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The Column

Shine Your Shoes, Mista?
9/25/05

This column, like many of my columns and days of my week, takes place at an airport. It is true that art imitates life.

I had just gotten to Philadelphia. As it turns out, it is not the city of brotherly love. Rather the city of frighteningly persistent shoeshine men. "Phil," taken from a possible name of the shoeshine guy, and "adelphia" taken from the latin for "cable network."

I, like all good airline passengers who have checked bags do, went to the baggage claim area. Right away, a man approached me with an offer to shine my shoes. I politely declined, laughing to myself about how the shoes I was wearing, like most things purchased at Target, were unshinable. The only footwear less shinable than what I was wearing would have been flip flops.

The man, like his sales motivation tapes must have instructed him, did not take "no thank you" for an answer. Well, he took it, but ignored it.

"Only three dollars," he explained.

"Oh," he expected me to say. "Only three dollars? Well then shine my unshinable shoes, I'm steppin' out!"

Three dollars was practically the price for the shoes. I again politely declined, this time saying, "That's a good deal, but no thank you." I didn't want a shine, nor would I pay three dollars for one done while I was standing up, but there was no reason to discourage him from bothering other people.

"I'll do a really good job," he further explained.

"Oh," he expected me to say. "A good job? I assumed at such a bargain price, this would be an amateur shine. But now that I know your shoe shine skills, shine me up! I'm steppin' out!"

I don't know why he kept expecting me to say that I'm stepping out, but he did.

I again politely declined, this time saying, "I just shined them." If he didn't know they couldn't be shined, how would he know I hadn't already shined them? Perhaps, while purchasing a hearty libation, I ran into his rival shoe-shiner JP Wigginsbottom, who charged me just $2.75. Wigginsbottom, you crafty scallawag.

"Please?" he pathetically asked.

I wanted to be polite. I also wanted to tell him that my job doesn't require me to own shoes, let shine them. But I needed to put my unshiny foot down.

"No," I said. "I do not want a shoeshine."

"Only three dollars," he said again, restarting the only sales pitch he was trained to give.

It was pathetic, and I thought about giving him the three dollars to help him and so he'd go away. My heart was bleeding, but my head was getting more than annoyed.

"No," I said even more sternly and focused on finding my bags so that I could fix the handles I'm sure the baggage handlers broke. See? I had better ways to spend that three dollars.

My bags came a few minutes later, just about the time my phone rang. So with bags in each hand and over each shoulder, and with my phone resting between my ear and one of my bags, I felt a tap on my arm.

"I'll do a good job," said a voice behind me.

And that's when I lost it and killed everyone in the airport. Okay, so I just rejected the man for the sixth time and walked away. Slowly, so I wouldn't drop my phone as I muttered "six times!" in disbelief.

I am torn about the situation. Everyone has a right to make a living, but this guy was being impossibly frustrating. Why should his living interfere with my day? Perhaps some people enjoy the option of getting a standup shoeshine at the airport, which is why he was tolerated by security. But if security wants him there, the airport should build him a booth. Nothing fancy - you've got to keep your overhead low if you only charge $3 for a shine.

I didn't tell any of the guards how pushy the man was to get him tossed, as I easily could have. I figured that while I was annoyed by him, I'd rectify my torn-ness by letting him stick around to annoy other people. Besides, I was in the city of brotherly love, right?

And I, like any humor columnist would, thought it was funny to watch him approach someone else.

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