He Took a Shining to Shining


In 1939, with the Nazi occupation of Poland imminent, Leopold Stowski, the brilliant and famous chemist, tried to flee to the United States, but the U.S. had recently enacted strict immigration laws, taking in only individuals who could claim physical or economic hardship.  Fearful for his life and desperate to get out, Stowski  posed as a crippled polio victim, confined to a wheelchair, and assumed the identity  Joseph Paski.   Friends at the State department helped him produce the required documentation, and soon Stowski was on a steamer to New York as Paski.

Once in New York, life was difficult for a crippled immigrant, and times were hard.  The only work he could find was shining shoes in the street.  Never the less, thankful for having saved his life, he enthusiastically embraced his situation, and went about shining shoes with great zeal.   As the days went by, he found that, after a good rain, he was shining the same shoes he had just shined before it rained.   The commercial shoe polishes he was using didn’t hold up to moisture.   Being the brilliant chemist he was, he went to work, in his dingy one room apartment, and soon he was able to invent a shoe polish that was completely resistant to moisture, and, in fact, came out of the rain shinier than before.  He quickly patented the invention, and sold the technology to the U.S. military.  Dwight Eisenhower, in fact, attributed a great deal of the success of the Normandy Beach landing to the polish, saying “Without the worry of our combat boots losing their luster on the amphibious landing, our soldiers were able to focus on the task at hand and ultimately triumph.  The whole nation owes the inventor of this substance a great deal of gratitude.”  So it was that the crippled polish immigrant Joseph Paski  became rich and famous, the inventor of what was now known as the “Polish Polish.”

Paski was suddenly wealthy and a national hero.   He moved into a palatial estate in Hollywood, his secret still undiscovered.  No one had ever seen him out of his wheelchair.   Then, one day, the FBI received an anonymous tip that Paski was really Stowski, and was in fact a fraud.  This taped conversation from the FBI archives shows agents Ham and Cheese discussing the tip while undercover at the local Tastee Freeze:

HAM:   So Paski isn’t really Paski?

CHEESE:  That’s right, Paski is Stowski.

HAM:  Pask is Stowski?

CHEESE:   You got it.

HAM:  And he’s not really a cripple?

CHEESE:  Nope, that’s all an act.  He’s a fraud, he’s not valid.

HAM:  He’s not valid?

CHEESE:  Nope, he’s invalid.

HAM:  So he’s an invalid invalid.

CHEESE:  That’s right.

HAM:   Then we’d better arrest him.  Make sure he gets his just desserts.  Done with your ice cream?

CHEESE:  Yeah, but I’m still hungry.  Do they sell lunch here?

HAM:  No lunch, just desserts.

Time went on and Ham and Cheese moved in on Paski, monitoring his every move, giving him no breathing room, on his back night and day.   The stress was wearing Paski down, until one very hot day, while visiting the circus, he turned to the men and asked, “Why you no leave Paski alone?   Why must you be so pesky to Paski?  What are your names, anyway?”

“We’re federal agents Sam Ham and Jack Cheese,” Cheese replied.

“Sam Ham?”  Paski asked.

“That’s right,” Cheese replied.

“And Jack Cheese?”

“That’s enough,” Ham interrupted.  “It’ll do no good to pepper Jack Cheese with questions.”

Paski couldn’t take the stress and lashed out.  “I’m so sick of you two, I can’t stand it.  It’s always with one of you on each side of me.  It’s as if I was in a Ham and Cheese sandwich.  Please, leave me to my Polish Polish.”

“We will, if you confess that you aren’t really crippled, that you are in fact an invalid invalid, and that you aren’t Paski, you are Stowski, we’ll try and go light on you.”  Cheese said.

Ham, who suffered from a nervous stomach, asked to be excused.

“Why?” Cheese asked.

“It’s so hot here at the circus,” he said, sweat pouring off his brow.

“You do look like you’re baked, Ham,” Cheese observed.

“I am.  In tents, the heat gets really intense, and my stomach feels just like that time on the flight to Chicago.”

“You mean when you …”

“That’s right, “ Ham replied.  “ Like that time I flew with the flu.”

Cheese excused Ham, but Ham fainted.  Cheese grabbed him, and Paski got out of his wheelchair and helped him lean Ham against the wall.

“Thanks,” Cheese said, then said, “hey wait a minute.  You helped me lean Ham.”

“Yes, so whatski?”  Paski was standing next to Ham.

“You’re out of your wheelchair!   You are an invalid invalid!”

“Oh,” Paski said, realizing the jig was up.

Paski was arrested, and the story became big news.   The press grilled Ham and Cheese.  Paski was exposed to be Stowski, and his reputation was ruined, his fortunes squandered.  He was no longer a national hero.  In the lowest depths of shame, he went to Niagara Falls, intent on jumping over and ending his own life.  Once he got there, though, he was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the rock formations and was unable to go through with it.

You might say that it was the gorgeous gorges that saved the invalid invalid, the inventor of the polish polish.

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One thought on “He Took a Shining to Shining

  1. I liked the setup the most. The ‘who’s on first’ second half is pretty good. My favorite line is, “It’ll do no good to pepper Jack Cheese”. I also liked these: “The press grilled Ham and Cheese,” “Why must you be so pesky to Paski?” “Invalid invalid.”

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