It seems to be the case that I was not cut out for life in a big city: it is a favorite story of Rosemary’s to describe the time when I was in downtown San Francisco, standing on the sidewalk and counting the money in my wallet. To me, there seemed to be nothing unusual about doing so, but—as she pointed out—I was a walking advertisement for a pickpocketing incident. When it didn’t happen, of course, I took it as a kind of vindication.
At the MLA convention in Chicago this winter, however, I had another big city incident. After giving my paper, Rosemary and I hurried through snowy downtown Chicago towards Rick Bayless’s restaurant Topolobampo (where we had a very nice lunch). Dressed in my MLA outfit (khakis, jacket, long woolen coat, leather shoes), once more I had no idea how much I must have looked like a prime target for the ministrations of Chicago street entrepreneurs.
Sure enough, as we were hustling along, I was stopped by a guy who quickly launched into a complicated routine about my shoes and the snow and slush, and before I could even say “no,” he had smeared some kind of oily goop on my shoes and was giving me his highly polished (and, I have to admit, entertaining) rap about taking care of shoes in the wet Chicago streets. “This will keep you from getting that line of salt around your shoes when they dry out,” he told me, as he smeared the stuff around with a polishing cloth. “Keep your feet dry, too. And let me apologize for being so aggressive in stopping you all, you know, but it’s a hard way to make a living out here.”
“How much do I owe you?" I asked with some resignation when he had finished “polishing” the shoes.
“Five dollars for the polish; the tip is up to you.”
So I gave him a five, and a George Washington dollar coin. Once burned, now, I was worried that I’d get hit with the same scam in the next block—I looked like an easy mark, obviously—so I asked him what I should tell the next guy who tried to polish my shoes.
“Tell him it was Shoe-Love,” he said.