Everyone survived, but I didn’t know that when I saw that my shoe repair shop was closed on a frigid Tuesday afternoon. Thankfully, the shock of the closed gate kept me standing stock still, disbelieving both the locked gate and taped-up “CLOSED STORE” sign. It was a passerby who informed me that everyone was alive and well. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone’s life was in danger – even though I once suggested the place looked like a human smuggling front.
There had been a fire in the back, the well-heeled woman informed me, and all the shops on the block were irreparably damaged. I pressed her for details about my Russian pals, the not-so-friendly faces behind thousands of shoe repairs. She told me their business was over, and they weren’t coming back. I nodded as she gave me unsolicited directions to a nearby shoe repair, as though all shoe repairs were interchangeable. When she started eyeing me with concern, I thanked her and walked back the way I’d come.
For the remainder of the week, I spent my lunch breaks looking for a new show repair. My only requirement: the shop must be willing and able to repair anything I could carry – shoes, watches, leather goods, etc. Instead, I found shoe repairs that didn’t fix watches and watch repairs that didn’t fix shoes. Finally, I just walked into a barber shop and asked if they could fix my stopped watch. The young barber told me he’d be happy to, but it would have to wait till after 3pm. I didn’t want to wait, so he sent me to his buddy who runs the jewelry store down the block. A personal recommendation? I couldn’t turn it down.
The jewelry shop, a store smaller than my apartment’s living room, had three staff and no customers. The greeter and floor manager spent the 10-minutes it took the owner to take apart my watch beaming at me; the greeter from his station at the door and the floor manager within a foot of my face. The shop keeper, uninterested in eye contact, told me that my watch was broken and cheap. He asked me a few times if I’d put the watch in water; I assured him that I hadn’t, since it would have broken the watch. He nodded, and told me that in the future I shouldn’t put my watch in water. I liked the place, but they do not repair shoes. Possibly, they don’t repair watches either.
My time in the jewelry shop was heartening. Just as no barber can be sure that my watch is fixable, a woman in the street can’t judge what my shoe repairmen will do. Those guys are an unpredictable lot; hardy and fearless. Since never answered direct questions about anything, from the weekend weather forecast to their country of origin, it’s impossible to know exactly what they’ve been through. But the tidbits I managed to extract from them made it clear that they never thought they’d make it to America nor work in shoe repair. So, no matter what’s happened to them, I wouldn’t count them out. I’ll keep an eye out for them, and hope that when I find them, they’ll do the same for me.