As if the story of a 72-year-old shoe shiner arrested on two counts of arson for admittedly setting fire on two separate occasions to a Bryant Park three-seat shoeshine stand wasn’t strange enough, the Times and Post have reported tonight that the man, John Swain, was back at work today, the day after his arrest, shining shoes near Grand Central for $4 apiece. The Fire Department believes that Swain set the destructive fires on March 22 and April 6 out of revenge, as he apparently has harbored a fifteen-year-old grudge for not being permitted to work at the Bryant Park stand, which has notoriously stolen his business.
“The frustration has been building up for a long time,” Don Ward, Swain’s 42-year-old roommate and a fellow shoeshiner, said. “You’ve got to understand something: Out here, the competition is cutthroat, dog-eat-dog. If the other guy is taking your customers, he’s stealing your livelihood, and you can’t let that happen.”
Despite the seeming severity of the charges, Swain was released yesterday with just a desk-appearance ticket and a court date for May 16. When the Post accosted him at his stand this afternoon, he said, “This is none of your business. Step off. I have a right to be here.” So if you’ve ever been curious about what it’s like to literally have your feet held to the fire, you know where to go.