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Monday, June 9, 2008

Popsicle toes

She brought the sundae out on a little tray. There were big scoops of strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and an oozy river of creamy caramel. How could I resist? I did what any red-blooded American male would do.

I dunked my big cracked, calloused and stinking feet right in the whole gooey mess and began wiggling my toes.

I was at the cloud-clinging Wintergarden Spa at the Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a heavenly perch so elevated that you’re actually looking down upon hawks. My spa options included standard sports massage and manicure, but I decided to treat the most abused and maltreated part of my entire body.

I decided to treat the feet. I was there to get my first pedicure, something men rarely did and now are doing in growing numbers, according to Debra Locker of the International SPA Assocation. “Our statistics from 2006 found that 22 percent of men who go to spas do so to get their toes done,” she said.

If that’s true, they’re not doing any bragging about it. Anecdotally, I’ve talked to many men who enjoy spas, but none who’ve confessed to getting a pedicure. Perhaps, it’s because men are hard wired to believe, as I’ve been instructed by my wife that “feet should be smelled not seen.”

She may be prejudiced by near constant exposure to mine. They’re everything I try not to be.

I try and comport myself as a gentleman. I wear nice clothes, exercise and address people with refined manners. But if I am a gentleman, my feet are outlaw bikers. They’re scarred, mean-looking rascals. Tattoo-like bruises mar several stubbed toes and one ragged nail makes the left foot look as if it's walking around brandishing a drawn knife and looking for a fight. If you saw them by themselves strolling down the sidewalk without the rest of me to soften their appearance, you’d cross the street.

But despite their haggard appearance, I’ve always considered them to be a pair of sissies. They whimper barefoot on a freshly mown lawn and practically shriek out loud when subjected to things like hot beach sand or pool-side asphalt.

Lately, however, I’ve been immersing myself in foot literature. There was a great Adam Sternbergh article (http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/) in the April 28 edition of New York Magazine that reads: “You Walk Wrong: It took four million years of evolution to perfect the human foot, but we’re wrecking it with every step we take.”

The article says our mistreatment of our feet leads to back and joint pain that’s become unnecessarily endemic to growing old.

Maybe it's time to give more healthcare priority to the feet. That’s why I opted for the Wintergarden Spa’s $75 Sole Sundae pedicure, “designed for the ice cream lover in all of us. First soak in your favorite flavor of ice cream. Next enjoy a scrub in a refreshing sherbet flavor, followed by a choice of foot mask in chocolate, caramel or marshmallow. Top off this Sundae with Body Icing infused with Shea Butter and vitamins that will leave your appetite wanting more.’

The sundae treatment includes soothing elements that mimic ice cream in texture and scent.

“You can’t eat it, but it always makes me hungry,” said pretty blond pedicurist Ashley Newman as she began to massage my tooties after they’d been soaking for 10 minutes in a warm pool of strawberry-scented water.

It didn’t take long for my feet to fall in love with Ashley. No one had ever treated them the way she did and for the first time I began to understand men for whom the foot is fetishized, and wishing I’d found a woman who felt that way. She rubbed, massaged them with manicured fingers and charmed them when she daintily turned away to cough, rather than risk offending a foot. It was very sweet.

And heavenly. I can’t get my wife to rub my back after I’ve spent an afternoon chopping firewood she’ll use to comfort herself on bitter winter days. There’s no way she’d consider rubbing the ugly feet as a means of giving me physical pleasure. Heck, getting her to rub anything to give me physical pleasure usually takes some gentle persuading, a lit candle and and a nice bottle of cabernet.

Not Ashley. She was into it.

“My friends are always asking me, ‘How can you rub some of those ugly feet?’ she said. “I tell them I can rub any foot that’s been soaked clean. But you have very nice feet. I can tell you take care of them.”

Beneath the dark chocolate scrub, I could tell the boys were blushing. They were unaccustomed to such flattery.

She also shared some fascinating feet facts. For instance, pregnant women are discouraged from getting vigorous foot massage or reflexology, the practice that believes all the bodily constitutions are legislated through precise nerves in our feet and hands.

“They say touching a pregnant woman’s ankle right . . . here . . .” -- oh! ahhh! “can cause her to go right into labor.”

Nothing so dramatic happened when she touched me there, a reassuring sign for a man who was still a little self-conscious about the procedure.

For me, the foot massage was a heavenly revelation. It was better than any back massage I’d ever gotten. Sure, the back has its burdens, but when you think about it rationally, what part of the body undergoes more daily punishment than the feet?

I confess, too, that the encounter left me feeling playful enough that Ashley and I agreed to another act of intimacy that, try as I might, I couldn’t conceal from my wife and daughters. And then I strode out of there on refreshed feet, still a red-blooded American male confident in his stride and the future of his feet.

A red-blooded American male with five toenails alternately painted Disco Inferno Pink and five colored a boldly cerulean Blue Me Away.

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