In the closing days of the last century, when I was a teen-age boy, and you, I imagine, weren't yet a gleam in your romantic father's eye, all barbershops had a sign in the window: CHIROPODIST. And sure enough, when you went in there the gentleman was, waiting, for you, in the shoe-shing assembly, which of course wasn't used of shines except on Saturday afternoon.
It consisted of a high seat, topside, with forecasts in front of it, and a low seat in front of the foot-rests, on which the chiropodist sat. He helped you up to the high seat, and when you had put a foot on one of the seats, helped you off with your shoe and stocking. Then, carefully, so as not to cause pain, he swabbed off your corn, put a compress on to soften it, then began slicing at it with his scalpel, which he intermittently whetted on a stone.
Very quickly, he had the corn completely circled and undercut, then lifted it out. In the centre of where it had been was a soft white pip which he took out with his tweezers. Left was a pink hole, to which he applied a dressing and an adhesive-tape bandage. Then he gave your trousers a tweak, to let you know he was done, and helped you on with your stocking and shoe.
The charge, which I don't expect you to believe, but i swear is true, as I know from personal experience, having paid it often enough, was 25c, the quarter part of a dollar.
Now obviously, for this wight to make a living at that moderate charge, a great many did. So many did that the chiropodist became a standard American institution, so familiar to all that he was the subject of a ski by John Bunny, the leading motion picture comedian of the era, who milked him, as they say, for laughs. One may take exception to Mr. Bunny on the score of taste, for some of the business he put in was quite raw, but it can't be denied that it delighted audiences all over the world, and that it dealt with what, to them, was a completely familiar personage.
So why did so many people have corns? Because it was an era which associated small feet with gentility and of course if you had small feet you had to wear small shoes. That the shoes hurt, that they didn't fit, was completely disregarded, or accepted as one of the hazards of life, and actually, it was assumed that any pair of new shoes had to be "broken in," as it was called, and often, when a man bought a pair, he had a relative, or employee, debtor "break them in for him," wearing the shoes two or three weeks, until, in theory at least, they were comfortable to his feet. And then suddenly nobody had corns. They just disappeared from the scene. Why?
The U.S. Army got into the act, that's why, it can't use soldiers with corns, and so it had the bright idea toward the end of 1918, with the first World War going on and soldiers needed to fight it, of putting shoes on the soldiers that were big enough - usually to the soldier's great dismay. I remember when I came in for my shoes, the quartermaster sergeant dropped a pair of brogans on the floor in front of me that simply struck me as funny. They were of what seemed to be raw cowhide, but made with the smooth part inside, the rough part out. When I put them on I burst out laughing. "Sergenat," I said, "I'm sorry to inform you but a pair of cockroaches could run a race without bumping, between these shoes and my foot."
"Okay," he said, "I'll take the grey, you take the black. I'll give you even money - what do you say to $5?"
"I say I want other shoes."
"You don't get them. You're taking these or standing a court."
I don't like no court."
"I'm taking the shoes?"
That's it. Now you've got it."
"They look more like beer keds."
"Something wrong with beer."
"Not that I know of."
"Okay then - dismissed."
I wore the shoes to France, and all my corns dropped off.
"So what about now? I called the Podiatry Associates and found things haven't changed much. People still have corns. In addition have bunions and malformations of various kinds, especially women, from wearing the kind of shoes that throw their weight on the ball of their foot, which is not natural for them, and bulge their insteps on. Some years ago, it seems men began wearing extra high heels, but found them so uncomfortable they switched back to sensible shoes of the kind they'd been wearing since they abandoned the too-small shoes of the 1800s.
The point, though, I think be made. The podiatrist no longer charges the 25c the old-time chriopodist charged. His bill will be a bit more.