Shoe shining and the sluggish mind

Dr John SLAMSON

Shoe shining and the sluggish mind

I was sitting at my desk, not getting anywhere with what I wanted to write. I had a mass of data, examples, remarks and scattered bits of reasoning to sift through. After thinking things over for days, my brainwork had accumulated into a heap of twenty-eight ranting pages where feeble passages sat next to episodically discerning crumbs. Managing that compact aggregate of ideas and phrases seemed like having a mountain to climb. I was staring blankly at the pages whose margins were further encumbered by my own tedious scrawling. Frankly, the situation was begging for some thorough procrastination.

I could make myself another cup of tea or coffee or stop imbibing liquids in favour of more productive procrastination. Ironing was a good choice. Tidying up the study where books formed weirdly-shaped mounds on the floor would have been a good idea too. But then, some of my shoes needed shining and this was the perfect combination of idleness and productivity.

So I pulled out the apron, the mink oil, the cream and the polish, the little cup of water. Some shoes needed a complete nourishing treatment, others needed high gloss polish.

It is often neglected how shoes need to be maintained. There is a sort of disdain for those things we carry around on our feet. They’re low and dirty. That is, unless you transform them into gleaming surfaces of leather mirrors. Caring for your shoes completely changes your outfit. What good a nice suit if you’re wearing scruffy shoes? When you see otherwise neutrally attired gentlemen — the dark suit, the boringly straight and solid coloured tie — wearing terrible shoes, pointy and black and not shining and clearly with a glued sole and third rate leather, you stop considering the man to be adequately dressed. It screams of a suit that’s worn for business purpose rather than to look good.

Not that for me. I want shoes that do not diminish my outfit. Not splendidly sculpted red shoes, not convoluted designs and rare textures, not karung or stingray leather. Just a proper, fine pair of shoes. And to this end, the shoe must be maintained.

I had been to a mirror shining session recently, learning how to get that gleam— you know, the shoe-out-of-the-box glamorous gleam. All it takes is good quality polish, an occasional dash of water and lots of patience.

You need to rub the polish into the tip of the shoe relentlessly. Aye, there’s the rub, again and again. Rub. Dash. Rub. Dash. Until the faint clouds of polish appear, showing that the leather, gorging on polish, has been suffused with the stuff. Stroking it gently you see the faint glimmer of leather showing a more and more steady reflection. Until it really does shine. Maybe it’s the wrist exhaustion, but I think I’m hearing Billy Eckstine singing Duke Ellington’s ‘I’m beginning to see the light’.

Like a glazed cake whose icing you are reluctant to destroy, a perfect high gloss on a shoe brings images of still life perfection. Such gleaming purity and ideal wholeness can be daunting. It can be too much. It is too much, as if Instagram filters had replaced reality. As if the shoe had been frozen for eternity and couldn’t be worn any more. Which is why I don’t go for the highest gloss, just the nice patina of a controlled reflection.

After a few more strokes, the depth of the shine is exactly how I want it to be. The shoe is sparkling, pristine. I step back and contemplate my achievement. Then I hold the shoe like a grail under the light from the window. I kneel, holding my glistening shoe under the divine sunlight. It’s beautiful.

As I stand up, moved by perfection, with barely the hint of a tear cracking on the side of my eye, I realise procrastination has worked. I have managed to do nothing and produce a text. The one you’re reading. Now that it’s all out of my system, I can go back to writing what needed to be written.

Unless I polish the other shoe?

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All photos from “Mes Chaussettes Rouges” and Quentin Planchenault

John Slamson Tumblr : Sartorial Delights