From the Washington Post Magazine Sunday November 9, 2003
Story by Tyler Currie

Happy Feet

Sunday, November 9, 2003; Page W14

En route to the banana stand, Glenn Workman's feet draw the attention of a Safeway employee unpacking a box of cantaloupes. "I see someone stole your shoes," says the produce clerk, pointing to Workman's naked feet.

"Yeah, sure looks like it, doesn't it," Workman fires back. The clerk, shushed by Workman's sarcasm, returns to his cantaloupes, and the shoeless man continues toward the bananas.

Workman, a 45-year-old musician who lives in Columbia, has not worn shoes since graduating from high school nearly three decades ago. He does everything barefoot, whether grocery shopping, raking leaves or playing keyboards in one of his two rock-and-roll bands. He's braved blizzards in bare feet and played at the Kennedy Center shoeless.

Though his black curly hair is pulled into a loose ponytail that ends in the middle of his back, he insists that he's no hippie and that his shoeless style reflects, simply, an abiding distaste for footwear. "The psychological underpinnings of all this? I was made to wear orthopedic shoes as a young boy. I really hated those things."

Unfortunately, Workman's liberated feet have not been universally welcomed. Once, a Safeway security guard kicked him out of a store. (The manager later called to apologize.) He's been bounced from bars and concert arenas. Last year the principal of his daughter's school called the cops when he refused to shoe himself for a student performance. He "can be obnoxious" to those who challenge his lifestyle, he acknowledges.

"I greatly appreciate when someone is genuinely concerned for my safety. For example, when someone points out that the floor is covered with glass." Workman has stepped on glass but says he has never been cut, perhaps because of the calluses on his feet.

You actually have to touch his feet to appreciate the toughness of his skin. The soles feel surprisingly smooth, cool and dry. "They don't smell at all," he says after walking across the Safeway parking lot with his groceries. "My wife will attest to that."

- Tyler Currie

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