Violet-colored feathers encircled my eyes, the elastic tied around my head pulled at my hair — a Mardi Gras mask wasn’t exactly the item I had imagined wearing to protect my identity. I lay on my stomach with my feet splayed out on a pillow, like a platter of appetizer escargot at a haughty wedding.
I forced myself to laugh with each tickle motion to my toes — grasping, raspy noises that bounced off the walls of the grand apartment with the high ceilings and the wood floors. The modern lights seemed to stare in curiosity, what are you doing? They wondered and I wondered how much of an hour had passed as I avoided looking at both the framed photographs of his children on the mantle and the eye of the camera lens.
I had a full-time job, lovely friends, and an apartment in San Francisco. Each month I paid $500 towards my student loans. This huge sum had made my feel like a prisoner and in an attempt to turn this weakness into strength I decided to work odd jobs for money and write about my experiences. My intention was to publish the essays into a book when the project was complete, avoiding odd jobs that were illegal or sexual in nature.
I had also met “the one.” I was going to share my life with my Idahoan boyfriend, writing quietly in a woodsy home while he took photographs for a living. We lay in the grass together, we watched sunsets and drank wine at the frigid beach, and we kissed until 3 am on work nights after talking about our future together, admiring the folds in white sheets and the cat that snuck on the windowsill.
When he changed his mind, when he decided I wasn’t “the one,” when he left San Francisco, I was devastated. I had known he was the one, after all, and the hardest part about knowing that is being wrong.
My odd job project had been a point of contention in our relationship, as he was only supportive of wholesome endeavors, such as cat sitting, and I craved more unique experiences for writing material. After he left I responded to an ad on Craigslist entitled, “It Pays to be Tickled.”
After a few cordial email exchanges with this well-known architect, I determined that Larry was “the one,” as far as foot fetish odd jobs were concerned. It was determined that we would meet on a Wednesday at 6 pm after work. After giving a few friends his address I let them know that if they didn’t hear from me in 1.5 hours that I was likely cut up into small pieces or perhaps my toes were dismembered for keepsake. I wondered what my co-workers would think, instead of going to happy hour, I was going to let a stranger tickle my feet for an hour, for $100, and film it.
I loitered uncomfortably outside Larry’s apartment building until he opened the door. He was in his late forties and had a potbelly that lived inside his red polo shirt. His flat top was not surprising, his soft voice was.
I followed him into his apartment and as I walked through the kitchen I noticed four pairs of high heels perched on the couch next to an array of nylons, like eyeless accomplices. An expensive camera on a tripod was directed at the couch like an intruder.
I reiterated to Larry that this was my first time participating in foot modeling (as he referred to it) so could he please feel free to direct me. I meant that in a professional sort of way and not a sexually dominating way. I also announced it with what I imagined were church girl undertones, and not like a woman who was wearing black shorts under her dress for extra camera genital insurance and had fireball remnants residing on her tongue.
I took a deep breath and Larry guided me to the couch with my feet on his lap and onto a pillow after I had chosen a mask. He leaned over to turn the camera on and I mentally prepared myself to giggle on command. That was the purpose of this odd job. Larry did not want to tickle my feet and try to make me laugh. He wanted the assurance of making a lady laugh for an hour. The purpose was the laughter itself, not the attempt.
I began to laugh in between girly and ardent declarations about how much my feet were being tickled. Over and over again, I laughed, and declared, “That tickles!” Larry responded with apologies that weren’t absolute, of course, and were perhaps, the purpose of such a fetish.
“Well, I am sorry that tickles. That’s too bad,” he said, smiling.
I had an hour to delve into the archives of my mind’s memories. I tried to regard any humorous event that had ever happened to me and any that I could alter my viewpoint on in some sick way.
I first, of course, laughed because I was letting an architect with a foot fetish named Larry tickle my feet. I laughed because one hour ago I had been sitting at my desk at work encouraging a student to pursue his dream of going to school for Animation. I laughed because a friend had once crawled into bed with my British landlord when she slept walked. I laughed because my grandma was 4 feet 10 inches tall and because my neighbor reminded me of her and was usually at the base of my building’s staircase with a huge suitcase of canned goods that I carried upstairs for her. I laughed because I cried the last time I ate a banana because I hate them so much. I laughed because my last boyfriend was a 26-year-old virgin and I knew I was going to marry him.
I laughed because I once let a lesbian named Rhonda with a motorcycle give me a Brazilian bikini wax. I laughed because I was nearly kidnapped in Thailand and had to fight to run away and lost my 7 Eleven snacks. I laughed because I hated underwear and I ate a cheeseburger in Egypt after seeing the pyramids instead of going to a museum with everyone else. I laughed because my life was equal parts sensitive and careful and extroverted all at once. I laughed because honesty was all that I wanted. I laughed because I wanted to write a book more than anything. I laughed because I wanted this to be the way I did it. I laughed because I had a pocketknife with my name engraved in it thanks to my father. I laughed because time changes everything. I laughed because I had to.
I knew that a considerable amount of time had been spent, about 38 minutes. I still couldn’t see Larry from my position lying on my stomach and I suddenly felt something very different. My left toes experienced it again. What was that? Was he biting my toes?
I turned around to see my grey stocking-ed foot and pinky toe in his mouth. Biting was not in the one hour tickle contract. I told him that was I tired, that I needed to stop soon, that I needed to meet my friends.
“Do you want to tickle my feet instead?” He asked, with hope.
I did not.
“Do you want any cheese and crackers?”
I did. I was hungry and I wanted to eat anything, but I wanted to leave more.
“No, thank you, I really need to meet my friends.”
I felt curiously content. I had done something I was terrified of, something odd, something that was judged by my friends and family and my ex-significant other. It had been hilarious, and sad, it had been risky and kind of disgusting and complicated, and I had just done it. I had left that wallowing, twisted pit of depression that I imagined to be shaped like an inverse weeping willow and that had swallowed me for the past months, and I had laughed about it.
We said our goodbyes and Larry handed me a check for $100. As I walked downstairs I noticed in the memo it stated “Design Consult.” He had written his foot fetish off as a work expense!