That’s not a metaphor.
The last school where I taught regularly was on the East Side of Manhattan, and after the first year there, my best friend (and school wife) Nell left to go teach at a different school. Nell was replaced by a guy named Tim who was even more of a WASP than I am. In fact, Rebecca (my real wife at the time) said Tim was what I MIGHT have become had I not met her in time. Tim owned several seersucker suits and was on a first-name basis with most of the sommeliers in the neighborhood.
Nell and I used to have sushi dinners once a month or so when we found ourselves at school late on the same afternoons, but Tim and I developed a different tradition. There was a cobbler’s shop just down the street from the school, and one day I said I was going to go sit for a shine. It was after lunch on a Tuesday when we both had free periods—such a luxury: a free period immediately after lunch!—and Tim said he would go with me. The place had two seats so it was perfect. Back then a shine cost $2 at this place or maybe $3. All I remember was that I could leave $5 and feel as though I’d gotten a good deal and left a decent tip. Tim did the same.
For the next three years, we got our shoes shined every Tuesday after lunch and talked the whole time about our students, our careers, our wives, and our lives. Eventually, I started choosing my outfit for Tuesdays starting with the pair of shoes that was most in need of a shine. Sometimes on a weekend, digging around in my closet, I’d discover a pair of shoes I hadn’t worn in a while and I’d set them aside to wear the following Tuesday. I didn’t have an excessive collection of work shoes—maybe seven or eight pair—so after a couple months all of them were looking decent. Then I started attending to the heels and the soles, bringing a different extra pair with me (sometimes a pair from Rebecca, too) to be left and repaired during the week.
My shoe collection never looked so good as when I was teaching. Now I only get my shoes shined in airports when I have the time to spare. It’s usually twice as expensive, and they only do half as good a job. But what I really miss is the routine and the conversation, the weekly chance to catch up with a friend. And the periodic but comprehensive management of a collection. The husbandry, if you will.
And Rebecca, of course. I miss Rebecca, too. She would have turned 50 next week.