Based on a true story about Adam Leitman Bailey and a Shoe Shiner, written by Dov Treiman.
Jerome Jenkins was just ten years old when his Uncle Leroy had first shown him how to shine shoes at the professional level. He never realized that a mere two years later, he would inherit Uncle Leroy’s box and supplies.
With his father’s scant income as a janitor and his mother’s as a seamstress, the Jenkins family struggled to meet the barest necessities of life only with Jerome’s income as a shoe shiner. Without it, they would have starved.
Yet, even with the struggle, Jerome retained his loving character and always had a cheerful greeting and a friendly word for the businessmen who would put their feet on his box as he made every effort to make their shoes mirror bright.
When Jerome’s mother died, cousins gathered together their funds to give her a decent burial. Jerome’s father was certainly in no position to do anything but thank them.
Years came and went as Jerome watched each of these kindly relatives also passing away. Eventually, it was he and his father and not another soul who was any kind of relative.
Wars came and went. Fashions came and went. Expenses multiplied. But each morning Jerome would rouse himself at dawn, take a shower, grab his kit, and head for Manhattan’s financial district, where there was always a piece of leather needing a fresh layer of wax. Knowing the caliber of his clientele, Jerome only ever bought the highest quality waxes and supplies. While the shine might last longer than with cheaper products, denying him the frequency of trade from any one client, the quality of his work guaranteed their eager return.
Into this culture strode one day a young man who had a look of diligence and determination to him, a decently tailored suit, but shoes that were to Jerome’s studied eye, lacking the ultimate finish that he could only too well supply.
“Shine, Sir?” Jerome inquired as the young man strode by.
“No, thank you,” the young man replied. “I’m late.”
“My watch says it’s a quarter of, Sir. Unless your appointment was for half past, you’re early as I account it.”
“And how would you know that?”
“I’ve been working this stretch of Broadway since 1952, Sir. I’ve had thousands of conversations with gentlemen having me shine their shoes. Appointments around here are only ever on the half hour.”
The young man smiled. “You’re smart,” he said.
“Shine, Sir?” Jerome repeated.
“Well,” the young man began, “if you must know, I’m on my way to a job interview. I have calculated the costs of this trip to the last quarter. An unnecessary shoeshine just wasn’t in my budget.”
“Then take the shine for free, Sir.”
“For free? Why should I do that?”
“Because I think if I shine your shoes, you’re going to get that job. And if you get that job, you’re going to want me to take care of you a lot. If I’m willing to make that gamble, why stop me?”
“Very well,” the young man said as he sat down.
Knowing the young man was in a hurry, Jerome applied his expertise, but somewhat more quickly than usual.
“There you go, Sir,” he said when he’d finished.
Having inspected his shoes, as the young man started reaching into his pocket, Jerome waved him off. “No, Sir. I said it was free and I’m a man of my word.”
“Scott Adams,” the young man said as he extended his hand to Jerome.
“Jerome Jenkins, Mr. Adams.”
“Please call me Scott.”
“Not today, Sir. Today, you need to get accustomed to being called Mr. Adams.”
That was the last Jerome saw of Adams for a little more than two weeks. However, one Monday morning, there was Adams again, strolling nearly directly to Jerome.
“I got the job,” he said.
“I knew you would.”
“How did you know?”
“Just your manner. Shine?”
With that, Adams became one of Jerome’s absolutely regular customers.
One morning, Adams looked at Jerome with a kind of ambiguous expression on his face.
“What is it, Mr. Adams?” Jerome asked.
“I’m not going to be working at this building anymore.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Everything is okay. Actually everything is wonderful. I’m opening my own office about six blocks further downtown.”
“Congratulations, Mr. Adams. That is wonderful news.”
“Truthfully, Jerome. It’s kind of bittersweet. I have friends here and I don’t know if I’ll see them again. And, of course, I have you.”
“Me, Mr. Adams? Anyone can shine a pair of shoes, Sir.”
“That’s not the point, Jerome.”
“Then what is it, Sir?”
“Well, I have an idea and I don’t know if you’ll like the idea, but I want you to think about it.”
“What’s your idea, Mr. Adams?”
“How about if you were at my office 8:00 every morning and did my shoes there?”
“Mr. Adams, that’s very flattering, but I’d lose all the trade I have here.”
“I know that Jerome. But if you came to my office, I’d pay not just for my shoes, but for the trade you would miss.”
“That’s very generous, Mr. Adams. But it doesn’t seem right.”
“Believe me, Jerome, it is right.”
“I’ll think about it, Mr. Adams.”
“Please do, Jerome.”
“When do you need your answer, Sir?”
“I’ll give you your answer in a week, then.”
During the following week, although Jerome tried to persuade Adams to take back his offer, Jerome was soon to learn not to try to bargain with Adams. He was unmovable. And, of course, Adams got his way.
One day, months later, as Jerome was leaving Adams’s office, a fine looking gentleman spied him carrying his shoe shine equipment.
“Excuse me, Sir,” the gentleman began. “May I have a shine?”
Jerome saw no reason to refuse and as the day progressed, found himself completely unable to get to his uptown location, as one customer after another called upon his services.
After that, Jerome was finding that whenever he shined Adams’s shoes, the same thing was happening.
Finally, one morning, Jerome spoke up about it to Adams.
“Mr. Adams,” he said as he was buffing one of the shoes. “We’re going to have to change our deal.”
“Why is that, Jerome? Am I not paying you enough?”
“Too much, Sir. I’ve started picking up trade down here as well and I can’t accept your money for my lost trade because I’m not losing any.”
“That’s okay, Jerome.”
“No, Sir. It’s not.”
And for once, Adams knew that he was being bested and he reduced his payment to the normal rate Jerome was charging everybody else.
The new arrangement continued for some months until Adams informed Jerome that he was once again moving, although this time to a larger suite on the seventeenth floor of the same building.
“Would you be able to start coming in at 9:00 rather than 8:00?” Adams asked him.
“Yes, Mr. Adams, I can do that. Is there any reason?”
“Well, yes, Jerome, I have a number of people working for me and they might want you to shine their shoes as well. Would that work for you?”
“Yes, Mr. Adams. That would be fine.”
Under this new arrangement, matters continued well. Jerome continued coming to the building at 8:00 to take care of his other clients, while arriving at Adams’s office promptly at 9:00.
One morning, Jerome saw a distracted look in Adams’s face.
“Is everything quite all right, Mr. Adams?”
“Fine, thank you.”
“You don’t look fine, thank you, Mr. Adams.”
“Well, Jerome, I have decided I have to leave my wife.”
“I’m very sorry, Sir. No charge for today’s shine.”
“Why is that, Jerome?”
“Because today, Scott, you need to know somebody loves you.”
Adams was silent, but his silence spoke more loudly to Jerome than most of the things he had said to Jerome through the years. Having completed Adams’s shoes, Jerome worked his way among the rest of his regular customers in Adams’s office, all of them acting as if nothing were different.
When Jerome next came to Adam’s office, his was his usual cheerful greeting.
“Good morning, Mr. Adams,” he said.
“Yes, Mr. Adams. Mr. Adams.”
“But,” Adams began.
“That was special,” Jerome replied.
“Very,” Adams muttered.
Some months passed with their routine resumed as it had been prior to Adams’s revelation.
That is, until the morning that it was Jerome whose face displayed something was out of kilter.
“What is it, Jerome?” Adams asked. “You look unwell.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Adams. I’m distracted. My father passed last night and I have absolutely no idea what I am going to do for a funeral for him.”
“That makes one of us,” Adams said and then somewhat more loudly to his assistant, “Maria, please take Mr. Jenkins here to my tailor. We need a black suit for him today.”
“But Mr. Adams,” Jerome protested. “It’s not my clothes. It’s the casket the cemetery, the everything.”
“The cemetery is the easy part,” Adams replied. “I’m a single man with a double cemetery plot I had planned to occupy with my wife. We’ll put your father in that plot.”
“But Mr. Adams.”
“No buts, Jerome. No buts.”
Maria escorted Jerome out of the office and at Adams’s direction made all the arrangements. There were not many arrangements to be made, however. For the funeral, Maria, Adams, and Jerome were the only ones in attendance.
The following Monday, things were back to normal and continued in that manner for several years.
One afternoon, Maria informed Adams that the police were on the telephone.
“Scott Adams, here. How may I help you?”
“Thank you, Mr. Adams. Are you familiar with a Jerome Jenkins?”
“Yes, officer, I am. He’s been my shoe… my friend for years.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Adams. We found Mr. Jenkins in his apartment this morning. He seems to have passed a few days ago.”
“How did you know to contact me?”
“In his closet, there is a black suit. In the pocket of the suit was a slip of paper with your business card attached to it. On the paper it said, ‘If anything happens to me, contact Scott Adams.’”
“I see, Officer. Has anyone claimed the body?”
“No, Mr. Adams.”
“Then may I put my assistant on the line to make the funeral arrangements?”
“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Me too,” Adams said as he handed the telephone to Maria who, fortunately, was standing next to him in his office. As Maria completed the conversation, he slowly sat down.
An hour later, Maria saw him there in his office, staring at his shoes.
“Scott?” she asked.
“The funeral is Saturday morning. Is that okay?”
“Yes, Maria. Thank you.”
That Saturday, Adams got up extra early, selected his very best suit, and set off for the funeral, being certain to stop at a shine stand near his apartment.
Getting down from the cab at the funeral home, he saw a young boy with a shoeshine box.
“Shine, Mister?” the boy inquired.
Hesitating but a moment, Adams said, “Yes, please,” and sat down.
When the boy had completed shining his shoes, he said, “That’ll be five dollars, Mister.”
Reaching into his wallet, Adams handed him a $100 bill.
“I’m sorry, Mister. I don’t have that kind of change.”
“No, of course, you don’t,” Adams said distractedly, taking the $100 bill back. Sliding the bill back into his wallet, he took out ten crisp $10 bills and handed them to the boy.
“Keep the change,” he said.
Dov Treiman’s Percolations
Copyright 2020 Dov Treiman