Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Shoe Shine

I spent 21 years in the Navy, and shined shoes were a basic part of the uniform of the day. I'll have to admit that my shoes on sea-duty weren't always up to snuff (blackened would be a better description), but on shore duty, I stepped up the standards quite a bit--largely because of the wonders of even an average shoe shine.

Firstly--the military permits the wearing of an abomination known as "Corf(r)am" shoes (I don't reallly know the spelling, and they are so repellent that I won't even look it up) which are essentially adult patent leather shoes that one uses Windex to spruce up now and then. I've never known an officer I respect who wears these. Perhaps one reading might chime in here, at which point I'll be forced to admit I don't respect you.

For years, I wore the plain, black navy oxford found at the uniform shop--and shined them myself--a job I detested, but did because it was required. About the time I made Lieutenant, I decided that the default approach would be professional shoe shines, and that I would do them only under emergency circumstances (like an inspection). It wasn't until the early part of this decade when I was seated next to Colonel Dan that I was introduced to "really living". Colonel Dan couldn't believe that I was still wearing uniform shop leathers--he introduced me to finely made black leather oxfords--costing at least twice what you paid at the uniform shop--but that you could return for "recrafting" for a nominal fee after they began to wear. This extended the life of the shoe almost indefinitely--in addition to putting a man in a pair of black oxfords that simply felt better--much better--than what was available through the uniform store.

Essential to the care and maintenance of a fine shoe is the professionally administered shoe shine. I've always wondered what it was about getting nails done that was such a rush for women--but enthroned on the shine stand this morning, watching the little people hustle by on the way to their daily hell--I realized that rush. The shoe shine is one of life's simple pleasures. For $7, you sit, relax, and get up a shinier version of your previous self. If your craftsman can speak English, you might enjoy pleasant male banter (football, women, the economy). If your craftsman does not speak English (well) as mine this morning did not, well then you have a few moments to sit and read your Blackberry, meditate, watch the people walk by or read the paper. None of which are bad things.

Additionally, there is simply something regal about the whole process. There's the physical height thing (always important to the vertically challenged); there's the leather splendor of the stand; and no matter how you get around it, there's a guy basically kneeling at your feet to perform the job, almost like a footman stepping off the carriage to ensure a step is placed at the door. I know, I know--most people don't have those images, just those with delusions of grandeur.

I would NEVER get my shoes shined by a woman. Sorry. I realize it is sexist--but the idea is anathema. Whether words are passed or not, the shoe-shine is an opportunity for male bonding of a special brand.


Anonymous said...

I said, no more shines. Maybe you didn't hear about it, you've been away a long time. They didn't go up there and tell you. I don't shine shoes anymore. - Tommy DeVito

Smoothfur said...

$7.00 for a shine plus tip I presume.
I charged 0.10 cents when I was a shine boy. What does that have to say about inflation over the years.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

$5, plus $2 for the tip.

Padraic said...

The shone shine gentlemen in the Philly Amtrak station is the best in the country -

"The Hammer" said...

This sounds like BS to me. An officer shining his own shoes? Hell, everybody knows most officers can't tie their own shoes much less take care of them.

Kelly O said...

Had my black cowboy boots shined by some guy in a hotel in Nashville. He had apparently been on Letterman for his famous shine where he puts on the polish on the tip of the boot and then lights it on fire. Melts the polish. Those boots gleamed for months!

Anonymous said...

Great short here. I am not sure that I buy the shoe shine/nails analogy, but certainly without the barbershops of old, this is the last accepted male maintenance ritual allowed.

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