Thursday, September 22, 2016

Tuesday, September 14th, 1971

So, this day marks the anniversary of the day I began my first job, which I'm disconcerted, doing the math, to find was forty-five years ago. I was a shoe-shine, inheriting the job from my cousin Sam, who moved on to bigger and better things. My stand was inside a barber shop: I kept whatever I made from shoe-shines and paid 'rent' by sweeping up all the hair, cleaning the mirrors, and vacuuming at the close of day. Occasionally I'd run errands, like walking up to the branch-bank to get some change.

I worked every weekday except Monday (barber shops are, or were, traditionally closed on Mondays), arriving as soon as I cd after school, and all day Saturday. Some days I'd sit and read without a customer in sight; others I'd be busy from the time I arrived to closing and beyond.  I remember I charged thirty five cents for a pair of shoes, while boots were fifty cents. My best-known customer was probably former Governor Ben T. Laney, who came by occasionally.

It was a surprisingly complex process. First came a quick brushing to remove loose dirt, using a pallet knife to get off any caked mud from the soles. This was followed by washing the shoes with saddle soap. After they were brushed, cleaned, and dried,  I'd apply leather balm with a soft cloth; this had the effect of further cleaning and also toning the leather. Then came the shoe polish: applied by hand with two fingers, brushed, and buffed: the fast brushing and faster buffing with a cloth actually melted the polish onto the shoe. Sometimes it'd take two coats, each with its accompanying brush and buff. If done right, you shd be able to see yr reflection in them.

One thing I found out right away is that a set of muscles in each upper arm that would ache for the first week or so: these apparently only get use when buffing shoes. The long-term effect is creaky knees, from all the walking I did on them. Even today they sometimes audibly pop when I get up from having put weight on them.

The best thing about the job was that I had plenty of time to read in the down-time -- something that wdn't have been true of any equivalent job (such as, say, being a paperboy).  One thing, though: I quickly found out that if you're a shoe-shine and you wear shine-able shoes, then they have to be kept in perfect condition with a high polish at all times. People thinking of a shoe-shine tend to notice if the shoe-shine's own shoes aren't shined.

And that's why I always wear Hush Puppies.

P.S.: When I left, they cdn't find a replacement -- shoeshines were on their way out by then -- so the stand closed down. I kept my pallet knife which I used the whole time I was there to open the cans of polish as well as scrape away dirt when such was called for. It resides in the right-hand drawer of my desk, a relic of earlier times. Here's what it looks like:

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