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Friday, 18 November 2011

Shoeshine


.

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a15000/8a15700/8a15716v.jpg

Shoeshine, 47th Street, Chicago's main Negro business street, Chicago, Illinois
: photo by Edwin Rosskam, April 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a15000/8a15700/8a15717v.jpg

Shoeshine, 47th Street, Chicago's main Negro business street, Chicago, Illinois
: photo by Edwin Rosskam, April 1941 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8c18000/8c18500/8c18595v.jpg

Shoeshine boy, Columbus, Georgia
: photo by John Vachon, December 1940 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8a13000/8a13700/8a13752v.jpg

Shoeshine boy, Brownsville, Texas
: photo by Arthur Rothstein, February 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8c27000/8c27000/8c27094v.jpg

Bridgeton, New Jersey. FSA agricultural workers' camp. Sunday morning in the shoeshine parlor
: photo by John Collier, June 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

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Shoeshine stand, Southeastern U.S.
: photo by Walker Evans, 1936 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8c52000/8c52400/8c52459v.jpg

Shoeshine stand (detail), Southeastern U.S.
: photo by Walker Evans, 1936 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

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New York, New York. Shoeshine parlor on East Forty-Second Street. Customers in the foreground are waiting while their shoes are repaired
: photo by Marjorie Collier, September 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8d21000/8d21700/8d21713v.jpg

New York, New York. Shoeshine parlor on East Forty-Second Street. Customers in the foreground are waiting while their shoes are repaired
: photo by Marjorie Collier, September 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)

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Peddlers -- shoe shine, New York City
: photographer unknown, 11 September 1913 (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3b20000/3b25000/3b25500/3b25571r.jpg

Sixteen to one ["African American boy with shoeshine kit, holding two chickens, Asheville, North Carolina. Humorous allusion to cock-fight gambling" -- library caption]: photo by John H. Tarbell, c. 1897 (Library of Congress)

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/cph/3c30000/3c32000/3c32900/3c32908v.jpg

Shine in a littered Chinatown street, New York City
: photo by George Daniels [?], c. 18 February 1903 (Library of Congress)

Dead End Kids

[Shoeshine boy referring to a neighborhood merchant woman's negative comments about him and his fellow street shoeshiners:] "...Ow, don't mind her. She tawks but she's alright. Sometimes she goes haywire. We pay taxes, don't we? We can't stay here and we can't stay here. She said we oughter go to school but I don't like it. You don't learn nuttin' there. I can't read or write and I'm thirteen years old. I ain't dumb, but they put me in a slow class three years ago when I was in 3-B and I gotta stay there till I'm seventeen. Then they throw me out. It's an industrial class like.

"What's the use of going to school. If you learn nuttin' there? better go to work."

"Hey, Nitt, why do you have to go to school?"

"'Cause the school won't come to me."

"You wanna know how we live? Why don't you ask the 'Dead End Kids'? They're fakes! Two to one they go back to Hollywood but not alive if they visited here just for a while. Just-a-while! Sissys! You wanna hear a story? O.K. Mike! Hey Mike! He's the best story teller on the block -- surprising for his age. Tell him the story of the 'Green Hands'... It's good. Shut up, you guys!"

"Once a man played an organ and as he played suddently somebody crept up behind him and stuck a six inch blade into him -- all from behind. The organ grinder cried out and grabbed his throat. [Illustrates.] Then they buried him in a coffin and buried the coffin. That nite the dead man's hands turned green in the coffin and at midnight they walked out of the grave. Two policemen were walking on the street when suddently one of them felt something scratching his leg. He looked down and screamed when he saw the green hands. He run, but the green hands run after him an grab him by the throat and chocked him just like that [illustrated with a twitch of the face and turn of the neck]. Then the green hands walked into a lady's room just as she was undressing. They grabbed her by the throat and squeezed her till she fell like a sack. Then they swam out to a ship... [etc.]."

The story continues on and on for over thirty minutes with the green hands murdering all people that come within reach. The climax comes when the green hands are trapped in a hotel where a fire breaks out and the green hands turn to ashes. Throughout the length of the narrative, the group of about thirty boys kept silent and listened avidly to every syllable and closely followed the mimicry of the story teller. Their faces registered the horror of each crime -- as if they themselves were eye witness to the crimes of the "green hands". The story teller felt the spell that he was casting over them and drew the story out a little bit by putting "new" victims within reach of the "green hands".

"You wanna hear some songs? The dirty kind?"


Hei ho! Hei ho!
To Hollywood we go,
To see Mae West and all the rest.
Hei ho! Hei ho!
Me and my friend Toni
We come from Italy.
We drink the booze
And shine the shoes
Me and my friend Toni.


We are the boys of 11th street
That you hear so much about
People hide their pocketbooks
Whenever they go out.
We're noted for our dirty work
Most everything we do.
All the coppers hate us
And we hope you hate us too.
Hei ho! Hei Ho!
It's off to the burlesque we go
We sit and stare at the girls bare
Hei ho! Hei ho!
One day I saw something in the grass
It was Mussolini with Hitler in his ass.
In 1492
Columbus was a Jew
He sat on the grass
And tickled his ass --
In 1493.
Tammany, Tammany
Hookus pocus
Kiss my tocus
Tam-m-a-n-y!


A richman takes a taxi cab
A poorman takes a train
A hobo walks the railroad track
But gets there just the same.


Hoover blew the whistle
Mellon rang the bell
Wall Street gave the signal
And the country went to Hell!


9 comments:

aditya said...

Tom

A very heart wrenching post.
The photographs from 1940s ironically evoke a feeling that its all safely buried in the past. And now we live in a happy safe righteous place. I guess the irony has always been deliberate on your part.

Everyday I look at an old man who sits on the road-side doing no business at all. I saw him shining some shoes today. Shoes owned by these young happy fit men. It was more heart wrenching than watching him earning nothing .. at all.

To talk of the uselessness of the immediate sympathies one 'feels' in order to 'feel better' (?)

I've never helped them earn their livelihood. Either ways.

everytime-

he raises his eyes

the shoeshine boy

TC said...

Aditya,

It's always so lovely, and restorative, and truth-enhancing, to hear from you.

You are a young man, but you have "old eyes" -- that is, eyes that see with the wisdom and sadness that come of having daily experience of real poverty, in a part of the world where such poverty is, alas, not an uncommon thing.

That beautiful little poem is in fact a fit text for this post.

vazambam said...

I accept the dedication following this poignant series of photographs because--though my judgement remains muddy on some matters, I can still tell shit from Shineola and this is good shit. Thanks, Tom.

Nin Andrews said...

I remember shining shoes at home, the little circles of shoe polish . . . I think we would use for other things as well, but I can't recall what.

I am pretty sure if I go through the closets of this house my parents lived in, I will findhockey pucks of polish.

Another moving post--

TC said...

The boy in the top photo appears to be putting the finishing touches on what (as you will recall, Vassilis) used to be called a "spit shine".

The recipient of this culminating touch appears to be a theorist. Theorists (as you may have observed) refuse to smile even when you spit on their already shiny shoes.

That particular Chicago location, by the by, is quite familiar to me from my own youthful working days.

As are, for that matter, the two Lower East Side streetcorners inhabited by the singing shoeshine urchins interviewed by the WPA caseworker in the cold mid-December twilight of 1938.

In 1967-1968 I had a room near those corners. It was not quite the Ritz. But at least I did not have to stoop before anyone's shoes, much less spit upon them.

But who knows what the future may hold, in these stringent shineless times.

TC said...

So Nin, again Moderation in all things yields more good things, like finding something under the Christmas tree that tempts you to think you have not been quite so Naughty after all.

Being back home must be bringing the memories flooding back to you, one can only imagine how overwhelming that must be.

My strongest shoe-shine memories date back to compulsory ROTC days. The buttons and brass and especially the shoes would NEVER be polished properly, and the inspections by those picky lifer first lieutenants from Oklahoma would always be terrible trials.

For decades afterward my most recurrent post-college nightmare would be: late for inspection, brass and buttons tarnished, rifle parts not clean, and shoes -- well, the inspecting lieutenant was supposed to be able to see his own visage in them, like Narcissus. Instead, in the dream (as in the earlier reality), what was seen was: dull leather, flecked with stray bits of mud.

(Hope things are all well, or as well as may be expected, on the old homestead.)

ACravan said...

Remarkable tour. The Narcissus image really sticks, by the way. I've never been able to accomplish that level of shine working on my own shoes, however hard I try. That is the province of gifted professionals, who deserve credit and decent payment for their science and skill. Curtis

Lally said...

Tom, My father was a seventh grade drop out but before he quit to go to work fulltime he was a newsie and a shoeshine boy and when you shook his hand he'd say, "Shake the hand that shook the hand of President Taft in 1912 on the corner of Scotland Road and South Orange Avenue" where he had his stand.

I had a shoeshine kit and did the same thing in the early 1950s, and in the early '60s was in the service getting shit for my shoes not being as "spit polished" as the brownnosers who were using some kind of cotton pads that had chemicals in them and made your shoes shine like patent leather, but it was against regulations, which wasn't why I didn't do it, i just didn't dig that my perfectly acceptable shined shoes weren't good enough for the inspecting seargents and brass.

All of which is to say, these photographs and the interview with the NYC boys from '38 brought up a lot of memories and thoughts about the dignity of any kind of labor, at least as my old man taught me to see it and I sometimes experienced it, though I also always had a chip on my shoulder toward most of the richer folks I worked for as a kid and teenager thinking I'd show them some day, and I did in my limited way. I hope some of those in the photos and interview did too.

TC said...

Mike,

My hat is off to the shoeshine kids who made good.

I love that bottom shot of the little Chinatown baby looking up at the stately shine chair, as though it were a throne.

And there are thrones (as E. Pound poem'd in another context).