While having dinner with my friend Rebecca last night at an outdoor cafe, I came to this conclusion: I do not have to be kind to the foot fetish man. This is perhaps, to most people, obvious. I, on the other hand, am more idealistic than most. I have a lotus tattooed on my right shoulder, surrounded by phrases from various cultures, all stating different forms of one essential idea: show love and kindness to everyone.
This way of life works well most of the time, but then things like this come up:
I’m sitting in a park in Italy—Florence, to be exact—feet folded to the side in a ladylike fashion, book spread open before me. Suddenly, a shadow appears. I look up to see a round man with a goatee grinning at me. He’s speaking rapidly in Italian.
When I smile and inform him that I don’t speak, nor do I understand, Italian, he squats down and begins to speak in broken English.
Him: I like your tattoos.
Me: Grazie! (Big, sincere grin)
Him: I especially like ones on your feet.
Me: (Appreciative head tilt) Grazie, grazie!
Him: I have, how you say, fetish.
Me: (Considering that perhaps fetish has more meanings than I am aware of) Oh! (Slow nod).
Him: Maybe (Mebbe) you could put feet (fit) on my face (fec), yes? (He points his two thumbs at his own cheeks).
Me: Oh, no thank you. I have to go to class soon.
I want to laugh. Hysterically. At the same time, I want to run away. Still, part of me wants to hug him, to acknowledge how lonely and socially stunted one must have to be to approach a stranger in the park and ask her to put her feet on your face, while pointing one’s own fat thumbs at one’s own hope-filled (and fatty, fatty, fat) cheeks.
For this reason, I stay put and listen kindly as he tells me he really loves my super-white skin, that he finds redheads like me to be infinitely more interesting than (thumbs down) blondes or brunettes. That he really appreciates my friendship because he is having a very hard time in his life and it is nice to have someone to talk to. He wants to buy me dinner.
I reiterate: I must soon go to class.
No, I have no time.
For some reason—or more specifically because I feel a responsibility to this other human being, because he has made himself vulnerable to me, and because I have to be kind, damnit—I end up giving the foot fetish man my email address. I have no intention of ever seeing him again, but I wanted him to feel—I don’t know—accepted? Acknowledged? Heard?
Later in the evening, I receive this email:
Subject: hi branda
hi branda , i’m edoardo “eddie”…we know today in the park in florence , so now i’m at home and write to you , i’m so glad to had know you …how about your lesson ? and your school ? i don’t know what you have to do and when you’re free …but maybe if you whant i’m in city tomorrow from 15:30 to 19:00 , i will gad to invite you to walk around city , i can show you many places ..and drink someting togheter … i hope you accept ; )
thank you very much
and good night
eddie ; )
This creates, for me, a difficult situation: I am intelligent enough to know that it’s not safe to go out drinking with the foot fetish man, and, therefore, it’s not going to happen. But, he’s nice. And, is anyone else going to be kind to him? And what if he walked away from our interaction with that soaring feeling that we’re all familiar with, only to realize that I’m really just the same as all the other women who don’t want to put their feet on his squishy, sweaty, stubbly face?
That last sentiment came to me as I was relating this story to my friend Rebecca over a pitcher of sangria and a bowl full of strawberries (or strowberries, as they were named on the menu.) What if I am making things worse by being kind to people, (this sort of thing happens to me all the time—the foot fetish man is merely one example) who then think it is okay to start such fucked-up conversations with other women, when of course those other women are going to react negatively to such suggestions? If so, my kindness is actually having a crippling effect.
“I don’t have to be kind to the foot fetish man,” I say out loud, as a sort of half-drunk declaration. And I raise my glass of sangria towards the sky, as a small, elderly woman selling hideously ugly shawls approaches our table and speaks in a language I can’t place. She holds up the terrible wraps and locks desperate eyes with me. I shake my head no, and she intensifies her sorrow-filled facial expression . . . ‘Well,’ I think, ‘Maybe I could use a shawl.’