Village Idiot 4: Mink Oil for the Soul

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There’s this thing I do the second I get in the door: as soon as I’ve removed my shoes, be they oiled leather boots or burnished tan calfskin wingtips, I pull out the large Moneysworth 100% horsehair shoe brush I keep by the door especially for these routine instances and I vigorously, smartly, swiftly give my shoes a no-nonsense brushing.

Now, this, to the connoisseur, is a matter of simple maintenance. A properly patina-ed dress shoe or boot will shine back to life as dust and pedestrian hazards are effortlessly swept off the upper; the general muck, calcium or unmentionable whatever will part with a well-oiled shit-kicker with miraculous ease under a brisk hand. Every proper clotheshorse will tell you this simple bit of care will add years to quality shoes, whether they be dainty or heavy duty.

But everyone else—and there’s a lot of everyone-elses—will first wonder if I’m endearingly fastidious, or just compulsively weird. Never, though, will they doubt I’m being peculiar. And with those for whom the sight of the brush in my hand has become an expected one, I am more than a little familiar with the recurring eye-roll or sigh, not to mention the not-too-occasional snigger or scoff.

I don’t mind, of course. This isn’t ninth grade; I have no desire to pretend I don’t know better. But I wonder how they don’t realize I’m just efficiently ruggedizing for the vortex. If maybe they don’t realize their own spirit animals could use a little winter shellac. This wind-chilled port city of ours is a case study in emotional and physical decay a full five months a year, and surely you’ve noticed the signs yourself. It runs deeper than potholes—marks every foot, colours every bit of skin.

You may, for instance, have a friend, as I do, who schedules morning baths of Vitamin D light in his kitchen. He’s got a lamp for that; they have a spiritual bond, he and it.

You may, say, have spent all of December wrapped in blankets bingeing on Frasier. I know I did, with all of House of Cards, and Arrow’s heavy-handedness, too, for good measure. Lots of peanut butter cookies, for shame, and lots of late-night squats to repent (my ass got to hurting from all the sitting).

Needless to say, we all fall into and try to strike out of all that—me included, thankfully. Now, I’m braving the slush and black ice and anti-freeze-laced salt the city sprinkles over everything. And you know what makes it easier on the soul? Footwear that doesn’t look like it belongs in second grade, and leather that doesn’t look like gluttonous deposits are trying to eat their way through to the toes.

And so, shoe care is the balm to the well-prepared wintering soul, keeping winter’s teeth out where possible. A step-by-step meditation, you might say, with clear results.

Take a cold solemn night, for one, where I can literally see the heavy cold ghosting off the school across the way. Then, there’s nothing like a good shoe-shining session to keep the lid on the old mind. Imagine a little Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee for warmth, a little Trophy Wife, guilt-free, in the background. Picture those formerly calcium-eaten boots then sheening like big Blistex-ed lips, or a fine pebble grain cap-toe resplendently reflecting your silhouette. Take it in. Keep it with you.

My back always hurts a tad by the time I’m done shining, but I’m always greatly relieved knowing my feet’ll be ready for the upswing, the storm, the mess. I look over at a healthy-looking pair or two and I know they’ll get me wherever. I know ecstasy could indeed swell from the ground up, even on the cold front. And the elements can go screw themselves.

And the brush is a big help.

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