..........15th anniversary

National Post, Saturday, August 20, 2005


Stephen Lautens

I stopped working in the city core a few months ago and now make the daily trek to an office near the Arctic Circle (Markham, actually). People ask me what I miss about not being downtown. It’s not the restaurants, convenient banking (if there is such a thing) or the high ransoms for parking.

What I miss are the downtown shoe shines.

The skilled hands of Penny Simmons.

If you can’t afford 10 years of psychotherapy or need something to help you get through the day without strangling someone, I highly recommend going for a shoeshine. I think of a shoeshine as a 10-minute vacation. At most, it’ll probably set you back six bucks, GST and tip included.

The New York big shots who have their shoes shined while they work at their desks have missed the point. A really great shoeshine requires you to sneak away from the office in the middle of a hectic business day.

For those of you who have never had a professional shoeshine, let me describe its joys to you. First, you get to sit in a leather chair about five feet off the ground, usually looking out over a public area. This gives you a great view of all the poor slobs who are rushing around actually doing something productive. It also allows the rest of the envious world to see you being pampered as they pass.

Forget going to a spa for the seaweed and crunchy peanut butter detoxifying wrap. In a democratic country it’s as close to feeling like a king that a regular guy is going to get.
A good shoeshine is almost like a professional massage, except you don’t have to get naked in a cold room and be handled by a stranger named Lars.

The shine itself is a rhythm of rubbing and buffing and, if your guy (or gal) really knows what they’re doing, a little waterproof spray. You come out looking and feeling like a million bucks. And, unlike when you do it at home, you don’t have black polish up to
your elbows.

One of the reasons I like shoe shines probably has to do with my father. Dad hated wearing ties, suits or even hard shoes. But he still loved to get his shoes shined. After
our regular Wednesday lunch, he and I used to walk up the street together. If we came within a block of our favourite place, he’d always say, “Do you have time for a shine?” I always did.

It was one of those male-bonding things. Our favourite place had two chairs so we could sit and talk, stretching our lunch hour out another few minutes, sharing what may be the last innocent pleasure left to men.

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