Back in 2009, when I was hanging out a little farther uptown on the UWS, I stumbled on a small, old fashioned, shoe repair shop. Eureka!!!! The boots in the trunk of my car whose heels were so worn down I was practically walking on my ankles could have that well deserved make over! So I seized the opportunity, ran back to the car, and carried them in to meet their re-maker.
As I opened the door, the aroma of shoe polish and leather catapulted me directly back to scenes of childhood in Jersey City and visits to Presto Shoe Repair shop. Going to Presto’s was one of my favorite errands. Bill and Whitey were so nice to me, always took extra special care of our shoes and always put a smile on my face. The store was warm and had an interesting vibe. It was long and dark with a bank of cushioned seats against the wall that looked a little like a series of church confessional boxes. There were small kneeler like things inside each box where I rested my little bare feet or sat on while patiently waiting for my repaired shoes.
And that aroma … I’m not sure why but the combined smells of leather and shoe polish have always been a favorite to me. And climbing into one of the high sided box like seats always felt like tucking into a fort where I could secretly listen to conversations and the whirring sounds of the machinery and crinkle of the paper bags that contained the shoes being picked up by other customers. But Bill would always come over to find me and we’d laugh and talk for a bit. He was the first African American man I’d ever met and was one of the kindest adults working on Central Avenue. I liked him a lot. He had a beautiful smile, a soft voice and I always enjoyed talking and listening to him. Such wonderful memories.
Well … here I was, not in Presto’s … no Bill, no Whitey … heck, not anything CLOSE to being in Presto’s but that smell and the sounds and, OMG, ONE BIG WOODEN CUSHIONED FORT!?!?!? In my imagination it WAS Presto’s all over again. I was in awe. And I sat, smiling inside, waiting patiently for my boots. I didn’t try to hide, though. Damn maturity.
All of a sudden I spied … WAIT … can it be? There. In the display case. Looking exACTly the same. BOXES OF … holy moly … *SANI-WHITE*!?!?!?!? Magic again. Hollywood sani-white, the chalky white polish for keeping nurse’s shoes clean AND “Excellent for Sneakers Too!”
Now, new memories flooded in of PF Flyers and always having a box of sani-white in my gym locker for those random gym uniform inspections during which the drill sergeant gym teachers graded us for a nicely kept/ironed uniform and crisp white socks and sneakers. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. No kidding … we had a specific line up, too … and it was RIDICULOUS … and just thinking about it again makes me laugh. Memories of the urgent whispers in the locker room warning us of the inspection AND the rush to slap sani-white onto grimy sneakers before sliding into my spot on the gym floor while trying to smooth out the wrinkles on the uniform AND hide the white on my fingers … just. priceless.
The man at the counter woke me from my memories and, to my delight, the make over was a major success. My boots were better than new and he’d even given them some extra care by nicely polishing them. Just like Bill and Whitey. I walked out onto Broadway, a huge smile in my heart, and met my “bello” with tales from the shoe repair store (and Hollywood sani-white) flying out of the snow globe as if it was a snow blower. That Christmas, tucked in among his gifts to me, was my very own box of Hollywood sani-white. I was THRILLED (it really IS about the little things, you know)! And, until today, it stood unopened amid the other fun things in the shrine on my desk.
Today, as I got dressed to meet a friend for brunch, I pulled out my cute, springy, girlie Chucks and noticed that they needed to be cleaned up a bit. Rather than use Soft Scrub or a little Comet, for some reason I was drawn to that box of Hollywood sani-white. Should I open it? Should I disturb the shrine? YEAH. I carefully opened the box (as if not wanting to disturb the nurse if I could help it) took out the bottle (which, of course, is now plastic) and shook it to mix the contents. Then, at the bottom of the box, and to my sheer delight, I found the cheesy rectangular applicator pad that always left as much product on your fingers as on the sneakers. I cracked open the bottle and got down to business … and smiled with a heart full of memories …. that included him, and the boots, and the shoe repair store on Broadway, and gym inspections, and Presto’s and Bill.
So grateful, grateful, grateful.