Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Dangers Of Sniffing Glue

“The time has come,” the walrus said
“To talk of many things
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax
And cabbages and kings.”

Nah, just shoes. Sorry, walrus.

A couple of months back, MY WIFE and I went to Doug Flutie’s retirement party. It took place on a weeknight, so I met MY WIFE downtown after work and then we made our way over to the venue, Symphony Hall. Since I came directly from work, I had no time to go home and change into appropriate dress clothing. I wore a suit and tie to work, which I don’t normally do. Dress shoes were also a part of the costume.

A problem arose about midday. A tack from the sole of the shoe poked through the leather and then had the temerity to poke through my sock as well. It wasn’t immediately a painful thing, just annoying. As the day wore on, however, and it continually poked at the same spot, it did become painful. I adjusted the way I walked to accommodate for the tack. I ended up walking as much as possible on the side of my foot to avoid having the tack repeatedly poke my now sore foot.

Without going into any great detail concerning how awkward it was to walk like that all night – and how silly it must have looked – I’ll tell you that walking that way made four or five stitches break and now the shoe needed a major repair instead of just a tack. This necessitated my considering whether or not I should buy another pair of shoes.

You should know that I only have one pair of shoes. These shoes are over 14 years old. I had bought them for my wedding in 1992. They have served me well through the weddings, funerals and vacations since then. A good solid pair of Johnston & Murphy black wingtips, I was loath to part with them - especially since the uppers still looked fine.

I have call for wearing actual shoes perhaps three or four times a year. I don’t wear shoes at work. SHOES at work? Heck, I don’t even wear what could be termed “dress” sneakers. I own two or three pairs of boat shoes, in various stages of disrepair. When they wear out beyond even MY loose definition of respectability, I purchase two or three more pair.

A good pair of shoes – and I will not buy cheap shoes since good ones last longer and cost less in the long run, as well as look better – would cost as much as at least six pairs of the sneakers I buy. I decided to first see if a repair to the shoe in question could be made inexpensively.


There are a few different places in Watertown to bring shoes for repair. I chose the one I did because it was the first one I found a phone number for online. I called to make sure this shop would be open at the time I planned to bring the shoe. It was, so I took my shoe down there to be looked at.

When I walked through the front door, I thought I had come to the right place. It certainly looked like a cobbler’s shop. Various single shoes were strewn about and the floor was littered with scraps of leather. There were shoeboxes lining the walls and small displays of laces and polish for sale. Smack dab in the middle of all this, a few feet behind the counter, was an older man working at a bench containing a piece of machinery of some sort; perhaps a stitching machine. He was talking to another older man.

I walked up to the counter and waited for one of these men to come over and look at my shoe. Neither one of them seemed in any hurry to do so. They were looking at a shoe on the machine, drinking coffee, and discussing, I suppose, some sort of shoe repair insider information. So I looked around the shop and, when that had taken up as much time as could possibly prove interesting – about two minutes - I looked at my own shoe on the counter, fingering the space between the upper and the sole, as though considering for the first time what could be done to fix the problem. I don’t know what I could have done to fill the time after that; perhaps started tying all of the shoelaces together or eating shoe polish. One of the men glanced up, though, and gave me a look as though I were a bug that had just wandered in the front door looking for food crumbs, so I didn’t have to resort to vandalism to amuse myself.

It became apparent that the man working the machine was the proprietor, as the other man walked out from behind the counter and took a seat by the door, watching me and sipping his coffee. I handed the wounded shoe to the fellow behind the counter. Rather than look at the shoe, he looked at me. I had figured he might know what needed to be done just by looking at the gaping hole in the side, but it seemed he didn’t, so I spoke first.

“A few stitches and a tack have come loose and I was wondering if you might be able to repair the shoe; maybe re-sole it?”

He shook his head sadly while regarding the shoe. I noticed that he was missing part of his index finger. As a matter of fact, I might have noticed his missing digit just a bit too much. When I looked up, he was staring me in the eye disdainfully.

He said, “I can not tack this.”

I hadn’t necessarily asked him to tack the shoe. So, I said, “Can you stitch it?”

“No. I can glue, but no guarantee.”

Well, what I know about repairing shoes is limited to what I had already said concerning re-soling. I didn’t care if it was tacked, stitched, glued or held together with fairy dust, so long as I wouldn’t have to buy a new pair. I said, “OK”.

He put my shoe on a table behind him and stared at me again. I waited for him to say something, as it was his turn. Finally, after I figured out that he was just going to continue staring at me, I said, “How much?”

“Eight dollars.”

That seemed reasonable enough. I again said, “OK”, and waited once more for him to keep up his end of the conversation. He didn’t, so I spoke again.

“Do you have a receipt of some sort?”

I seemed to have offended him with this question. He again regarded me like I was a particularly nasty vermin.

“What for you want receipt?”

“Well, so when I come in for the shoe, you’ll know I am who I am, the guy who the shoe belongs to.”

“I remember you.”

“You’ll remember me?”

He grunted and nodded. I supposed maybe he would remember me. I don’t have a non-descript face that blends into the crowd; long sideburns, goatee, reddish hair, OK, he’ll remember me.

“When will the shoe be ready?”

“I cannot do it now.”

“Well, I know that. What day will it be ready?”

He considered this question for a few moments. “Wednesday”, he said.

“OK, Wednesday. I’ll be in after work.”

I don’t know exactly why I did what I did next, but I then tried to see if I could get this guy to be a reasonable approximation of a friendly business owner.

I said, “My name is Jim. What’s your name?”

He eyed me suspiciously. “What for you want to know my name?”

“Well, I just want to know who I’m doing business with. I’m just trying to be friendly. I’m Jim. Who are you?”

“Jesus Of Nazareth.”

Well, I have to admit, that was a surprise.

I said, “Then I guess I can trust you, huh?”

Jesus Of Nazareth just grunted. I looked at the fellow who had been sitting quietly in the seat by the door sipping his coffee. He was utterly noncommittal.

I turned back to the counter and said, still smiling, “Come on, what’s your name, really?”

He said, “Is good Armenian name. Jesus Of Nazareth Sarkasian.”

After saying this, he smiled for the first time. I couldn’t read whether he was smiling because the joke was on me, or he liked his name a lot, or he was just plain goofy. However, having lived in a largely Armenian community for the past 12 years – Watertown has the highest population of Armenians outside of Armenia, no joke – I really didn’t want to offend. His name may well have been Jesus Of Nazareth as far as I knew. I let it go.

I said, “Alright, Jesus Of Nazareth Sarkasian. See you Wednesday evening.”


When I got home, I puzzled over this visit to the cobbler. Was this guy putting me on? Was Jesus Of Nazareth his real name? I assumed Sarkasian was his real last name, but who knew? The evasive and puzzling answers, the refusal to give me a receipt, the general way he regarded me – none of it added up to a pleasant visit and I got a bit steamed as I thought about it. Had I offended him by staring at his finger that wasn’t there? I thought I was pleasant enough, but… I tried to put it out of my mind until Wednesday, but thoughts about it kept returning like belches from a bad meal.

Well, there wasn’t anything I could do about it now aside from waiting for Wednesday. I mean, sure, I could have stormed back to the store and demanded my shoe, but what would that have accomplished? He only had one of my shoes, so he certainly couldn’t do anything with it except repair it. It’s not like I left him with something valuable. He couldn’t melt down my shoe and sell it. One shoe was only of use to me, so I’d wait and see on Wednesday if he did a good job or not.


Wednesday evening approached and I became somewhat apprehensive about returning to see Jesus Of Nazareth Sarkasian. What if, like cobblers from time immemorial, he hadn’t yet repaired the shoe and gave me another date for picking it up? I thought I might get nasty at that point, after the weirdness of my first visit to his shop. I really wanted to give the old geezer the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps he just huffed a bit too much glue the last time I was there, which is a hazard of the trade, no doubt.

I drove over to the shop, parked in front, got out of my car and walked in. Jesus Of Nazareth looked up from his workbench, no flicker of recognition lighting his eyes whatsoever.

“Hello, Mr. Sarkasian,” I said, “I’ve come to pick up my shoe.”

He looked at me with his faded eyes, perhaps a bit sadly. “Your shoe?” he said.

He has no idea, I thought. He doesn’t remember me, the shoe, or anything. Now I was starting to get pissed, but I held it in.

“Yes, my shoe. Black wingtip. You were going to glue it for me? You said you’d remember me. Do you?”

He got up from his bench, slowly shuffled towards the counter, and seemed to be trying to recall who I was. He breathed a bit laboriously. There was no recognition in his face yet, but no sense of malevolence, either. I started to worry about even being able to find my shoe in this shop, let alone trying to get him to remember who I was by running through the entire story of our first meeting. He seemed a sad figure today - beaten, confused. He ran the hand missing a finger through his thin hair, leaving a wisp of the hair standing slightly askew. The smell of glue in the shop was overwhelming.

Just as I was starting to believe that I would have to go behind the counter myself and start searching for my shoe, and then – if I found it - have to take the shoe to another shop and start the whole process again from the beginning, his eyes rested on the shoe itself. It sat on a shelf to the left. He went over and picked it up. It appeared to be repaired correctly and shined nicely as well.

“Is this one, right?”

I nodded. He held up the shoe for me to see, pointing out with his missing finger where he had glued it. Perfectly. He grabbed a rag from under the counter and gave my shoe a quick additional shine.

“Five dollars.”

He had told me eight dollars when I left the shoe.

I said, “No, no, you told me it would cost eight dollars, Mr. Sarkasian.”

He looked at me, puzzled. I counted out eight dollars and handed it to him. He looked blankly at the money in his hand and then blankly at me. He put the money in his shirt pocket. Then he put the shoe in a sack and handed it to me. As I took the sack from him, he said, “Thank you. You come back, right?”

Yes, Jesus Of Nazareth Sarkasian, probably so.


Ali P said...

Holy Smokes. That is some repair experience you had there, Sul. Loved the guys name..

Steve Garfield said...

That's a great story.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Shoe repair shops don't like it when you bring your shoe in for repair. I took one of mine to a repair place in Central Sq. Cambridge and got the same kind of garbage. I do not know why--but it is a fact. The guy's name is not JC of Nazareth--he's a smart ass, plain and simple.

Lisa Johnson said...

Wow! That's quite a story! You should publish a collection of these! You tell the best stories! They are hilarious and would make a great gift.

Suldog said...

Thanks for the comments, folks.

I'm still not sure if he was being a smart-ass or not. Perhaps so, the first time. However, the second visit was spookier. He was definitely NOT on top of his game, mentally, at that time. I'm still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He did a fine job, in any case.

Lisa Johnson said...

Thanks for the link! : )

Anonymous said...

Fascinating character, one wonders what sorts of life tales he might hold. Certainly it seems likely he is one to embellish, and he is the perfect character to tell such embellishments, but the truth of his tales may be fascinating just the same.

Unknown said...

I think you nailed it about the glue, I think he's high on it. I do hope the shoe is better now.

Rebecca said...

You know how hard it is to find a shoe repair place nowadays??? I've thrown away many a good pair of boots that I know could've been repaired w. some good glue! ;)


So do tell - how was the retirement party?

Sorry I've been a bad poster - so very busy, I barely have time to blog let alone visit....but had a few seconds today and wanted to say hi!

Sassy said...

Sully, that is the best story you've written in a while. I LOVEd it. Save this one on your "best of 2007 so far" list. :) Beautiful retelling.

Anonymous said...

Great story. Have you tried Googling(sp?) Jesus of Nazareth Sarkarian? In fact, I think I might try it myself when I'm finished here.

On a whole different subject - what ever happened with the girl who was going to get to throw the basketball or whatever it was?

Suldog said...

Mandy, the basketball tosser, did not win the money. She had a good time, and won the consolation prizes - overnight at a hotel for her and her husband, sweatshirt, stuff like that - but she threw up an airball on the shot, so no money. Oh, well.

robdre said...

WOW! What a story. I am a shoe repairer in PA. It annoys me that there are actually repairers that act like that. I for one do not act like that. I have a clean shop, organized. Customer service is a very important part of my business.

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.