We, noble species, dreamers of cathedrals, little Mozarts, Shakespearean scholars, yes, but we do spend a precious part of our lives, not at the piano with little Mozart, but with brush and rags polishing the world around us. Oh, nothing lofty; shoes, for instance. If we don’t polish, we don’t exist.
This morning, a beautiful, pale-blue-sky day, I polished my white sneakers. Or should I say my dirty sneakers? I had been delinquent. The white sneakers looked sidewalk-gray. Under the kitchen sink, the weapons of the polishing war. The humble Brillo pads, the fancy Haggerty polish, “Specifically formulated for copper, brass, chromium, aluminum, bronze, chrome and stainless steel.” Where do I start? Also found part of what must have been, years ago, fancy pajamas and what looks like one lonely sock, long separated from its loving twin. I spent 20 minutes feeding the starving sneakers a nourishing white cream with the reluctant help of pajamas and sock.
Now the sneakers glow. Ideal for night walks in dark Orient. A pleasure, too, on New York City streets. I walk and check other sneakers passing by. Mine are whiter, no doubt. New spring in my step. No more shame. As my Russian friend would say, “It is what it is … ” And you can’t hide your shoes. The leather of shoes, the wood of furniture, antique or ordinary pieces, tiles, brass, Formica, granite, silverware, brass candlesticks, polish, polish, polish. Even my dog, Nina, gets involved, polishing her bowl three times a day with an eager pink tongue.
Weekends, cars patiently waiting in driveways for a good polishing or a simple hosing down, their masters armed with thick sponges, rags and sprays. The hood becomes a mirror, the glass of windows invisible, so clean. Hopefully, in the house, a devoted wife is stirring some organic eggs from local provenance with a wooden spoon in a Le Creuset cast-iron skillet, or, perhaps, just a ham and cheese will await the virile car lover and best polisher on the block. Hope the neighbors will notice and, even better, envy the results. Rags in hand, the lord of the house gets back inside and is rewarded with, oh no, peanut butter.
I remember a very, very old friend of my mother. When I would visit, she often welcomed me, a cup and a towel in her hands, drying and polishing and quite happy at doing so. Always towels hanging on a hook seldom left idle.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful towel, all white. It had a place of honor in an immaculate bathroom. It was large and plump and felt wonderful around the body. Years went by. A new towel arrived. The old one relegated to a bottom drawer. Forgotten. Rediscovered on a spring-cleaning day. Back to work, this time as a rag for kitchen duty. It hangs, now, gray and disheveled, ready to wipe floors and cabinets, impregnated with abrasive powders and harsh smells. Ah, the days when it was gently applied to a lovely woman’s face and borrowed the scent of haunting perfumes.
Warning: polished floor. We might say the same of a politician: such a polished speaker, warning. Both can be hazardous.
A long time ago I acquired a sterling silver Gorham vase. An extravagant acquisition for me. A Christmas bonus excuse, and I was depressed, which, paradoxically, can happen at such time of year. I needed a lift. This would do. Wrong, of course. But the Gorham prevailed. I selfishly brought it home wrapped in yellowed newspapers. I was excited but felt guilty. The starving children of the world, the miserableness of my studio apartment, nothing justified a sterling silver vase. I don’t even think I had silverware for more than two guests. It didn’t matter. I never entertained. Perhaps that’s why I needed an illusion of civility and social grace, a silver vase. How absurd, of course. The apartment remained uncivilized, a modest refuge for a disorganized bachelor who didn’t even know how to use a dishwasher and didn’t have one anyway.
Years later, the vase is here, watching me from a shelf in New York City. I never look at it, seldom polish it. I rarely put flowers in the vase except when Nancy came to visit. “Authenic Sterling,” it says. I wish I could fill it with spring flowers today for Nancy’s arrival. But I can’t.
I’ll soon be back in Orient. The house will be empty. Some time ago, in Nancy’s Bronxville apartment, I decided to polish all the chrome and brass in the bathroom. I was so proud of the results. Nancy was so pleased. The quick transformation from dull to sparkling always gives me pleasure.
I walk into the house. The floor is well polished but the doorknobs need help. A few hours of my life will soon be devoted to a polishing frenzy.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]