People have all kinds of ways to deal with stress in their lives. Some run. Some do yoga. Some meditate. Some drink.
I polish boots and shoes.
It’s not really as crazy / boring as it sounds. There’s simply something very therapeutic about polishing footwear. It’s just you, the leather, the cloth, a can of polish, and some spit. Endless little swirls around the toe cap, aided by the odd warm breath, until the formerly dull surface shines, smoother than the most perfect skating rink you can imagine. You quickly forget about everything but the shoe and the cloth – in that calm place, nothing else really matters.
Happiness is a new Kiwi and a fresh can of polish.
It began back in Ceremonial Guard, where countless hours were spent trying to transform a pair of raw drill boots into gleaming, glass-like boots you could be proud of. While some swore by the burn shine to get a quick start (melt the polish before applying to fill in the tiny dimples and build up a solid base layer), I took it slow, with minute layer after layer massaged into the surface for a couple of hours each day. While basic training was full of stress – yelling, running, shooting, more yelling – polishing time was a welcome escape, a valuable period of quiet and personal reflection.
Five summers at Fort Henry turned polishing into a social event. It was the thing you did sitting in the locker room between training periods – shoot the shit with the guys while quickly touching up your boots from whatever near-disaster had almost befallen them. At the fort, danger was everywhere – someone stepping on your toe cap during an errant turn on the march, or the tell-tale scars from a rope dragging across them during artillery drills. Good boots were a point of pride. Perfection was nearly impossible to attain, but we all spent hours trying to make our boots look their best. Some fanatics had a pair of show boots that were only brought out in public for special occasions, gleaming marvels that were coddled and nurtured for years.
O.K., maybe that’s a little fetishistic.
I have spent hundreds of hours polishing, and while I’m not an expert, I do know a few tricks of trade. Want a few pointers from a seasoned vet?
1. Kiwi cloths are the best. There are other options, and I’ve heard some people say that any cotton cloth will do, but don’t believe them – you need a Kiwi.
2. A water buff is an easy way to get rid of those stubborn polish swirls. After you’ve done some shining, finish up by polishing them with the cloth while holding the boot under a steady stream of cold water. When you’re done, blow off the water droplets and you should be left with a nice, even shine.
3. A little lighter fluid goes a long way. Put a drop on the Kiwi wrapped around your finger, and do one last lap around your toe cap. The lighter fluid will kind of melt the top layer of polish before it hardens again. Follow up with a water buff, and you’re golden.
4. DO NOT use those sponges, or polish you squirt from a squeezable container. That stuff is evil and will ruin your boots.
Remember – a good shine requires time, patience, effort, and focus. Just like life, there are no shortcuts to success.