Not everyone can ignore the floor under their feet—or their knees. As my readers know, I was born with such severely bowed legs that my gait was limited to knee-walking. Often I sobbed aloud as I struggled across the Times lobby on what was left of my shredded kneecaps.
I finally resorted to knee replacements, although the resulting pain was so excruciating that I continued to sob aloud for many weeks. When I could walk again, the wobbling height afforded by my new knees proved treacherous. The first time I attempted to stand after the operation, I crashed down into a full split, ripping three of the five adductor muscles in my left groin. Later, a hair-thin crack in the parquet at a friend’s apartment sent me lurching awkwardly into the path of a caterer’s assistant who was carrying a tray stacked with champagne flutes. While accepting an honorary doctorate at a university graduation, I tripped over a carelessly placed electric cord and pitched off the stage into the front row of spectators, landing in Daniel Liebskind’s lap. For the most part, however, I was off the ground at last. My up-close-and-personal acquaintance with flooring had afforded me a rare perspective—and the view was chilling.
Floors can be fatal, and slipping is the least of the dangers we face. According to Beloit College domestic engineering professor Eric Krahl, placing even your pinky toe on a square of vinyl tile is “twelve times riskier than falling off the high diving board into a trench of putrefied World War I soldiers.” Though hippies tout wood floors as “natural,” the exudates from unvarnished wooden floors kill thousands of migrating songbirds annually, while fumes from polyurethaned floors contain deadly levels of thalidomide. Nor does carpeting solve the problem. Each step we take across a carpeted space sends clouds of disease-bearing mites to burrow deep within our bodies, triggering Alien Hand Syndrome (the bizarre neurological condition in which one hand seemingly acts of its own volition and may even attempt to strangle its owner). Vacuum cleaners spray out mites with more, and crawlier, legs. Worse yet is what lurks beneath, in the sub-flooring of most modern homes: a zombie.
It’s normal to be depressed when confronted with a life-threatening situation. But rather than mull over what you might have done to prevent your floors, remember that small, incremental lifestyle changes add up. Dr. Krahl’s common-sense suggestions for getting through the days ahead:
• Make sure your living will is in order.
• Educate yourself. Learn as much as possible about flooring in order to inform your loved ones which toxins will be found in your remains.
• Identify problems in advance. To prevent falls, for example, you can duct-tape a grid over uncarpeted spaces. (Double-sided duct tape works well.) Consider rigging up a pulley where a grid would be impractical, or carry an aerosol can filled with a gluey substance to spray in the path ahead. As a last resort, hire a bodyguard to carry you in his strong arms.
• Keep in mind that dangers left unfaced only multiply. Whenever you enter a new room, take a minute or two to crawl around the floor and acquaint yourself with its unique “personality.” If you sense that the floor would prefer being left alone that day, back slowly out of the room.
Next week: the threats posed by our ceilings.