The Hanover Street Shoe-Shine Boys
This essay is reprinted in its entirety with permission of its original author OWK.
Now it wasn?t too long ago (or so I allow myself to believe), that I embraced the mantle of manhood, and went in search of my first job. I got one too. It was an acceptable job as jobs go, but it didn?t pay me all too much. It was just an honest day?s wages, for an honest day pumping gas.
After my first week (which included a hard lesson on the difference between oil and transmission fluid that I?d rather not discuss) I recieved the object of my greedy little teen-aged desires. I got my first paycheck. When Mr. Gaston put it in my hands and said ?Good work son?, I have to admit I was filled with a sense of pride at my accomplishment, but only for a moment. Pride is a fleeting thing in young men, so it was off to the bank to cash my prize as fast as my legs would get me there.
I was whistling a tune, and there was a noticeable spring in my step, as I flung open the door to the bank, and swaggered up to the teller. She counted out my $97.32 with the precision of a machine, and then with a wink offered me the customary loli-pop usually reserved for the children of customers (which I must admit took a bit of the swagger from my gait). Still though, I had my hard-earned money, and it was good.
So out the door I went. After only three steps, or maybe four, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to face a man with a gun in his hand. Behind him, were dozens more. Street toughs from the look of ?em.
?Can I help you?? I asked, doing my best to look menacing. ?You sure can? he said with a smile and a flourish. To my amazement, he turned to his associate and barked ?Shine his shoes Mickey?.
At that point a little rat-faced fella with a wooden box and a brush scampered up, and plopped himself unceremoniously at my feet. I simply stared at him. He returned my gaze with expectation, and after awhile he complained, ?I can?t shine your shoes if you don?t put your foot on the box?.
?But? but, I don?t want a shoe-shine? I protested, ?I?m wearing sneakers?.
?It don?t really matter what you want? he shot back. ?We had a vote, and decided that everybody needs a shoe-shine?. Now I was just about to smack this weasel out of my way, and go about my business, when I caught sight of the gun-toting man who started it all. ?It?ll only take a minute? he said, ?and it goes much easier if you cooperate?. Then he wiggled his sidearm, and smiled a wry little smile, and I knew I was licked. So I put my foot up on the box, and suffered the humiliating spectacle of black shoe-polish being slapped on one sneaker, and then the other. I bit my lip, and endured. And he was as true as his word. It really only did take a minute. So I thanked him kindly for ruining my shoes, and turned to go.
?Just a minute? I heard from over my shoulder.
I turned again at the sound of his voice, and offered a somewhat annoyed ?Yes??.
?Well there?s the small matter of payment? he declared.
?Payment?? I shot back incredulously, ?I didn?t want the damned shoe-shine to begin with?.
?I thought my associate made that clear already? he said. ?It doesn?t really matter if you want a shoe-shine or not?. ?We took a vote, and decided everybody needs a shoe-shine?. So at this point I was beyond mad, but I didn?t have too many options. The guy had a gun.
?Ok? I conceded, ?How much do I owe you??
?How much was your paycheck?? he asked without batting an eye. Now I must admit that at this point I thought about lying, but the gun made me think better of it. So I lowered my head and mumbled ?$97.32?.
?Calculator? he bellowed, as another of the thugs rushed forward to put a calculator in his hand. ?Now lets see, that?s 34 percent of $97.32, so it comes to?. $33.08?
?Thirty-three dollars?? I yelled. ?For a shoe-shine??.
?Well ya see, its not just as simple as a shoe-shine? he offered by way of explanation. ?Mickey, he needs to stay well-stocked in shoe-shine stuff, and me and the boys need equipment so we can keep order while we?re helping folks out with their shoe-shine problems? ?Plus, we all gotta eat too?. ?So when you take all this stuff into the picture, we figure 34 percent really ain?t all too bad? ?We like to call it paying your fair share?. Plus, we voted on it?.
?Ohhhh? well since you voted on it and all? I quipped ?how can I refuse?. I handed over my $33.08, and resigned myself to the fact that I?d lose a few dollars, but manage to save my skin. I turned again to go about my business, when again I felt a hand on my shoulder. ?One more matter to take care of? he said curtly. ?What is it now?? I asked.
?Well ya see, me and the boys, we?re kinda concerned that some folks don?t get on so well in their old age. So we come up with this system, where you give us a bit of your money to look after for ya, until ya get old.? he explained ?Then we give it back to ya a bit at a time, when you need it?.
?I need it now? I answered.
?It don?t matter what ya think ya need now? he said. ?We voted on it?.
?How much?? I groaned? ?Only 13% of your original paycheck? was his answer.
So I coughed it up, and ran like the wind, lucky to escape with half my check and my life. I found out that day what it was like to become a man in a world which doesn?t care about what?s yours because they ?voted on it?. And I found out too, the very next week, that those Hanover Street shoe-shine boys are there waiting for their ?fair-share? every week. And I found out that they really DON?T care whether you want a shoe-shine or not. They voted on it.
And as the years rolled on, I tried using different banks, and different streets, but those damned shoe-shine boys are a pesky bunch. I found out that as you get older, and make a bit more money, they take a bigger ?fair-share?. They even let you vote with ?em if you don?t make too much of a fuss. I always vote to keep my own money, but my vote doesn?t seem to count for much.
Yeah, they offer to dust off your jacket AND shine your shoes now, but I still don?t want a shoe-shine, and I still don?t want my jacket dusted. I really don?t want them holding my money till I?m old either. (and I?m beginning to wonder if I?ll ever see that money again). It don?t really matter though. They voted on it (and they?ve got guns).