09 January 2013

A Business Expense: Hair Grows on Company Time

Mayfair House Hotel (now condos)

A woman behind Mayfair's reception desk draws a map on the back of a post card and points me in the direction of a barber three blocks away.  Hair stylist really but she insists he cuts men too.  I like Mayfair House. Tucked away in Coconut Grove, each room has a balcony and every balcony a hot tub -- All of it hidden from the street by masses of flowers, vines and whatever else grows in Miami. It's 1993 and I had left three feet of snow in Chicago.

First night I'm neck deep in the tub plugged into a walkman with Alcione's, 'Sufoco,' sipping beer and puffing a La Gloria Cubana. Only problem... a headphone wire knocks my cigar out of the ashtray and into the tub. That's okay. I have a lot of cigars...

Alcione's Sufoco

Back then, Ernesto Carrillo was still making La Gloria's in Little Havana on Ocho street. After a piece ran in Cigar Afficianado his cigars, extremely affordable & Cuban like, 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. 

The El Credito factory Photo by Tina Bucuvalas

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 look like.

La Gloria Glorias

'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."


Brohammas said...

haircuts while travelling and movie gun shots; two things that are never done right.

Tell ya what, there's nothing like hearing the bullet hit a wall before you hear the pop from the barrel.

Ben said...

Suspenders, La Glorias, and 1993. Yup, that was a time.

Nice story. I think I'll read it again.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's possible to tell an uninteresting story about Miami, and everyone who ever visited has a story. With this admirable one you have proceeded to prove the point.


M.Lane said...

I don't usually tap my Aniversario Rum out of the hot season. I'm actually rather stiff-necked about this. But after reading this fine post I had a tot of it. Now I'm pouring another, deeper one. And I, like Ben, am going to read it again. Slower this time.


Smitty said...

The closer the cigar to where it's made, the better the taste. Awww that humidity, warm temp, yes, Miami is a fine location to sip a cigar!

Oyster Guy said...

Great story, well told and much appreciated on a winter's day. As for myself, I am frequently mistaken for officialdom of one sort or another and it is almost always to my benefit!

jeff said...

Sounds like not much has changed here in Miami/Grove. Except, perhaps, even more Samba from the continued influx of Brazilians.

I live down the street from the Mayfair and it is still a hotel (and spa). And each room still has a soaking tub.


I miss Britches of Georgetown. Any idea who owns the brand now?


the trad said...

Bro- Actually, it was one of the best haircuts I ever had.

Ben- Thx. But I can't stop thinking of, "Stephen! Fuck you, Stephen! Stephen -- Come back here."

DB- I can tell you an interesting story about Palatka.

M Lane- That rum should go nicely with the soundtrack I provided.

Smitty- I smoked everything (until 4 yrs ago) but cigars were something different. Like most ex-smokers, I can't stand cigarette smoke but when I smell a cigar -- it still connects to something deep inside me where ribeye, single malt, lapsang souchong and truffles all hangout together.

Oyster Guy- Lucky you. In NYC, there are these guys on the street who keep asking me if I'm Jewish.

Jeff- Great to hear it's still a hotel. I had heard it was converted to condos. Sadly, Britches is history. Mark Rykken, now of Paul Stuart, told me a fascinating story of the demise. I'll see if he'll let me retell it here.

Harris Reiss said...

When I worked at Arnolds on Madison Avenue, that was the hardest cigar to keep in stock for obvious reasons. After CA came out with a top rating, we were rationed.

Anonymous said...

Mayfair: A dreary and hideously belabored pile of kitsch.

tintin said...

Anon- Amazing. Considering you're from Syracuse.

Anonymous said...

Picture you post sorta speaks volumes, doll.
Go Orange!