“Have you ever seen a telephone wire with a bunch of birds sitting on it?” I nod. “Birds fly up and join the other birds… But you my friend—You’re like the bird that flutters around the wire. Not sure where or even if he wants to land.”
Back then, Ernesto Carrillo was still making La Gloria’s in Little Havana on Ocho street. After a piece ran in Cigar Afficianado about his cigars, extremely affordable & Cuban-like, they became impossible to find. Parking a couple blocks away from the source, the El Credito factory, I thought it best to wear a suit jacket since red suspenders with yellow felt teddy bears were holding my trousers up.
In a dark grey Britches of Georgetown, Kennedy-model suit, (designed by Mark Rykken) and Ray Ban Aviators, I stroll into Ernesto’s tiny shop. To my right are three rows of cigar rollers. Dead ahead is Mrs Carrillo, who I think I recognize from the magazine. From her counter she looks up, stares at me, and excuses herself. Taking off my sunglasses, I look at the rollers and smile. No one smiles back. Mrs Carrillo returns, behind her Ernesto, trailed by several men, who all walk by and out the door.
Mrs Carrillo nervously asks how she can help. Pulling out a list of orders from clients and friends back in Chicago, I start, ” Three boxes of Wavells, Two boxes of number one Torpedoes… She looks at me dead pan and interrupts, “You just want cigars?” I tell her I do, and that I’m from Chicago on a cigar run for some friends.
Everything changes. The room changes. The rollers, up to now silent as a tomb, laugh and talk. Someone starts singing. Mrs Carrillo smiles, pulls out a file folder and tells me Wavells and Torpedos are sold out. I ask what she has. She runs a finger down her list and I remember what I must look like.
‘No one wears a suit jacket in Miami—Especially dark grey,’ I think, while 10 boxes of Maduro Glorias, all Mrs Carrillo had, go to the back seat and the jacket gets thrown to the passenger seat. ‘Unless they’re cops.’ I sit for a minute as the a/c cranks up and wonder who they thought I was. Immigration? Maybe. There’s a pang of guilt and I remember walking in my barracks, Corcoran jump boots heavy on the floor and my friends, surprised the footsteps belonged to me, running outside to retrieve the bag of pot they threw out the window.
A block from the hair stylist in Coconut Grove I hear the screams of several men, “Put it down! Put it fucking down, now!” Then that unmistakable, ‘Pop-Pop-Pop’ movies never got right. A terrifying sound far from its home on the range. I look for anyone on the street to see a reaction, ‘Am I hearing what I think I’m hearing?’ but it’s early and there’s no one. Only cars passing by with tinted windows up against the heat.
I see the hair stylist and calmly run for his door. Calmly run? It’s skipping—but faster. A bell rings as I open the door and cold A/C freezes head and crotch sweat. I tell the man what the hotel told me and he laughs. I’ll learn he’s Honduran and in his 50s. I talk. He cuts.
After half an hour, he tells me, “Have you ever seen a telephone wire with a bunch of birds sitting on it?” I nod. “Birds fly up and join the other birds…” He cuts. “But you my friend — You’re like the bird that flutters around the wire. Not sure where or even if he wants to land.”
He blow drys the hair off my shoulders and a woman walks in. Did you hear the gun shots. “No,” says my barber. The police shot a nut case with a machete only a half hour ago right around the corner. My barber looks at me, “Did you see it?” “No,” I tell him. “I only heard it.”