The elderly man working as a greeter at the entrance to our local Walmart store spotted my blonde 18 year old daughter as she exited the store barefoot. This is something she had done many times before, since she has also entered and shopped barefoot regularly over the past couple of years. He, however, had condescendingly zeroed in on her while pointing at her bare feet, “Ma’am. Shoes next time.”
She is used to treating adults with respect and some deference, but there was a presumptiveness of parental authority in his corrective tone that prompted her to say politely, but with some consternation, “Why? My mother comes in here all the time barefoot.” He was accusatory of not only her bare feet, but her obedience in general, like she was a rebellious teenager.
However, as one might expect, he continued in the accusatory mode and responded, “I haven’t seen her.”
Thus, my daughter, one of the kind of people who goes out of her way to make other people feel welcome and part of a group, came home consternated with this brush with the not uncommon rudeness of people at large. As is usual with such an unpleasant encounter, we reviewed future options for responses. Then, I recalled that I was getting ready to to out on some errands and Walmart was on my list!
I had mentally planned my route to go there last, maybe a couple hours into my trip. Now, I thought, I should try to go straight to Walmart and see if the same fellow was there. It was not that I was looking for a confrontation. Although I don’t mind at all talking about my choice of a barefoot lifestyle, I don’t look for confrontations. I also realize that there is more risk of censure if I bring a lot of attention to it in ways that challenge other people in ways that stimulates them to establish rules. Still, I wanted to back up my daughter and to do something that made her feel better about her reputation. He would SEE her mother go into the store barefoot.
It was pouring rain and around 41°F that morning. The shopping trip goal was to find items to fill Christmas stockings, so I was going to be doing a lot of exploring of unusual aisles in the store, looking for creative ideas. And I would need a cart. As I entered the front door, I glanced toward the greeter. It looked like the same man. His back was to me, as he was busy closely inspecting departing shoppers bags with a thoroughness I had not seen before. There was even someone waiting in line to be inspected, something else I have never seen at a Walmart before. I would have to inconspicuously loiter and enter slowly.
I took my time choosing a cart, then I meandered over to the handy-wipe dispenser at the slowest pace possible. His back was still turned, but he was on to harassing the next person in line. I took two wipes and began to wash the cart handles. I surreptitiously glanced up to see if he had turned around. Not yet, so I kept washing the shopping cart. Other people grabbed carts and passed by, while I gave the upper regions of the cart the most thorough washing it has probably ever had. Still, he did not turn around, but engaged in a brief, chatty conversation with someone that he seemed to know who was leaving from in front of the line of checkout stands. Sigh.
Not being inclined to get down on my knees to wash the sides and wheels of the shopping cart, I scoped out what I might shop for in that immediate area. I am not often enticed by deals at the door, and for good reason, but this time they at least had some Christmas wrapping materials over nearer to him. I slowly circled that way, hoping that maybe more movement on my part would do the trick. I seemed to be invisible! I was surprised to find that I liked some of the cheap, pop up boxes for making wrapping easier. I put some in my cart, but he still wasn’t looking. I shopped there some more, trying to move some constantly without actually going very far. I chose a different package and put the other back, added some transparent tape to the cart, and looked up again in his direction. All I could see was his back.
The day was beginning to get away from me. There was no way of knowing if he had ever glanced my way and seen my bare feet. Would it occur to him that I was that “young lady’s” mother? She is the youngest child of 7, so I am technically old enough to be her grandmother, but the bare feet should have been a huge clue. I decided to get on with my shopping.
I went on shopping all over the store and in nearly every department. I saw plenty of employees. I even had to ask for help once. I stood by the checkout stand in the electronics department for quite some time choosing items and there was lots of employee activity around there. I wasn’t hiding from anyone or darting around corners only when the coast was clear. I noticed a few customers hazard a look at my face after noticing my feet. Their final facial expression was usually one of confusion, since I looked “otherwise normal” to them.
The truth is that I have been in Walmart barefoot innumerable times over the last 3 years. Once, I was in the automotive department with my husband when a cleaning lady needed help holding a door open to get back in from the garage area. As I held it open, trying to stay pinned to the wall out of her way, one wheel of the metal cart ran over one of my big toes. I think I grunted in discomfort. She was very apologetic. One of the mechanics was going by and playfully teased her about what she was doing to the customers. They all saw my feet. We all laughed, and I went on shopping.
There have also been a few checkers who have asked me or my daughters about our bare feet, simply in curiosity. They seem to intuitively know it is healthy and comfortable. One other time, another daughter (the 21 year old), was “told” by a worker in the aisle that she needed to get shoes on. She acknowledged his comment and went on shopping. He apparently felt better just having said that, officious or something, and went back to what he was doing. She didn’t have any shoes and had heard that random store employees are known to say there are laws and policies when there are not.
When I had purchased all my goodies, I headed to the same door and our man was still there. Maybe now? It was not to be. Short of going and standing right in front of him for no good reason, he was not going to notice me. I had rehearsed some educational discussion points that I would have to save for my next discussion about the benefits of being barefoot. Some of my comments were very polite, some potentially funny and still being evaluated. It can be hard to tell how people will take things:
“Ma’am, you need to put shoes on.”
“Would you like me to put gloves on, too? I might touch something.”
“Ma’am, you could hurt your feet.”
“I have run a marathon on rough asphalt, as well as over broken glass without injury. I think I’ll be fine.”
“Ma’am, your feet are unsightly.”
“I’m sorry, but that is a rather rude thing to say. If I find some part of you unsightly, should I tell you?”
As it was, I pushed my cart out into the deluge in the parking lot, smiling at the unfairness of life. I had to wonder if I was invisible because of my age. Although I had seen the greeter in question talking to several people my age, so probably not. The puddles in the parking lot were a few inches deep and my pants got wet up to my ankles, but my feet were dry as soon as the car heater had been on a few seconds. My feet had never been cold and now they were definitely clean of any grit I had picked up from the Walmart floor. Really, they should hire me to help rate how their cleaning staff is doing…