On our way into New Haven yesterday, Dennis stopped by a shoe repair place to have one of his hiking boots fixed. While I sat in the car, Dennis ran into the store, a beat-up little place on Whalley Avenue. After something like fifteen minutes, I couldn’t handle the waiting anymore so I walked in to see what was going on. Upon opening the door, I was greeted by a middle-aged, greying Italian man named Tony in a bright green sweatshirt all stained and blackened by grease and oil. He was bent over Dennis’ boot, swearing.
“Shit,” he groaned. “My back is killin’ me.”
I looked around the room. It was about half the size of my classroom in Brazil and smelled like my father’s basement workshop–the metallic smell of tools and aging brass shoe pieces, worn leather, dust. It was a lovely smell, really, and as I looked–
“Ah, fa Chrissakes. Shit. Ah, shit.”
–around the room I could see piles and piles of lonely shoes thrown into heaps on tall metal shelves lining the walls. I wondered how long the shoes had been sitting there–some looked as if they’d been brought in by business men in the 1920s, and so I–
–asked Tony if the shoes had been forgotten. Tony looked up at me, over his bifocaled reading glasses. As he spoke, his thumbs worked at the metal part he needed to fix on the boot. “Let me put it to ya this way,” he told me. “If it weren’t for me dose shoes would still be dere. See dat bag there?” he points to a fake Coach handbag, tossed thoughtlessly onto a grey metal file cabinet covered with names phone numbers written in big black marker. “Dat woman musta called fourteen times. But, you know.”
Well, I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to ask. I nodded instead and picked up a New York Times magazine to thumb through while Tony continued to swear.
“Ah, shit.” He looked up at Dennis, who stood at the counter watching Tony search through a pile of a thousand small pieces of metal, looking for the exact part he needed. “Ya know, I wanted to do dis ’cause it seemed like fun,” he said. “My back is killin’ me. Been sittin’ in this same place. Ah, shit. Thought it’d be nice and easy and fun.”
“And now?” I asked him, distracted by his sudden lengthy monologue. “What do you think now?”
“Shit, it’s over now. I don’t give a shit.” He turned his back to me and sat down at his sewing machine, a beautiful old metal contraption that must have been constructed in the early years of the 1900s. At one point, Tony had shown us a pair of pliers made in New Haven in 1917. “That’s the thing wi’dese. Excellent. Dey don’t make ’em like dey used to.” Picking up a new pair of pliers, he gave them to Dennis to compare weights. “See dese? I been through 8 pairs a’dese. Dey don’t make ’em like dey used to.” Dennis held each in one hand and registered a polite shock on his face noticing the different weights. “Wow,” Dennis says, and I smiled to myself knowing he was being kind.
In the end, Tony gave Dennis back his boot, put back together in a sloppy kind of way, but with character nonetheless. The tan thread Tony put in didn’t match the original boot’s black stitching, and because Tony couldn’t find the exact part he needed to replace, he found something not even remotely similar and used that instead. I paid Tony the five dollars he asked for and we called our goodbyes.
We both sat in silence for a couple of seconds as we made our way out of the parking lot.
“He kind of had a mouth on him,” I said finally.
“You should have heard him before you came in: ‘Fuck, fuck, fucking fuckity, fuck.'” I smiled, imagining Tony letting out a long string of curses. “He cleaned it up for you.”
And with that, we turned right onto Whalley and headed downtown. Ah, chivalry.