I was walking around a couple of days ago when someone shouted from over a block away. I turned and saw a distant figure waving wildly and running my way. It was an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in years. “Cashman!” he yelled, as he got closer. “I knew it was you! I’d recognize that dumb walk of yours anywhere!”
I too recognized him immediately. I’d know that tactless, insulting boor anywhere.
But he was right. I do have a bit of a dumb gait. It’s not quite similar to a chicken, but rather more like a duck.
My feet tend to flare out at slight angles when I stroll. If they were hands on a clock (or, in this case, feet on a clock) they’d point at ten o’clock and two o’clock. So I’m about twenty minutes short of a normal stride.
Worst of all, I’m also somewhat knock-kneed—which also affects my sauntering. As a kid, I didn’t know what ‘knock-kneed’ meant. Then I heard a comedian tell a joke on a TV show: “Yesterday I saw a knock-kneed woman telling a bow-legged man to go straight home.” The audience guffawed—but I didn’t get it.
My dad tried to explain: “It’d be like you telling your friend Tim Rutherford to go straight home. It’d be absurd, because neither one of you can go straight anywhere. He’s bowlegged—and you’re knock-kneed. Get it?”
Later, my mom comforted me by saying, “You know, Superman is knock-kneed too. Watch the beginning of his TV show sometime—when he’s standing with his hands on his hips in front of the U.S. flag. He’s SUPER knock-kneed. Yet he’s more powerful than a locomotive.”
She was right. But he was also faster than a speeding bullet, so it wasn’t as noticeable.
In my teen years, after I realized that I had a somewhat dorky ambulation, I decided to consciously change the way I walked. I practiced in front of a mirror. I tried to imitate every
cool walking style I’d seen from TV or the movies. But my attempt at John Wayne looked more like a limp; my Robert Redford came across as pigeon-toed—and my Clint Eastwood
was better suited to a fire walker.
My best imitation was Audrey Hepburn, but I knew if I adopted that one it would blow my chances of making the football team.
I finally gave up and decided that one of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans includes the right to walk the way we each naturally do. It speaks to our nation’s pluralism of ideas, values and sashays.
But as I studied this subject more closely, I found that apparently one civilization—the ancient Japanese—spent more than a little time thinking about how to strut—and they thought everybody ought to do it the same way.
Back then, virtually all Japanese were taught to walk in a style called the “namba”—in which the left leg and left arm swing forward at the same time, and then the right leg and right arm swing forward at the same time. And so it would continue.
If you don’t think that’s hard to do, give it a try. It creates a sensation that is not unlike taking an amble after riding the Tilt-A-Whirl for an hour.
The story goes that the Japanese not only taught their kids to walk like that—but also their horses. Apparently the ancient Japanese didn’t bother with the far more time-consuming task of making centipedes comply.
Nowadays, scientists say that westerners generally all walk the same way—with the occasional exceptions due to knock-knees and the like. But even though ‘namba’ is no longer in vogue, the modern-day Japanese walk with lots more variation than the rest of the world. Some swing their arms; some keep them at their sides; some walk on their toes; some on their heels.
And perhaps some walk like my old school chum, Milton Bowman. Milton always walked as if he were going uphill—sort of stepping high and leaning forward.
At a class reunion a couple of years ago, I spotted Milton. But now, he looks like he’s walking downhill. We chatted for a while and then he said, “I gotta joke for you. Did you hear the one about the knock-kneed woman telling a cross-eyed man to go straight home?’
I looked at him for a moment—and then said, “No, I haven’t. How does it go?”