(March 18, 2019)
his shoe-shine rhythm
blind* “boy” eighty winters gone
“pop” that speckled cloth
footless shoes line the shop’s walls
when grandson comes – that’s homework!
*(Back in my last year of Active Duty in The Marine Corps I was stationed in Philadelphia – an outpatient of the U. S. Naval Hospital and an “inmate” inpatient at the 4th Marine Corps Recruiting and Reserve District Headquarters serving – for my sins – as NCOIC of a one-man “shop.” I lived in West Philadelphia at on 51st Street…and age and alcohol have clouded the exact locations, but 51st and Pine was Murphy’s Bar and Irish joint where if I overslept Sunday mornings my pals would pile up “my round” bloody marys and draft beers while I would be “tabbed” for their poison when it was my turn. A couple of blocks West was 52nd Street and Pine. None of Murphy’s crowd went there. It was Black Country. I heard about this old blind man who shined – spit-shined for extra – shoes and boots better than anyone ever, ‘ceptin’ maybe God hisownself. So, I ditched my Marine roommate at Murphy’s and took a spare pair of “inspection” combat boots and a second pair of dress shoes to the barber shop at 52nd which was right beside a long, dark, smoky bar from which loud blues was playing on the juke. Intrigued, I went in the bar first. Asked for a draft beer and paid up front. I had my boots and shoes on the stool next time mine and the bartender said he’d watch my beer and told me the price for the shoes and boots “if I want the spitshine,” he grinned. Said “yessir,” gulped my beer and laid out another pair of washingtons – remember, this was 1971 – and said I’ll be right back, stuffing the requisite money into the footwear to leave with the bootblack. What an incredible guy. Blind but he noticed everything. He whipped that shinecloth around, popping it to keep time with the blues coming through the walls of the barber shop at which he worked. Said to me: “you got your name inside each shoe…and is one of them a pair of boots?” Said I: “yessir. The man at the bar told me the fare and it’s inside the left shoe. I got a beer waiting but I’ll stop by to see if I owe you a tip tomorrow.” That man’s laughter was so pure and unfeigned I almost asked him if he would teach me the trade. Back at the bar a couple of younger guys came up to me and did their little “roust.” Doncha think yo’d be mo’comfortable down by Murphy’s the leader asked. “Pro’lly,” I responded. “But Murphy’s ain’t got the best shoeshine man in the known universe next door. And The draft beer here is colder.”