I’m a bit of a skeptic. I’m a raging skeptic, actually. I have a pretty low tolerance for foofery, fairy tales, traditional bullcrap, new agey bullcrap or ancient bullcrap. I don’t mind folks who are into it, since 90% of people who really believe in something are well intentioned and downright pleasant. Some people do good work and change the lives around them. That’s fantastic. I love those people.
The other 10% of people who really believe something ruin pretty much everything. And I realize 10% is a rough and probably naive guess. It seems like more than 10% of people are raining on everyone else’s parade. But those people are mostly semi-formed humans and don’t know how to have a real discussion. They are just LOUD. The world would be a better place if everyone went their own way and shut the hell up about it.
I was not always so skeptical and judgey. Like most people, my doubtfulness blossomed over the course of years, with various phases and epiphanies. I had a post-Catholic phase, a “spiritual” phase, a mystical phase, a self-helpy phase, a Buddhist phase, a nature/Native American phase, a late night booze with friends phase where, of course, we figured everything out. As profound and intense as any of those phases seem at the time, they aren’t original, and there are like-minded folks along each of those paths, waving you in their direction. If you are keeping an open mind, this is where they might say, “You can stop thinking now. Our way is best.”
Okay? I’m not bitter. But maybe I’m a little annoyed with myself. While I am thankful for the journey, I’m irritated that I spent so much time being impressionable. And a few years ago, at a time when I should have known better, I spent $99 on a detox foot bath special at a chiropractic clinic in Los Angeles.
I don’t know where or how I came upon the promotion. But it was not far from where I was living at the time, and it seemed cheap for a series of three foot baths, plus a “chiropractic evaluation.” I have weak feet. If I walk for any extended period of time, my legs, hips and back eventually begin to hurt. So I thought maybe I could hit a few birds with one stone. Maybe my feet were causing me to be “structurally” out of wack, and maybe a chiropractic solution, which I hadn’t yet tried, would bring some relief. I called and signed up for the foot bath. If anything, just soaking my feet felt good. I gave them my credit card over the phone.
After I made the appointment, I started to research what this foot bath actually does. Since our feet sweat a lot, and our sweat is one of the ways our body releases toxins, the feet were considered a “detox transmission point.” Through the course of the foot bath, all sorts of nasty stuff were supposed to come out through the feet. I saw photos of nasty foot soup, with all kinds of shit floating in it. Green stuff was supposed to be from the liver, black stuff from someplace else, foamy white stuff from some place else. And the water itself turned a rusty brown.
All that stuff were toxins coming out of your body! There were lots of websites touting the benefits of these foot baths. I paused to wonder how toxins were supposed to make their way from my liver and other organs all the way down to my feet. Maybe the water created some sort of suction? You’re supposed to sit there for a while, so all the goop comes out of your feet. They had photos to prove it. I guessed it worked somehow.
Of course, in my internet searching, I also saw websites debunking the claims of these foot baths. They put salt in the water. And then they put an electrode in there. And the water changes color because the electrode is just rusting. This was six or seven years ago, so there were many more websites claiming benefits than claiming bullshit. But it was enough for me.
I wanted to cancel my appointment, but they already had my card. And I was (am) a bit of a non-confrontational wimp, so I didn’t want to have to explain myself that I thought they were full of shit.
So I thought instead, I’d do something kind of sneaky. I went to the clinic for my appointment. It was in a nondescript building by the airport. Inside, it had a veneer of slickness. There was new waiting room furniture, chic art and soothing music. There were various high tech looking machines and the faint whiff of clinical medicine. They were spending a lot of money to appear legit. I filled out a form asking everything in the world that was wrong with me.
I was greeted by a polished young man with Hollywood hair and no shoes on his feet. He advised me that walking around without shoes helps “maintain balance.” If I walked around all day on a concrete floor with my flat feet, I’d need a stretcher to get home. But I didn’t say anything.
For my “chiropractic evaluation,” he lead me to a back room that was under construction and unheated. There were more shiny new machines. He said they were expanding to offer all sorts of new cutting edge services. He fired up some sort of wand attached to a machine with a computer screen. He ran the wand up and down my back. On the computer screen, an image appeared of a spine, with various bars of color protruding from either side. The longer the bars, the most out of wack my spine was. He pointed out all my “trouble areas.” Some of the colored bars were green, but most were red, and some near my neck and lower back were black. I thought, “That must be where I am dying.”
Despite how bad it looked, he soothed my fears and said with treatment, they can help get me back into alignment. He lead me though a dimly lit corral of massage tables to the foot soak room. Someone else came along and got the tub ready. She explained how it worked, and it was pretty much the same as what the internet said. Salt, water, and an electric current were going to make all my wild detox fantasies come true. I tried to appear excited.
She left me alone in the room with my feet in the water. The water was clear. There was a hum and a faint tingle in my feet as I sat there. There were magazines and stuff, but I was more interested in watching what happened to the water. After a while, it looked like there were black particles in the bottom of the tub. She came to check on me once and looked at the water. It was getting darker and more cloudy by the minute. “Amazing, isn’t it?” she said. I nodded, amazed.
I wasn’t sure how often she was going to check on me. The foot bath was supposed to last 15 or 20 minutes. And with each foot bath, the amount of toxins that come out was supposed to get lighter and lighter. But this was my first soak, so the water was getting really nasty. There was floating red stuff, green bubbles, black particles, oil slicks. It almost seemed like rusting electrodes couldn’t make that much of a mess, and I wondered for a moment if maybe it really was last night’s margarita oozing out of my liver.
In a moment I thought I might be left alone for a while, I fished around in my purse for a tiny glass jar I brought with me. I planned ahead to surreptitiously collect some of this nasty foot soup. I wanted an actual sample of it. I wanted to have evidence of the stuff they said was coming out of my feet. I was nervous someone would walk in on me, but I leaned over and and dipped the glass jar in the bath water, trying to capture as much nasty floating stuff as I could. I wanted all the different colors, the foam, the particles. I wanted a good sample of all my toxins.
Thankfully, no one walked in on me as I sneaking around doing this. I sealed up the jar with all the floating crap in it and hid it in my purse. At the end of my soak, the water was super gross. The technician said, “It’s hard to believe our bodies carry all that stuff around, isn’t it? Next time will be better. And the last soak will be almost clear.” Huh. She dried my feet and I thanked her. The front desk asked me to make a chiropractic appointment and I politely declined, saying I needed to think about it.
I had my jar of goop. When I shook it, it was like a snow globe of foot crap. Even if it was mostly salt and rust, my feet had soaked in that water. So it probably did have legitimate dead skin, toe lint and that stinky crap from under my toenails.
When I showed my friends my prize and told them what it was, I was puzzled that they were not as excited as I was. It was just salt and iron, mostly, but I had to be sneaky to get it! Aren’t I clever? Ultimately, I sort of wanted to analyze what was in the water, but I forgot I wasn’t a scientist or a journalist.
So I kept the little jar, and it sat on a bookshelf for a while. And those who didn’t know me well sometimes saw the jar and asked me what it was. And I would gleefully tell them. I could see the wheels turning and calculations being made when they heard the story. It’s amazing how much they learned about me with that one simple question.
I eventually got rid of my jar of foot soup. But I remember it being a pretty significant phase in the evolution of my skepticism.