July 01, 2004

America, etc.

I am feeling pretty damn dapper today. I have a rare victory under my belt from yesterday, and let me tell you, what I convinced the judge to do yesterday is something rarely accomplished. I am wearing a seersucker suit with an orange* and blue tie and I stopped to get my shoes shined in Grand Central Station before continuing on to work. Yes, pretty dapper indeed. I haven't worn these shoes in a long time and they are beautiful -- purchased before I had children -- monk strap shoes from J. M. Weston.

So, I was sitting there, feeling dapper and relaxed as this very nice young man from somewhere below the U.S. Southern border with Mexico (I really don't know where he was from and didn't want to ask) put a mirror shine on these shoes. (Digression: If you haven't worn your shoes in a while, get them shined, the leather needs the polish and will soak it up. Also, use shoe trees when you take your shoes off). It's an interesting feeling to sit down in Grand Central and watch the ebb and flow of the race tide as people hurry this way and that way in their haste to get to work. You sit elevated when you get your shoes shined and so you are looking down, a little, at this pageant of humanity. They have newspapers at the stand, but I am a people watcher and I prefer to watch the crowd. No startling observations to report from my crowd watching. In fact, as there were way too few attractive young women in light summer dresses to observe, I turned my thoughts to the young man shining my shoes.

He did a first rate job. Shining shoes is not complicated but it is very hard work to do right and to do it right all day long. Some people just swipe the polish on and leave a surface shine when they are finished. This fellow worked the polish into the leather of the shoe. To do that requires the application of some force. I tipped him $5 on a $3 shine when he finished and thanked him sincerely so he knew I noticed how hard he worked and that I appreciated it. Remember, the money is nice but the kind word lingers in the memory long after the money is spent.

But, I was thinking about this young man as I walked away in my shiny, spiffy shoes and I realized that there must be something still very special about this country of ours that people think it is worthwhile to cross dangerous and guarded borders to come here and shine shoes. That they will have a better life here. That they may be shining shoes today, but they will be paying someone tomorrow to shine their shoes. This is still the land of opportunity for many, many people. We may forget what a special place we live in, but look around you more carefully and I bet you can find reminders all around you of people who have risked much to live here.

This thought seems particularly appropriate today as today is the anniversary of the first vote, taken in 1776, on the Declaration of Independence. You know, the men who signed that document were courageous, don't you? That these men were marked down on British lists for execution as traitors if captured, their lands forfeit, their families thrown out onto the street. These men knew that when they signed this document what they were risking. This makes them heroes in my book because they took the risks knowingly and willingly and not in the heat of passion. Would they sign it today? Would you? Interestingly, I recall that sometime in the 80's, the Declaration was reprinted in the form of a petition and college students in Iowa (or maybe Kansas) took to the streets to ask people to sign it. Distressingly, most people did not recognize it and a startlingly high number refused to sign on the grounds that the document was too radical.

So, today, as I walk the streets of Manhattan in my dapper little suit, with my shiny shoes, I feel grateful to be an American, grateful that my ancestors took the leap of faith and got on that leaky boat in Europe and came over here, and I feel even more grateful that this is still the country which attracts those ambitious people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families. I think that as long as remain a magnet for these kinds of people, we will endure.

Anyways, that's my little thought for the morning. Thanks for reading.

* As for the orange tie, I am, perhaps, leaving myself open to being accused of making an unintentional political sartorial statement today. Today, in 1690 the army of England's Protestant King William III defeated the Roman Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland (Now celebrated on July 12 as "The Battle of the Orange" ). I intend to give all Irish bars a miss today and hope no one notices!

Posted by Random Penseur at July 1, 2004 10:23 AM
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