Barefoot runner can’t stand acorns.
Neighborhood goes nuts.
For a brief, shining moment this week, an entire northeast Minneapolis neighborhood came together around one man’s post about the acorns that were tearing his feet apart. This is their story.
“Hey Northeasters!” neighborhood newcomer Eric Curtis opened his post on the I Love NE Minneapolis Facebook page. “Lately I’ve noticed that the sidewalks have been LITTERED with acorns.”
He wasn’t lying. Minnesota is under aerial bombardment. Every few years, the oak trees produce a bumper crop and in these so-called masting years, acorns rain down upon the shod and the unshod.
“So this is just a friendly reminder to please keep your sidewalks clear of any acorns or other debris that might injure those whom are active members of the barefoot running community, including myself,” the post continued, transitioning seamlessly from friendly reminder to passive-aggressive threat. “I would hate to have to complain to the City about this, so I just wanted to give everyone a heads up! Peace and Love!”
If you thought this post would inspire a neighborhood sidewalk sweep, you vastly underestimated how hilarious the internet finds any combination of nuts, bare feet and squirrel puns. Alert neighbor Alex Conover retweeted the original post, along with a few of the flabbergasted responses.
“If only there were something you could put on your feet to protect against acorns and other debris.”
“Maybe a pair of squirrels could be strapped to your feet?”
“Run with a leaf blower.”
By Wednesday, Conover’s tweet had more than 50,000 likes and had been picked up by news sites around the nation. People swapped jokes and puns and vowed it would be a cold day in northeast Minneapolis before the sidewalk would be swept for someone who didn’t have the sense to wear shoes. They traded squirrel stories and acorn recipes (Hershey’s kiss + Nutter Butter Bite = painless acorn).
By midday, someone was selling an “I Love Northeast” T-shirt on Amazon, featuring a grinning squirrel with its foot planted triumphantly on an acorn.
Everybody was having a grand time. Especially the guy who started the whole acornmageddon.
It was a Buzzfeed report late Wednesday, mortifyingly, that poked holes in a story too nutty to be true.
Under Buzzfeed’s expert grilling, Curtis cracked and admitted he made the whole thing up. He’s not a competitive barefoot runner. Nor is he the hardcore unicyclist he claimed to be in an earlier post to the Facebook group. He couldn’t even name a quality brand of unicycle.
“I think my 15 mins is up anyway,” Curtis told Buzzfeed, with the cheer of a troll who has trolled until he could troll no more. “I can’t believe Buzzfeed was the one who actually fact checked.”
As a journalist who failed to crack Curtis from his claim that barefoot running, in Minnesota, on snow, is a completely feasible and normal activity, I found that remark both hurtful and hilarious.
Fortunately, Curtis cracked on deadline, giving me enough time to rewrite this column at midnight. But this is still the most mortifying thing I’ve committed to print since the time I covered the National Spelling Bee and misspelled the winning word.
No, Curtis swore to me, his post wasn’t a joke. Not the barefoot acorn thing and not an earlier post to the group about his other passion: unicycling.
“Just to clarify: we are only interested in SERIOUS unicycling,” he wrote. “This isn’t just a hobby for us, so if you are just a casual unicyclist kindly move along, thanks.”
Curtis, after requesting a free Star Tribune subscription since he’d clicked on his maximum free monthly articles, went on to detail the deep soul pain that accompanied his deep foot pain.
“I guess I’d like people to know that I didn’t mean any offense, but once people started calling me names like ‘wackadoodle’ and ‘Nancy’ and other filthy things that you can’t even put in the paper, I felt like I had no recourse but … to complain to the city,” he wrote via Facebook.
City officials, of course, reported that no such complaint had been filed.
All of this raised troubling questions, of course. Is there a window for barefoot running in Minnesota? Does that window close sometime around snow-in-the-forecast and acorns-hurt-my-feet season? What separates the casual unicyclist from the professional grade?
No, Curtis lied, he could run barefoot in the winter, as long as people shoveled the sidewalks. Minneapolis homeowners, he noted, seemed much more open to snow removal than acorn removal.
“Honestly, I WISH this was a joke,” he wrote. “These acorns are not funny to me. My feet have the bruises to show it.”
After a day as an internet punchline, he said, he thought about giving up on his barefoot runs through the acorn minefields. “I’m afraid people will recognize me now,” he lied, before pivoting mid-thought. “But you know what? I’ve decided I’m not going to let that stop me.”
I’m not going to lie. That fake post was hilarious, and I plan to spend several hours making a felt ornament of a squirrel riding a unicycle in its honor.
Getting trolled is painful. But not bare-feet-on-acorn painful. To quote the man who launched a thousand memes, getting hoaxed “makes me tougher than most people both physically and emotionally.”