July 7th, 2005

[URBAN NOTE] A Shoeshine

I had a rather nice shoeshine experience last evening. I'd only had fully professional shoeshines twice before, both times in Toronto. Curiously enough, both times I had them polished before I left the city behind for someplace else. I've always liked the shoeshine experience. I've found it been as much a sensory experience for me as it's wardrobe maintenance, with all its print and visual media associations of urbanity and mass society (the businessman in the bustling North American or western European centre in the industrial age standing by the side of the street to get his shoes polished, all that). The shoeshine is, I say that I believe without much proof of any kind, a quintessential urban experience.

As I was approaching the northeast corner of Bloor Street West and Bellair at 5 o'clock, I saw a shoeshine man in action, busioly polishing a client's shoes. I looked down at the shoes I had on, moccasin-style shoes almost two years old, with fraying leather and patches where the polish had worn off entirely. A quick retreat to the nearest ATM to get some cash, and there I was.

It was an experience. The actual shoeshine was superlative, once the laces extracted for safety's sake and the cuffs of my pants rolled up. Peter set to work, rubbing the polish on with a toothbrush, burning the frayed threads away with the lighter and using the lighter to heat the leather so that it absorbed the polish, covering the shoes with some sort of sealant wax once he was done. They looked worn; now, they look almost new. He sets up shop at that streetcorner only after 2:30, when that north side of Bloor comes into shade and he can work without overheating himself. He takes whatever payment he gets, but I felt guilty giving him only $C10.

Peter, the shoeshine man, himself is a character. Turning 46 this 18th, he took up his current profession a decade ago while panhandling in Vancouver. After asking a young man for some change and being rudely told to get a job, he rhetorically asked him for one. The young man went on to go into the department store next door and buy him the polish and toothbrushes that he needed to start out. "This is the best job I ever had," he proclaimed. "It lets me be my own boss." He then went on to recount his stories about his encounters with customers, his attendance at parties, and his brushes with Fantino and Brian Mulroney

If you're ever on that street corner, look him up for a shoeshine. You could hardly come out the loser.

[NON BLOG] My Eyes

I last saw an optometrist in August of 2003, back when I was still on the Island and still covered under my father's medical plan. Time has passed since then, and my eyes have continued the slow deterioration that began when I was five years of age. Reluctantly, I booked my appointment for an eye exam.

It took place this morning at 11 o'clock, at the optometrists office adjoining the Bay Optical on the concourse level of the Bloor TTC. It was as uncomfortable as it usually is--the demands to restrain the blink reflex when the eye is touched, the fluid and the ultraviolet-blue light to check for glaucoma--and not helped by the optometrist's rudeness. When I was paying, freed from the office he came out and said that I was one of his most polite customers in days. I suspect that he had ulterior motives. The purchase of the replacement glasses--frames and lenses--would have been excessively expensive had I got them at Bay Optical. I crossed the street instead and got a two-for-one deal. A clerk had made a mistake and sold me the second pair without noticing that the lenses I'd need weren't ones that they had in stock, but they decided to honour the sale.

I dread these exams. My eyes have been steadily deteriorating since the age of five. Without my glasses, I wouldn't be able to clearly see the nose on my face. I worry that one day, even with glasses I won't be able to. I fear the idea of life in a perpetually blurred and low-resolution universe.
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[NON BLOG] Professional Incompetence

In August of 2003, before I left the Island, I conscientiously made my final visit to the office of my dentist Jim Murphy, to make sure that everything was all right with my teeth. One tooth in particular concerned me, since it was sensitive to heat and cold. He took a look, he took X-rays, he told me that it was something that he couldn't trace and that I should worry too much about it.

Not an hour ago, I was told by a doctor here in Toronto that I need a root canal and assorted other associated treatments. In all, I'll have to spend more than a thousand dollars. The dentist in Toronto was surprised: The rest of my teeth were in fine shape, proof I was conscientious, and the cavity should have been visible two years ago.

It would appear that the accidental death of Jim Murphy was not such a big blow to the Island's dentist community after all. A malpractice suit against his estate would seem to be in order, wouldn't you say?
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