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Boots For Runaways
by [?]

Not long ago, having come through upon the uppers of my shoes, I wrapped the pair in a bit of newspaper and went around the corner into Sixth Avenue to find a cobbler. This is not difficult, for there are at least three cobblers to the block, all of them in basements four or five steps below the sidewalk. Cobblers and little tailors who press and repair clothing, small grocers and delicatessen venders–these are the chief commerce of the street. I passed my tailor’s shop, which is next to the corner. He is a Russian Jew who came to this country before the great war. Every Thursday, when he takes away my off suit, I ask him about the progress of the Revolution. At first I found him hopeful, yet in these last few months his opinions are a little broken. His shop consists of a single room, with a stove to heat his irons and a rack for clothes. It is so open to the street that once when it was necessary for me to change trousers he stood between me and the window with one foot against the door by way of moratorium on his business. His taste in buttons is loud. Those on my dinner coat are his choice–great round jewels that glisten in the dark.

Next to my tailor, except for a Chinese laundry with a damp celestial smell, is a delicatessen shop with a pleasant sound of French across the counter. Here are sausages, cut across the middle in order that no one may buy the pig, as it were, in its poke. Potato salad is set out each afternoon in a great bowl with a wooden spoon sticking from its top. Then there is a baked bean, all brown upon the crust, which is housed with its fellows in a cracked baking dish and is not to be despised. There is also a tray of pastry with whipped cream oozing agreeably from the joints, and a pickle vat as corrective to these sweets. But behind the shop is the bakery and I can watch a wholesome fellow, with his sleeves tucked up, rolling pasties thin on a great white table, folding in nuts and jellies and cutting them deftly for the oven.

Across the street there resides a mender of musical instruments. He keeps dusty company with violins and basses that have come to broken health. When a trombone slips into disorder, it seeks his sanitarium. Occasionally, as I pass, I catch the sound of a twanging string, as if at last a violin were convalescent. Or I hear a reedy nasal upper note, and I know that an oboe has been mended of its complaint and that in these dark days of winter it yearns for a woodside stream and the return of spring. It seems rather a romantic business tinkering these broken instruments into harmony.

Next door there is a small stationer–a bald-headed sort of business, as someone has called it. Ruled paper for slavish persons, plain sheets for bold Bolshevists.

Then comes our grocer. There is no heat in the place except what comes from an oil stove on which sits a pan of steaming water. Behind the stove with his twitching ear close against it a cat lies at all hours of the day. There is an engaging smudge across his nose, as if he had been led off on high adventure to the dusty corners behind the apple barrel. I bend across the onion crate to pet him, and he stretches his paws in and out rhythmically in complete contentment. He walks along the counter with arched back and leans against our purchases.

Next our grocer is our bootblack, who has set up a sturdy but shabby throne to catch the business off the “L.” How majestically one sits aloft here with outstretched toe, for all the world like the Pope offering his saintly toe for a sinner’s kiss. The robe pontifical, the triple crown! Or, rather, is this not a secular throne, seized once in a people’s rising? Here is a use for whatever thrones are discarded by this present war. Where the crowd is thickest at quitting time–perhaps where the subway brawls below Fourteenth Street–there I would set the German Kaiser’s seat for the least of us to clamber on.