The customer pushes his plate away, dabs his mouth with a linen napkin, and waves me over.
“All done sir?” I ask.
“Yes,” he replies, “That was great, as always.”
“Glad you enjoyed it sir.”
“Just bring me an espresso and the check,” the man says, “I can tell you guys are getting ready to leave.”
“Right away sir,” I reply. I’m silently grateful this man knows the score. A traveling salesman, I let him in after we closed. Most of the staff has already left.
I go to the back, get an espresso, place some biscotti on the saucer, and print up the check.
“Your espresso sir,” I say.
The man drains his espresso in a single gulp, examines the check, and stuffs some bills in an envelope.
“Keep the change,” the man says.
“Thank you sir.”
“I appreciate you feeding me so late.”
“My pleasure sir.”
“Do you like cigars?” the man asks suddenly.
“Why, as a matter of fact I do,” I say.
The man pulls a silver container out of his briefcase. It’s a traveling humidor.
“I can see you like cigars,” I chuckle.
“My one bad habit,” the man replies, winking.
The man opens up the humidor. It holds about ten cigars.
“They’re all Cubans,” the man says, “I picked them up when I was in Costa Rica last week.”
“And you slipped them past Customs?” I ask.
“I’ve been bringing Cubans into the States since before you were born,” the man says. He peruses his selection, pulls out two cigars, and hands them to me.
“Thank you,” he says simply.
I look at the cigars. One’s a Gloria Cubano and the other’s a Romeo y Julieta Churchill. Nice.
“No,” I gush, “Thank you sir.” Wow. A cash tip and some free cigars. And it’s not even my birthday.
The man nods, packs up his stuff, and walks towards the door.
“Pleasure having you sir,” I say.
“Be good kid,” he says, heading into the cold.
After the man leaves I put the cigars in a Ziploc bag. No sense in letting them dry out. I finish closing up, put the money in the safe, turn off the lights, and lock the door.
As I’m walking towards my car I see Claude, our local homeless guy, huddling in an entranceway, puffing on a cigarette. Normally Claude smokes cheap cigars. He must be out of them today.
I realize what I’m thinking before I think it.
“Goddammit” I mutter to myself.
Years ago, when I was in the seminary on retreat, I remember an old bishop giving us a talk on charity. This bishop related how one day he was walking down the street and spied a twenty dollar bill on the sidewalk. Thinking it was his lucky day, he scooped up the bill and put it in his pocket. He decided to spend his new found money on some scotch so he headed over to the liquor store. There, outside, was a young mother, child at her side, panhandling for money. The bishop knew what he was thinking before he thought it. And his reply was the same as mine.
Of course, the bishop gave the money to the young woman. “Easy come. Easy go,” he said. I remember laughing when he told that story.
Now, twenty years later, I stand in a doorway with a homeless man I hardly know.
“Shit,” I exclaim, “Its cold out.”
“Yep,” Claude replies.
“You know where you’re staying tonight?” I ask.
“I’ve got a spot,” Claude says, eyeing me suspiciously.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the Ziploc bag.
“You like cigars, right?”
“Well, these are Cubans,” I say, “Pick one.”
“Oh boy,” Claude says, reaching out. He picks the Gloria Cubano.
“It’s the real deal Claude,” I say, “Enjoy it.”
Unlike the Bishop I managed to retain some of my good fortune. I get in my car and drive home.
When I walk in the door I empty my pockets of all the crap a waiter picks up during a shift. I toss out some useless receipts, a bunch of wine foils, and, inexplicably, a nail file. How’d that get there? I place my wine opener and pens in the junk drawer and open up the cupboard where I keep the booze. Pulling down a bottle of single malt I save for rare occasions, I pour myself a drink, grab my cigar cutter, and head out to the porch.
I take the Romeo y Julieta out of the bag, clip off the end, strike a match, and light it up. Once I get it going I settle back in my rocking chair and take a sip of my drink. This is a Churchill. It’ll take forever to smoke. As I puff away I catch my reflection in the window, framed in the faint red light of the cigar’s glowing tip. The smoke drifts upwards, swirling into curlicues of tumbling chaos that some mathematicians believe hold clues to the secret of the universe. Ordo et Chaos. The smoke drifts over to the far side of the porch, gets caught up in the thin eddy of a draft, cartwheels, spins, reforms, and finally dissipates.
This is when I’m at my lowest ebb. This is the time anxiety and doubt threatens to overwhelm me. Outside the wind howls. It’s dark and the streets are devoid of life.
I look over at the corner where my demon of night lives. I wait for him to emerge. But he must be off today. He doesn’t come. I smile to myself.
Some good things are happening in my life, and not all of them have to do with this blog. I think about work. I think about that salesman. I think about Claude. I think about other things. Somehow, like the cigar smoke, it contains some sort of order.
I sit in my chair, enjoy my cigar and scotch, and savor the glory of Cuba.
Life is good.