Alan R. Bruens invites you to touch his feet.
They may not be the most attractive feet in the world, but should you chance to meet him in his Vernon Township neighborhood and seem curious, he might indulge you. That’s because Bruens believes people should be educated about the barefoot lifestyle.
Bruens, 67, has been going barefoot—for what he estimates to be 90 percent of the time—since 1996. There’s no special reason, he says. It just sort of happened. “I simply found myself more inclined toward going barefoot. You know, you’re working all day, you come home—a lot of people take their shoes off first thing. I got to a point where I would take my shoes off, and I wouldn’t put them on again until I had to go to work.” At the time, Bruens was employed by a modular home company; now retired, he occasionally sells real estate when he’s up to putting on shoes.
“The more I did it, the more addictive it became,” says Bruens. “I started to think, I’m 50 years old, what’s wrong with this picture?” Then he went on the Internet and started to find groups like the Dirty Sole Society, now the Society for Barefoot Living. “I was relieved to find there were all kinds of people who enjoy going barefoot in a lot of different countries,” he says.
For a time, Bruens served as a moderator of the society, which he says has 1,500 members in 62 countries. In New Jersey there are 27 members.
Bruens and his barefoot brethren are accustomed to the obvious questions about broken glass, frigid weather and the like.
“Broken glass is virtually not existent, and a seasoned barefooter will spot it a mile away,” says Bruens. “Temperature is a different matter. People adjust differently and at different paces, but after all these years, I am very used to both hot and cold.” He describes his lower extremities as “pretty tough,” with “double the thickness of skin on the average sole.”
He is also used to the occasional inquisition by figures of authority, such as airport security personnel.
“My first confrontation took place at Newark airport,” writes Bruens in an e-mail. (Before he’ll talk to any reporter, he insists they read The Barefoot Book by Dr. Daniel Howell and The Barefoot Hiker by Richard Frazine. Questions must be sent via e-mail. If they seem legit, he’ll get on the phone, as he did with this reporter.)
His e-mail continues: “I had gone there to pick up a friend returning from a business trip. I had settled in to reading a book while waiting, when I was approached by two Port Authority cops who insisted that I had to wear shoes because it was a state health law. I explained there was no such law and offered to produce a letter from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services by way of proof. At first they refused, and in turn I refused to back down. By then we had drawn a small, interested crowd, so in the interest of peace I agreed to put on my flip flops if they would read the letter, which they did. They left but remained in viewing distance, probably to make sure I kept them on.”
As for local merchants, he says most ignore him. “Supermarkets, banks, libraries, liquor stores, post offices, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Sears are all indifferent, at least from my experience,” he says. “Fast-food establishments are hit or miss.”
Bruens’ wife, Pauline, quickly comes to his defense when people question him. “She won’t go barefoot in public, but she’s supportive of me,” he says.
Which is good, because he has no intention of lacing up anytime soon. “This road only goes one way, and that is forward,” he says. Pebbles be damned.