April 18, 2014 – Man cleaning shoes
I can honestly say that I have never had my shoes “shined” by a man, woman or child while I was wearing them. It is fair to say that when staying in hotels, especially when they offer a free overnight shoe shine, I have taken advantage of this, given that I do not do a particularly great job at cleaning my own shoes, but, to the best of my recollection, I have never had a “split and a polish”.
I certainly appreciate that people do this for a living but I still struggle with the concept of sitting a chair, reading the newspaper or smoking a cigar while someone is either down on their knees or, in the case of the above photo, sitting on a plastic bucket giving someone a shine!
People who’s occupation it is to polish shoes, has in the past been referred to as a “shoeshine boy” a name given due to the fact that the job was historically performed by young males. Although such a task is frowned upon in many western civilizations, shoe shining nonetheless continues to provide a source of revenue to children and families around the world particularly in societies where there is a higher than usual, level of poverty.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I have resisted in participating in, what for some people, is a daily ritual. At many of the locations where you find people willing to shine your shoes, including airports, train stations, bus depots and on the sidewalk, the shoe shiner is working only for tips, something else that I find troubling. If you took a pair of shoes into a repair store, they may charge you ten dollars to get your shoes cleaned. Why should a person on the street be expected to get paid any less?
It is true to say that I do love getting a shave in a barber shop with a straight edge but there I am paying a price for the experience of the man in the chair and he is certainly not kneeling at my feet in a manner that somehow seems demeaning or degrading.
I appreciate that for many of the people who fulfill this function, they are more than happy for the many customers that show up on a daily basis as it puts money in their pockets to allow them to put food on the table at night and certainly the costs of performing the trade are fairly minimal.
Still, it is something I continue to struggle with.
“After some thorough soul-searching and thoughtful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that if you get a shoeshine in public in 2011, you’re probably an a**hole.
I thought about this as I walked past a gentleman on 9th Avenue in Manhattan getting a shoe shine. The look of the man screamed Willy Loman, and he obviously was one of those pretenders to the crown in middle management that do things like get his shoes shined in public to give himself the false impression that he’s on the fast track. The pseudo-classism was abundant: he was on a raise, and as he got his shoes shined looked off into the distance, avoiding all eye contact and communication with the man inside.
It then occurred to me that of the handful of men I have come across in my life who have had their shoes shined in modern times – both as novelty and habit – they’ve universally been what I would consider an a**hole. Friendly acquaintances, mind you, and great for a laugh, but total a**holes none the less.”
Posted by Kevin Marshall on March 8, 2011 on “Kevin Marshall’s America”
(Photo taken in New Orleans, December 2010)