Puttin’ on the Ritz
By David DeWitt
There was a Sunday morning routine that took place in my childhood household, before the whole family piled in the car and headed to church. The shining of shoes was central to it. And that was usually followed by all the boys combing our hair with Vitalis. The scent of shoe polish still takes me back. I haven’t smelled Vitalis in a long, long time.
In preparation for our trip to Erin’s sister’s wedding last weekend I was putting a little polish on my shoes before packing them. And of course Finn wanted to be a part of it.
“Oh that’s a good idea! I think I might need to shine my shoes too!” he said, running upstairs to retrieve them from under his bed.
He yelled back down to me, “And I can do it by myself. Ok Daddoo? Ok?”
We had tried shoe shining a couple of times before but he was more interested in putting his fingers in the polish and using the buffing brush as a toy than actually shining his shoes.
“And I can do it ALL BY MYSELF,” he reiterated, returning to my side with his shoes in hand.
“Ok, that’s fine,” I assured him.
I finished my own shoes and stayed close just in case.
But this time he was more focused. It was almost as if the process had been percolating in his mind.
He did try to mix the polish colors briefly but when I stopped him, he moved on.
He covered every inch of each shoe with polish. Probably three times as much as was needed but I did appreciate the thoroughness.
Waiting for the polish to dry was a little difficult but it gave him time to work on his cloth wielding technique.
Soon we both agreed that the polish had dried enough (probably five minutes) and he could no longer contain his exuberance.
“This is the part I’m really good at!” he said, whipping the cloth back and forth as fast as he could while generating a machine-like sound effect with his mouth.
It’s definitely more fun to shine your shoes while you’re wearing them. If you have to do several at once, it doesn’t really make sense but if you’re doing just the one pair it’s the only way to go.
As an adult, I’ve had my shoes shined by someone else just once, in my twenties when I first moved to New York City. I was waiting for a bus. There was a shoe shine stand close by and one of the guys kept telling me he could make my shoes look real good. He was right. But I remember feeling a little uncomfortable. Almost like it was too personal.
The Finn machine had wound down.
“I think that’s good,” he said.
“What about the buffing brush?” I asked.
He looked at me with eyes widened as if I had just said, “Wanna drive the car?”
“Yes!” he said, “The buffing brush!!”
Soon the “machine” had revved back up, now in buffing mode. A few minutes later he pronounced the shoes done.
On the day of the wedding, I heard someone comment on his shiny shoes.
“Did you know that they’re BUFFED?!” he said.
Later he asked me if he could have his own shoe shine box.
“Not just yet,” I said.
This is an experience we need to share for a few more years.