Shine ’em Up

Want to shine your shoes? Go right ahead…but please, don’t break the bank. Because, “I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?”

Shine 'Em Up Featured
Want to shine your shoes? Go right ahead…but please, don’t break the bank. Because, “I mean, seriously, how often do you really look at a man’s shoes?”

In the 1984 movie version of Vincent Patrick’s hilarious novel The Pope of Greenwich Village, Eric Roberts plays Paulie, a wacked-out waiter who’s perpetually on the make for a big score. He likes to live large, and sneers at hard-working guys like his cousin Nicky the Nose. When Paulie’s father speaks admiringly of the Nose for earning a good living as a butcher and owning a house on Staten Island, Paulie fires back, “ Nose still shines his own shoes, pop. I don’t call that success.”

Granted, Paulie has some bizarre notions about success and how to flaunt it—like tipping tollbooth attendants to impress his dates. As for knocking the Nose because he shines his own shoes, let’s remember that Paulie isn’t wrapped too tight. A shine on your shoes tells the world you take pride in your appearance, not that you’re on a fast track to become a partner at Goldman Sachs. A shine on your shoes lifts your self-esteem a notch and puts a little spring in your step. Now, let me ask you: Do you think it really matters exactly who put that shine on your shoes?

I recently sat myself down in a large comfy chair at Eddie’s Shoe Repair, the one in Grand Central Terminal next to Track 36 and the Hudson News Stand. The shine took close to 10 minutes of strenuous polishing, brushing, and buffing. The price: $4.00. The tip: $2.00. Yeah, I could’ve tipped the guy a dollar—that’s a 25% tip—but for some reason a dollar seemed kinda lame to me. So I went for the six bucks.

Was it worth it? To be honest, no. And there are some very rich guys out there who would agree with me. According to a piece in the New York Times, a shoe-polishing expert named Zachary Jobe holds classes to teach Wall Street types the correct way to shine their shoes. I’m talking about guys who own kicks that can set you back $1500 or more, like those handcrafted by Gaziano & Girling. And to keep those babies in tip-top, long-lasting shape, Jobe recommends Saphir, a polish that goes for $11 on Amazon, and some others that can cost as much as $30.

Most guys like us don’t wear bespoke shoes, and we don’t need to take lessons from a shoeshine wizard. The old man taught us how to shine our shoes. He didn’t use a French polish like Saphir – he owned a tin of Kiwi that cost even less than today’s retail price of $3.79 at stores like Target. He showed us how to rub the polish into our shoes with a rag or a toothbrush and how to wield a shoeshine brush. And if he thought our shoes needed some extra sparkle, he showed us the mechanics of two-handed buffing with a cotton cloth or a worn T-shirt. You ended up with a fine shine, didn’t you? Still works for me. How about you?

Okay, I will admit that a professional shine is generally superior to a do-it-yourself polish-and-brush—unless you’re a Marine who normally spit-shines his shoes and boots like he’s competing for the Medal of Honor. In my experience, though, I’ve received compliments on suits, ties, cuff links, and even my eyeglasses, but no matter how many times I’ve had my shoes shined by a pro, nobody ever said to me, “Hey, Pete, that’s a helluva shine! Where’d you get it?”

So I’ll stick to shining my own shoes as my father taught me, thank you very much, and save enough money for something that’ll really turn heads, like a Brioni cashmere blazer.

And before I sign off, here’s a question for you: Guess what polish they use at Eddie’s Shoe Repair? Yep, Kiwi.