Back in the summer of '68, things were hard. Ma was struggling to take care of us three boys, and I have to admit I wasn't helping, already in trouble at school and with the Juvenile Court at twelve.
Perhaps it wasn't the smartest of ideas, all things considered, but Mike and I decided we needed to do something to help, so we found ourselves an old shoeshine box, begged, borrowed, and stole supplies for it, and took up shining shoes in the bars downtown.
We'd start with the B&B Grill, which was two blocks north of us on Washington Avenue, walk down 17th Street from there to Bonk's, at 17th and Long, from Bonk's to the B&M, on 14th, and from there, north on Broadway, visiting every bar that would let us in. We charged a quarter a shine, and often got tips from the patrons. There were other shoeshine boys out there, the Palos brothers, two of them, our friend Gerald, and another guy we knew, named Donald, who wasn't out every night, as we were.
Sometimes, the cops would send us home for being out so late...we'd generally get home around midnight, which is late for a twelve year old and his ten year old brother. The thing was, those few dollars we earned shining shoes often went right on the dinner table the next day. My ma hated us going out, but she couldn't stop us, and she eventually stopped trying.
To this day, the scent of shoe polish is pleasant to me, although I generally wear cross trainers; it reminds me of a strange, exciting time in my life, when I first learned how to earn my way.
Whenever I've seen a shoeshine boy, and had it to spare, I've given him ten or twenty, and asked him to go home, to that mother who's waiting up,l wondering.