All He Wanted Was a Cigar
submitted March 28, 2011
It was a quiet mid-afternoon at Grove Street Cigar Store following the lunch crowd and before the after work rush when men would be coming to buy their end of the day smokes. This is the time of day to get paperwork done and chat with the occasional customer.
Today Louie was checking the inventory behind the counter but his nose was twitching because of the smell of paint. Ralphie, his good for nothing brother-in-law was on a ladder by the entrance to the store painting the ceiling. Ralphie really wasn’t that bad; Louie had to keep reminding himself, he was having a string of bad luck. He lost his job when the factory closed and got behind in the rent and was evicted. So did so many people in the Depression. What bothered Ralphie that it has been almost a year since he, his wife (and Louie’s sister) and three kids moved in. Although Louie knew that is what families do, the cramp quarters bothered him at times. Man, it’s 1936 – when is this Depression going to be over?
Ralphie had been only been able to get odd jobs and when that was not possible he would do work around the shop for Louie. That was what he was doing when Tyler Norcross crossed in.
Tyler was 26, six feet, and well dressed in his black pin striped three piece suit. With his white fedora he looked like a matinee idol and much to the dismay of many people, he knew it. He had made quite impression in the advertising firm he worked in, attracting several new clients away from competitors with his innovative and creativity. Yes, Tyler had brains AND looks and he knew it, and if you did not know it, Tyler would gladly inform you of this fact.
Entering the store, Tyler removed the fedora and wiped his brow and ran his fingers through his thick, curly brown hair. It was the third day of a humidity wave and the concrete in the city was baking the streets. Just by being out of the sun, Tyler suddenly felt cooler. He would buy a couple of his favorite cigars, then return to close up some business, then meet his fiancée at her parents for dinner.
Then it happened! Splottt!
Louie looked up as he heard Ralphie yell “Oh shit!” and scampered down the ladder. Louie yelled “What the fuck happened?” as he rushed about behind the counter towards Tyler. Ralphie had knocked the bucket of paint off the top of the ladder at it had fallen right onto Tyler Norcross’ head, the paint splattering down over the front of his suit.
Tyler sputtered inconceivably as Ralphie and Louie removed the paint bucket from Tyler’s head. His entire hair and face were covered with white paint and he spitted out paint and wiped his face, splattering the paint over his hands and further over his suit. Louie and Ralphie profusely and repeatedly apologized as Tyler let loose a string of obscenities between proclamations of “Look at my suit! You idiots! My hair!”
Louie reassured Tyler that things can be fixed and he would send Tyler’s suit out to be dry cleaned, while directing him to the back room. Ralphie said he had an extra pair of overalls in the truck and went out to get them. Tyler, still almost in a state of shock, was led to the large slop sink in the back room. Louie was in a hurry to clean up some a valued customer that he flung the water not realizing it was the hot water and stuck Tyler’s head underneath. Tyler screamed as Louie tightened his headlock in order to wash as much of the paint out of Tyler’s hair and face. Tyler struggled and could barely get the words out that he was being scalded like a lobster.
When Ralphie returned he saw the struggle and Louie yelled out to help get the clothes off of him. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to Tyler, Louie raised his head from the water and Tyler tried to catch his breath. Weakened and confused, Tyler felt a pair of hands unbuckle his belt and pull his trousers down at the same time another pair was removing his jacket and he saw Louie loosening his tie. Ralphie didn’t think too well and tried to pull the trousers over Tyler’s shoes which caused him to lose balance and fall backwards on top of Louie.
“What are you doing you goddamn idiot?” barked Tyler. When the answer was trying to get the clothes to the cleaners, Tyler shouted. “Well goddammit don’t rip it. God I should sue you guys.”
“Now, now Mr. Norcross,” reassured Louie as he led Tyler to a chair and had him sit in it. “It was just all a bad accident. Ralphie will take the suit and clothes to be dry cleaned. I know the owner and he will do a rush job. “ He turned to Ralphie and told him to get the clothes to the cleaners.
Tyler sat in the chair shaking his head muttering that he can’t believe this is happening. In that moment Louie saw how ridiculous he looked sitting there naked except for his boxer shorts, socks, and one loafer that somehow survived the clothes pulling. Ridiculous, but for this moment Louie was on the point of panic over what would happen to his business if he did not calm this man down.
“Look, Mr. Norcross, we can get the suit cleared but that paint is not coming out of your hair.”
“What do you mean?” asked Tyler. “Christ, it can’t stay like that. I’m meeting my girl’s parents tonight at the Beaumont. Shit!!”
“We’ll just cut your hair and eventually it’ll grow back.”
“Cut it? You’re no barber.” Tyler began to rise but Louie pushed him back in the chair.
“How far do you think you’ll get down the street in your undies? Besides, I cut my kid’s hair all the time. I have the clippers right here in my desk drawer.”
Tyler sighed as Louie went to the desk and two out the electric clippers. “Well, at least you can get me a cigar – the best you have!”
“Coming right up!” Louie left the room and entered a moment later with an eight inch cigar and a 60 ring gauge. He cut the tip and stuck right into Tyler’s mouth. He struck a match and lit the cigar, with Tyler taking his first strong inhale. Cigars always calmed Tyler down and this one with his nutty taste, did the trick. He commented on the selection and secretly wished there was a mirror in the room so he could watch himself smoke this mammoth cigar.
Taking another long puff, Tyler found him closing his eyes as Louie lays his head back. Tyler found himself relaxing and almost falling asleep between the humming of the clippers and the gentle rubbing of his head by Louie. His remember hearing Louie reassuring him that things would be okay. His suit would be back in a couple of hours and he could always tell his girl that his hair was cut extra short because of the hot weather. Tyler agreed through long puffs on his cigar that it was all a silly accident and even chuckled.
“There. All done.”
Tyler heard the clipper shut off and ran his fingers over his scalp and felt skin. Through his cigar he asked.”What the hell did you do? I’m bald.”
Louie explained that he had to give him a military buzz cut because the paint was through his hair but fortunately did not land on his scalp. He reassured Tyler his hair would grow back, but Tyler only muttered “Shit” over the loss of his hair.
Tyler rose from his chair and was still a little unsteady saying he needed some air. Louie said he could go out back to the alley but that he might want to put on the overalls. Tyler nodded and put on the overalls, noticing for the first time he was missing one shoe and the shoe remaining was splattered with white paint. He kicked off the show with disgust, but Louie again assured he can polish the shoes for him. “The best thing” sighed Louie, “is to go outside and enjoy your cigar.”
Tyler agreed and made his way out the back door and into the alley. He leaned against the wall and took another long draw on his cigar. Damn, the cigar was good and he felt relaxed as he smoked. He couldn’t believe that only a few minutes ago he was immaculately dressed and now he was shoeless wearing paint covered overalls.
Tyler did not notice the black sedan that pulled up at the end of the alley until he heard the doors slammed and two men got out. They were both built like houses, he thought, and their suits barely contained their hulking torsos. As they approached Tyler he sensed danger but couldn’t put his finger on exactly why. Then the man on the left punched him in the stomach, sending the mammoth cigar flying out of his mouth and Tyler falling to his knees. The other man took a handkerchief out of his suit breast pocket and stuffed it in Tyler’s mouth, muffling his mouth. The two men dragged Tyler to the sedan, threw him into the backseat, and sped off.
A few minutes later Ralphie came back and told Louie that the suit would be ready in a couple of minutes. He asked Louie where the hair came from, noticing him sweeping the floor. Louie explained about cutting Tyler’s hair. He added, “ You know, after I cut his hair and he put on the overalls he looked like a dead ringer for Gino. By the way, where is Gino these days?”
Gino was well known in the neighborhood. “No one has seen him for a couple of weeks,” said Ralphie. “ There’ s talk on the street that he ran off with money that belonged to Pat the Tiger.”
“Ya shitting me?” exclaimed Louie. “What a damn fool! If Pat the Tiger gets a hold of Gino, he’ll be wearing cement shoes!”
“You said it,” said Ralphie. “That’s why he’s probably long gone by now.” There was a pause as he looked around. “Where’s the guy?”
“He needed some air so he went out to the alley to relax with his cigar.”
Ralphie wanted to see the resemblance between Tyler and Gino, so he and and Louie went out the back door. They were surprised that the alley was empty and looked at each other slightly confused.
Neither one noticed the half smoked cigar on the ground.