Summer is here. Shoes and sneakers are making way for sandals and flip-flops. Pale, sun-starved feet are coming out of hibernation. Women's toes are celebrating in a kaleidoscope of color. Increasingly men are going sockless as well.
But I am not one of them. It's not that I don't like flip-flops. I will gladly wear them on vacation. On the unforgiving, polluted streets of New York City, however, I prefer to keep my feet covered.
Recently my wife bought me a pair of stylish leather thong-toed sandals. They work perfectly with linen trousers in the Caribbean but I balked at her suggestion that I wear them when we were back in Brooklyn.
"They're just impractical," I argued.
"No, you just think sandals aren't macho," she said.
As a bespectacled, slender Anglo-Indian journalist, I could hardly be described as macho, but she had a point. Living in Crown Heights had imbued a certain street code. Men's exposed feet equaled weakness. An obvious target for a would-be assailant. How could you run, let alone kick, when you might stub a pinkie toe in the process? Racing down subway steps, jamming feet into the closing doors of trains while rabbit-sized rats festered a few feet below, made her suggestion a non-starter.
Many men aren't saddled with the same foot phobias I am. Africans and Indians think nothing of exposing their feet. Beard-sporting hipsters walk around sans socks as if New York summers were one long pool party. Southern Europeans crammed in bars watching the World Cup couldn't care less about accumulating foot funk between their toes. But ask me to get on the subway in a pair of flip flops and you might as well request that I walk around in my underwear.
New York is a city of many ethnicities and cultures, each with their own dress code. You are as likely to see a would-be rapper in Crown Heights wearing flip-flops as you would a Hasidic Jew a few blocks away. In fact, rappers Camron and DMX dissed Jay Z a few years ago for having the temerity to wear flip flops while on vacation with his wife. "Real men don't wear flip-flops," X defiantly stated. But then Jay Z gets Beyoncé and the Barclays Center so I guess he can wear what he wants -- on vacation at least.