Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[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.
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