort over fashion sense of my shoes. I think she called them clunky. If I remember correctly, that would have been in my clog phase. Add this to the ubiquitous set of golf clubs that were always in my trunk, and I think we can all agree that I’m a fifty-footer. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, my point is that you can spot my gayness from fifty feet away, based on survey participants with 20/20 vision. My point is, my back problems probably don’t have a lot to do with my shoes. People who might have back problems related to the shoes they wear are most likely ballerinas or drag queens.

But now there’s this whole notion that we would all be a lot healthier if we lived more like earlier humans did. I don’t mean humans who smoked and drank themselves to death in the days of the Mad Men. I mean like people the ones who lived 15,000 years ago, long before Christ turned water into wine or United Dairy Farmers turned milk into mint chocolate chip ice cream. Both of which are delicious, but neither of which we humans are, apparently, genetically predisposed to digest. What a bummer.

If you had to brainstorm other reasons that so many of us 21st century humans Americans are often miserable and in pain, your list might look something like:

  • Economic uncertainty
  • Unparalleled disparity between the haves and have-nots
  • Crippling fear of driving over bridges due to the knowledge that most of them are crumbling, and Congress refuses to do anything about it
  • Worry that your 24-year-old recent law school graduate daughter with no prospect of finding a job in her chosen field who can, at least, stay on your health insurance for another 2 years, will have to be dropped from your health insurance plan if some goofy guy who leads blind folks into glass doors (true story) gets elected
  • High percentage of jobs that require employees to sit in uncomfortable positions staring at computer monitors all day
  • High percentage of jobs that require people to stand on their feet all day trying to sell expensive underwear to the low percentage of people that never have to work and can, therefore, be at the mall shopping for expensive underwear at 10 o’clock in the morning
  • The recently announced cancellation of CSI: Miami

If this is your list, I can see why you’d think these things could be to blame for a less than happy, healthy society. Sadly, you’re wrong. It’s almost embarrassing for you how wrong you are. No, like I hinted in the first couple paragraphs of this post, which I should really move to sometime after this paragraph, but hey it’s a blog and these things are supposed to be easy-breezy-no-edits-pleazy, so we’re going with things the way they are, where was I? SHOES. It’s our shoes. We’d be happier and healthier if we not only ate like cave people, but also walked like them. The theory goes that sometime after we stopped dragging our knuckles on the ground and before the first time Sarah Jessica Parker threw on her first pair of Jimmy Choo’s, our footwear got out of step with our spine-wear. These boots weren’t made for walkin’, they were made for turned ankles and shin splints, and also maybe stripping.

The first time I saw Vibram FiveFinger shoes was on a guy who used to come into my former place of employment. I thought they looked weird, but like so many overprivileged folks with a conscience and a heightened sense of self-awareness (read: guilt for being such a spoiled Westerner) I, from time to time, like the idea of getting back to basics. Not the kind of basics where I stop turning the AC on in the summer or start growing my own vegetables, but the kind of basics where I pay $100 for the simulated experience of walking through life barefooted, except without fear of stepping on broken glass or still-smoldering cigarette butts. Just like cavemen.

The reality of the situation is that these shoes are mostly trendy among avid runners. People who don’t want to admit to themselves that running for miles and miles on hard-ass, nonabsorbent concrete is really fucking terrible for their backs, hips, and knees. Yes, but maybe if I can somehow run barefoot, the way evolution intended, my spine will realign itself while I’m running on the uneven brick streets of my upper-middle-class neighborhood. Just like the cavemen.

Yesterday was my first day in my new shoes. I jammed them on one toe-hole at a time before I even pulled out of the parking lot and I didn’t take them off for the rest of the day. They say you’re supposed to break them in slowly, but I I’ve had my feet for 31 years now, so clearly this recommendation is silly and unnecessary. It didn’t even occur to me not to wear my new shoes to the Avett Brothers show Jen and I went to last night, where I knew I’d be on my feet for at least a couple hours, and I was right. When Jen and I got there we pulled up a patch of grass (no blanket, by the way, because that’s how minimalist we are now) near the front of the lawn section of the outdoor pavilion. About five minutes after we sat down, the nice young man sitting next to me said, “Hey, you and me are almost wearing the same shoes.” He was right. Mine were light grey, and his were black. His were also just his bare feet. Nicely played, dirty hippie. Normally I’m a very sensitive person. I’m also pretty self-conscious. Whether he meant to or not, this kid had put me in my place–my old, pre-FiveFinger place that is. When you buy minimalist running shoes, you sprint from regular grounded person ego to total sense of superiority at 26.2 miles/second. Well at least I didn’t have to sell plasma to pay for my concert tickets, I kept myself from replying. Instead I just laughed, hoping my approval for this young man’s cleverness would be all the encouragement he’d need to give up the bong and walk down a more useful path. At the current average rate, he’s just 3 or 4 donations away from being able to buy the same level of happiness I’m feeling today.

This reminds me of the time...

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