On the morning of the wedding, I was wandering around the house with a cup of coffee, trying to focus on what I needed to do in order to get myself and everyone else ready.
The night before had been the rehearsal dinner and the wild Karaoke party at our house. You know, the one where the cops showed up at 11:00 cause we were singing "Last Dance" too loudly. (Things shut down early on the Cape. But come on, Donna Summer had just passed away and to the cops credit, they waited until we were done and told us we were very good. But very loud.)
I was collecting a few stray beer bottles, s'mores sticks, paper plates sticky with cake icing, and wondering how so many big beetles committed suicide in the pillar candles. I opened the fridge and mareled at whomever had managed to fit 6 leftover cake boxes on the shelves by transferring all the beer bottles into the produce drawers. Very creative food storage, I must say, especially for men late at night. Just wondered what had happened to the lettuce and carrots.
With an eye on the clock, I followed The Bride around while she straightened up this room and that, muttering about the photographer coming and hair and make up. I tried to stay our of her way. I mosied through the bedrooms, rousing daughters and son and significant others because it was time to get up and use their alloted shower slots. The penalty for screwing up the shower rota was banishment to the outdoor shower, which Mr Pom told me was spraying cold water out from the bottom because a pipe seemed to have split over the winter.
Everyone rolled over and ignored me. I decided to jump ahead of everyone and use the shower myself. By then my coffee had kicked in and I was full of adrenalin from pre-wedding MOB nerves. When I got out of the shower, I was ready to round up any person who still dared be in bed and was making my way down the hall when voices outside caught my attention.
I slid open the sliding screen screen door and there sat Mr. Pom and Mystery Man on the little back porch, each with a chair, a pair of black shoes, some shoe polish, and a brush. While I'd been in the shower, they'd gotten up and quietly set up their first chore of the day: shining shoes.
I handed some coffee to each of them and left to their business. They continued to polish, buff, and shine for a while. I could hear them talking and laughing and a little groaning by each from the excesses of the night before. They got their shoes done and then went on to the rest of their ablutions.
I admire a shined shoe. I like the whole task of it: the strange little compact metal can with the weird little wishbone clip on the side that you turn to pop open the pan of polish; the stinging smell of wax and dye; the little square of chamois that you dip into the polish and then work the color across the tip of the shoes, using the brush to blend it in and bring up the shine. I can never accomplish a shined shoe, though, without a little rim of polish across the top of my hand when I am done. As much as I scrub at it, a tinge of cordovan and whiff of wax follows me all day.
Most of my shoes are not the type that can be polished. I favor patent leather for work and I wear a lot of suede. A few times a month, I've seen a shoe shine man set up his stool and wooden box in the lobby of our office building. It's a suburban office park, so it's always a amusing and a bit jarring to see this little bit of the urban past pop up in the midst of the marble floors and potted palms.
I am always a little curious and a tad jealous of the shoe shine man and his customers, who are inevitably male. It seems one of the last bastions of 1960's Mad Men culture: the shoe shine man, the folded newspaper, the lit cigar. I can't imagine myself as a woman stepping up into one of the chairs, tilting back my imaginary hat, greeting the shoe shiner with a few words, "How's the wife, Joe?", then leaning back and reading the horse race results while someone else shines my shoes and gets me presentable for the day from the bottom up.
I see an awful lot of scuffed toes, worn down heels, and scratched up shoes in general when waiting in line in courtrooms to check in. Women in particular have problems with the heel and back of the driving shoes getting worn down and dirty. I have to remind myself to check my own shoes before I put them on to see what shape they are in. Also, briefcases are not what they used to be. In general, briefcases have morphed into totes for men and women alike. I generally dislike the sight of a legal file being pulled from a bag where earphones are tangled in the edges of the files folder and a granola bar wrapper is stuck to it from static cling.
We need more shoe shining in our culture.I like the idea of a society that provides a chair, a brush, and a shoe shine man to anyone who has a scuffed pair of shoes, a folded paper, and a buck and a quarter.
I like the idea of starting the day from the ground up. We need more time spent on the little civilities of life, like ironing a fresh handkerchief or learning how to fold and refold a newspaper to a quarter sheet so you can read it standing on a bus without it intruding in anyone's space.
Only please, don't talk on the cell when you are having your shoes shined. Exchange a few pleasantries with the person working on your shoes. Share who's going to win tomorrow in the fifth, or what stock to keep an eye on. You can even close your eyes for a quick cat nap before getting back to the office for your 2:00. Or you can take your shiny pair of shoes, walk down Fifth Avenue, and buy yourself a hot dog with the works, go over to the park, sit on a bench, cross your legs, and eat your hot dog while admiring your shoes.
If you are lucky, when you get back to the office you will discover that you've been given a secretary that has typed all your letters and left them on your desk under a glass paperweight, awaiting your signature. She'll tell you that your wife would like to know if you want to eat at the club or entertain at the house for dinner and if so, what would you like her to make.
You'll tell her to hold all calls while you practice your chip shot in your new automatic golf ball putting machine that the kids gave you for Father's Day. At 5:00, you'll stroll into your boss's office for a quick nightcap before you both run for the 5:40 to Larchmont. You'll remember to pick up a bunch of flowers in Grand Central and you'll think about getting a shave and a haircut tomorrow at lunch as you are passing the empty shoe shine stand, which is all packed up until tomorrow morning.
And then you'll wince because you'll realize that you forgot to tip the shoe shine guy. No matter, you'll give him double tomorrow.