When I lived in Buffalo, I didn’t always have a car. I had to rely heavily on public transportation to get me where I needed to be. That was perfectly fine because Buffalo’s public transportation system is really quite efficient (take note, Orlando). It goes without saying that you can meet some pretty interesting people when you ride the bus or subway. You may have heard horror stories about subways in places like New York City, but Buffalo’s subway is nothing like that. The stations are pretty clean for the most part, and the people on the trains tend to mind their own business. Unless you happened to be The Foot Man. The Foot Man did not mind his own business, unless you considered your feet part of his business.
My first encounter with The Foot Man was on Court Street, right outside of Moura’s Deli. There was no more space on the edge of the giant stone planter to sit, so I stood under the shelter at the bus stop and nibbled on my bagel with cream cheese while I waited for the No. 2 Clinton bus. I was approached by The Foot Man, who introduced himself by offering his hand but forgetting to offer his name, which is why he is still known as The Foot Man. Not wanting to be rude, I shook his hand and turned my attention back to my bagel. Suddenly, I was forced to balance on one foot. The Foot Man went down on one knee, pulled my right foot into his lap, and began stroking it. This is how I knew that he was unstable. Those who know me personally, know that I have the ugliest pair of feet on the face of the earth. Years of cramming my feet into too-small shoes to avoid the stigma that came with wearing a size 11/12 resulted in calluses and toes that resemble claws. But when the weather was nice enough, I didn’t hesitate to put sandals on, ugly feet be damned.
Anywho, I was forced to grab the side of the shelter with my bagel-free hand and yank my foot away, still trying to maintain my balance. The Foot Man was not giving up without a fight. The harder I yanked, the tighter he held. His face never displayed a bit of exertion, though. He held with one hand and stroked with the other, all while gazing at my toes lovingly. The bus arrived at that moment and distracted The Foot Man, allowing me to finally free my foot from captivation. I boarded and flopped down into my seat, exhausted from the unexpected workout. As the bus pulled away from the curb, The Foot Man’s face displayed his feelings of betrayal. In his eyes, I was a monster for taking his beloved foot away to a place where he couldn’t follow.
My second meeting with The Foot Man occurred in the Utica rail station. Engrossed in a book, I was completely unaware of his presence until my foot was jerked from the floor. My body turned on the metal bench involuntarily as he sat next to me and placed my foot in his lap. “Hi,” he said flatly, not looking up from my foot. “Umm, hi?” I responded, attempting to pull down the skirt that was now hiked up to my knees, while trying to regain possession of my foot. Passersby looked over quizzically, but didn’t break their stride to intervene.
Eventually, an guard stepped out of the security office and sent The Foot Man on his merry way. Apparently, I wasn’t the first person he accosted that day. Shaken, I put my book away and vigilantly watched my surroundings. I would not be caught unaware again.
Our third meeting was at the Juneteenth festival. I sat in the grass between my friends with my legs stretched out in front of me, enjoying a beef patty. A shadow fell over us, and I looked up to see that The Foot Man stood in front of us, admiring three pairs of sandal-clad feet. “No,” Stephanie said firmly to him. “Don’t come over here with that mess.” I soon discovered that she had also been a victim of The Foot Man, which is the same name she used for him. Thankfully, he was too intimidated to stop, and sought a new victim elsewhere.
The last time I saw The Foot Man was while manning the register in my brother’s store. “Do you have any bird seeds?” he asked, visibly frustrated after walking up and down the aisles. My brow furrowed in confusion. “We don’t sell bird seeds,” I responded apologetically. “Only human food.” He huffed and stared at me, trying to force me to understand what he meant by way of glaring. “BIRD SEEDS!” he exclaimed. Oh, sunflower seeds. That had to be what he was looking for. I came from behind the counter to show him the rack hung with bags of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, nuts and raisins. Abruptly, he lost interest in the bird seeds. His chin dropped to his chest as his attention turned to my feet. I rushed to get back behind the counter with The Foot Man close on my heels. He realized that he couldn’t follow me behind the counter, and stopped in his tracks.
The bell chimed as Dannie, a regular customer who lived a few houses down, came into the store. She grabbed a few snacks and brought them up to the counter. The Foot Man stepped back swiftly, allowing Dannie space to pay for her items. That was odd. I’m pretty sure she had on sandals when she came in the door. Why wasn’t he drawn to her feet? Then he spoke: “I won’t come to you house anymore,” he said to her without making eye contact. “No, you sure won’t,” Dannie responded. “You’ll probably call the police on me again,” The Foot Man said solemnly. “Yes, I sure will!” Dannie said cheerfully, and grabbed her bag off of the counter. The Foot Man watched her exit with sadness. After a few moments, he exited the store. His bird seeds lay on the counter, forgotten in his quest to find a new pair of feet.