Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spit and a Polish

After the wedding I wandered around Jackson Square. I had an hour to kill before the reception began. Artists were set up all around the square selling their work. A caricature artist waited for his next victim. I was intrigued by one artist who cut canvas into strips and burnt the edges with a blow torch. Some sort of tar or varnish was splashed on. The strips were then woven in and around the canvas stretcher. The work felt aged, ancient. There were plenty of depictions of New Orleans architecture and depictions of musicians playing. One artist drew the same musician over and over again, never deviating in pose or gesture.

I leaned against a pillar wondering which vendor I should sketch. A gentleman in a ball cap and blue jeans approached me. "You're looking sharp." he said. "But your shoes need a shine. I do good work." I looked down at my black leather loafers. They were well worn and there were several spots of blue paint that must have gotten there when I worked on the Sonesta mural. I had to agree with him. I needed a shine. "Six dollars." he quoted. I sat down and put my foot up on the wooden box. He began by scraping off the drips of paint then applied the boot polish. "Clench yo toes." he said. I curled up my toes creating a tight bridge across the top of the shoe. "White boy knows how to take orders." he joked. A black liquid shine was applied all along the sole of the shoe. He spit on the leather and rubbed it in.

A woman dropped off several pairs of shoes and her son stayed to have his shoes shined. I knew I didn't have much time but I sketched the process. Behind the shoe shine was a hot dog vendor and a psychic. I was tempted by the thought of a hot dog but I was going to a reception where there would be plenty of food. I saw the groomsmen and bridesmaids walk by and I followed them. Guests met in a hotel lobby where a small Dixieland band was playing. A woman holding a white parasol grinned as she danced. Everyone was given blue and gold bead necklaces. A police motorcycle pulled up outside the hotel. The band marched out into the street and soon we were all marching down Bourbon Street. I threw beads to some children. People shouted for beads from balconies.

The reception was amazing with people dancing as it grew dark. Everyone did a modified line dance to "Wobble Baby!" When it came time to wobble we all leaned back and shook our hips skyward, followed by a clap and change in direction. A photo booth was set up for couples to shoot silly photos for the wedding album. Terry and I staged a series of shots where she punched my face in slow motion. The grooms cake looked like a pot of crayfish. Andrew Ranck, the groom got choked up as he thanked everyone for coming. "It has been a long hard road getting to this point." He turned to his new bride, Shannon. "Can she be any more beautiful?" The father was in tears as he danced with the bride. Satchmo sang, "What a Wonderful World."

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


Balaji Venugopal said...

Several decades ago there were many places in my city (Chennai, India) where shoe-shine boys earned their living. But, during the last decade and a half Chennai has become distinctly pedestrian unfriendly city and, perhaps as a result of this, shoe-shine boys have become an extinct species.

Capt Elaine Magliacane said...

Good to know that a fellow can still get a shine in some places, and that a very very small business is making a go of it in these hard times.