My 1%

Alex Van Gelder %22Armed Force%22 - Louise Bourgeois Hands

Rush jobs. Corners cut. One constant in 30 years, disappointment.

A handful of notables come to mind. So few, I can picture the craftsman. I can picture the chair. Here the tired and the scuffed are healed to a high gloss sheen.

It’s rare. 1%.

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
Kloten Airport in Zurich.
Allen Edmonds, Port Washington, Wisconsin.
And, Grand Central.

Her country of origin? My best guess. Guatemala. Age? Impossible to gauge. Hunched over. Plump. Hands tough, cracked. Brown skin is smooth, free of pock marks. Hair pulled back. Green smock. I’ll say mid-50’s. But a hard 50.

I wait for her to be done with another customer. The other shoe shiners, all men, smirk.  I turn away, anger surges.  Clench my fist.

She rolls up my pant leg. Gently one, and then the other.

She firmly applies a dab of polish. Rubs it in.  Biting her lip as she grips her horse hair brush to work in the wax and work out the excess.

She works the entire boot.  Sprinkles a light spray of water on each toe cap. Goes at it again until she’s worked the shoe to a gleam.  Finishes with a Kiwi applicator to the heals of both shoes.  And again, gently rolls down the pant cuffs.

Her face is expressionless. She doesn’t talk to patrons. Not to her colleagues.  Not to me. Not in any of the prior visits.  Not a word.

How long have you been at your post?
How many pairs of shoes have you done today?
Does your back ache?
How long is your commute?
Who stays with your children?

She sheepishly reaches out to grab my tip.  She drops her head to avoid eye contact. Her eyes are hungrily locked on my hand, and the cash.

With each trip, my tips are expanding.
Am I hoping to buy a grin?
A hot meal for her daughter?
Her bus fare home to the buroughs?

Or, perhaps an offering for one moment of light?

Image Source: amare-habeo


  1. Great blog!


  2. I don’t even know exactly what to say about this one…except that you probably get much more out of that experience than most other people. To be able to put yourself in the place of another and try to imagine another life, another existence…a wish for light. She can probably feel that and she probably takes it with her to wherever she goes, and that is the most that any of us can hope for…that we can touch another life in whatever small way that we can.


  3. Moments of such encounters grab a person and ask “What are you contributing?” and such moments can change the course of someone’s life.


  4. I love that you *see* her, David. That’s what makes you special…you notice, you remember, you care….


  5. You are given grace David…she gives you a moment of grace, and you give her her dignity. My eyes are filled, and my heart is too – with gratitude. Thank you for sharing this moment with us.


  6. My eyes are filled, too, and my heart. Thank you.


  7. I am always amazed by the moments of your life, what fills them, where they take you. And, of course, your vision.


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