In a beer garden in South London a man flip flops over to a table populated by one sunglassed man, a pint of San Miguel lager, and two chairs – one empty. The standing man in shorts asks the seated one with the JG Ballard book if perhaps he might be able to take the empty chair, there, since it is so empty and bereft of bottom. He waits for an answer, his purple feet puffing vaguely over the sides of his frankly past-it flip flops – which he has not slipped his unfeasibly large toes into but instead lets his yellow-nailed appendages rest on top, relying on a heretofore unknown scientific phenomenon involving some sort of sucker system to keep the shoes clamped to his horrific pedal extremities. The seated man lowers his book and is about to say Yes Of Course My Friend Won’t Be Here For Ages when his eyes fall on the heinous feet of the expectant man, the ones below the Hawaiian shorts with a pale hairy gap between hibiscus and toe. “Um,” he stumbles, “Actually, I need it for my uh, friend. In a minute.” The man suckerfoots away to ask the table in the corner if they are using that chair. The empty one.
This happened yesterday. I was not there when it occurred but when I eventually plonked my arse onto that previously empty chair some time later I was told of these corpse feet and experienced an increasingly rare Maybe It’s Not Just Me After All moment. They, the feet, were pointed out to me over the decking expanse of the Battersea beer garden – in the blazing sun they shone like putrid lavender nail varnish – and if I was anyone else maybe I could have stopped staring, maybe even stopped vomiting quietly into my mouth. But I’m me, and I have a problem.
There are reasons why I left Australia some years ago but none so relevant now in the English summer as the antipodean sartorial crime known as Stubbies, whose history (Wikipedia unthesaurusly summarises) can be compressed thusly: “The shorts introduced in 1972 as short fashion shorts for men.” They are usually of a beige colour unchanged since the 1970s and generally favoured by geography teachers. Cropped dangerously close to a human male’s dangling bollocks – so much so that when watching someone lurch out of a cab, (more likely) dismount a ute, or reaching for a loftily shelved globe, there is the vague and ever-present fear that one hairy ball might swing on out and slap against pale inner thigh.
This fear became a reality more recently when I took a notion to enroll in some yoga classes here in London. Knowing nothing about anything yoga-related except that people fart freely and you’re supposed to be okay with this, I selected the type of yoga Google informed me was closest to my house. Bikram yoga is basically regular yoga (from what I can deduce) and differs only from a thing called “hot yoga” in that some massive ego called Bikram insisted on tagging his name onto a thing he reckons he invented. It’s done in a stiflingly humid room heated to over 40 degrees Celsius: a room that smells of mould, sweat, and like fifty unwashed bottoms. For some masochistic reason I dragged myself to this torture chamber for a whole month, sweating buckets, ruining carpets, and learning what eyebrows are actually for (they are for sweat, apparently, and not just for raising in dramatic suspicion). The yoga positions are the same every time so every miserable class blends into every other miserable class, but I can recall one evening as if it were just five minutes ago thanks to a memorable horror that had much to do with those short fashion shorts for men.
About halfway through the prescribed 90 minutes, I and fifty others teetered on one flabby leg each with the other stretched out behind parallel to the floor, and an arm pointing to the front mirror so as to form with our own human bodies a moist and trembling letter T. The collective effort and strain was, as usual, both audible and palpable. I tore my eyes away from my hideously grasping toes, which were clawing desperate and chimp-like at the hired towel below me. I was trying to look at the front of the room – as directed by the instructor with the Britney Spears headset microphone – in order to find a personal point of focus (a thumb tack, a smudge on the mirror, my own crying face) so that there would be a diminished likelihood of a domino chain collapsing wetly in a heap of unclothed limbs. My eyes followed the weave of the carpet, hit the heel of the man in front of me and headed up. Directly where my theoretical point of focus was supposed to be was the back of this man’s dangling scrotum, twitching ever so slightly as his groinal muscles made tiny unconscious adjustments for the betterment of his balance and inner peace.
My Problem does not lie solely with puffy, fungal feet and the back of sweaty scrota, in fact I have problems with the whole lower half of dudes, fungus or no fungus, but only when divided in sections. I have no problem with entirely naked dudes, but when just parts of the lower body are highlighted for nakedness – say when a cyclist rolls up just one leg of his trousers for practical reasons involving mechanical cogs and chains, etc – I have a tendency to feel actually ill for mental reasons that are yet to be diagnosed. The idea that newsreaders are sitting in their underpants behind that desk is a thought that has been known to keep me up at night long after the 10 O’Clock round-up. In the same way a naked person’s nakidity is exaggerated when they’re wearing nothing but socks, a pair of three-quarter length trousers highlight a few inches of shin and calf in a most ridiculous and vulnerable way, a sight made all the worse by a the presence of a calf tattoo. What is the point of it, I ask you, the three-quarter indecisive length. It’s like the on-purpose version of that late night glimpse of leg you see on Parkinson, when Parky crosses his legs and the trousers hitch up ever so slightly to reveal a sparsely hairy gap betwixt cuff and sock.
The alternative is of course not even worth thinking about because there isn’t one. I can’t see Dragon’s Den giving my real-life door-sized censor bars the go ahead just like I can’t see men actually clipping the black Perspex sheets to their braces in the morning. As I go hurtling towards my inevitable blindness thanks to years spent staring nonchalantly into the sun in an ill-advised attempt to ignore the leggy horrors around me, I mostly just wonder why I say these things on the Internet.