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Stepping out

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There is a theory that people feel threatened and vulnerable if they are caught without shoes on.

I subscribe to this theory. I may be confessing to a serious fault in my character, which otherwise is quite flawless, but I know that without shoes on I feel threatened. People with shoes on can step on the toes of people who don't have shoes on.

The harrowing experience related herewith gives a certain documentation to the Shoeless Vulnerability Theory. It all started on the day the great New York newspaper strike came to an end. The strike had gone on for weeks and I decided to take some papers in to my colleagues at the office.

The best way to do this was to take the Red Line subway into Park Street, where the out-of-town newspapers would be on sale. From there I could take a Reservoir-Beacon train, get off at Auditorium, and have only a short walk to work.

The Boston subway system, at rush hours, resembles a stampede of fetid buffalo. Once at Park Street, I flowed onto the platform with the outgoing tide like a piece of gray-haired flotsam.

From this point on, things began to unravel.

While passing through the doorway of the car, someone stepped on the back of one shoe and it came off. Trying to keep panic out of my voice, I said to the woman pushing me, ''My shoe came off.''

She said, ''Don't talk to me. Go to a shoe store.'' I then tried to join the rip of oncoming people, but the train door bumped its way shut before I got to it.

My indecision: Was my shoe kicked somewhere onto the platform? Had it been kicked down onto the tracks? Or was it still inside the car? I decided on the final possibility and just managed to squeeze through the last open door in the car to the rear.

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