It’s April 2, 2016 and it’s snowing. It’s April 2, 2016 and it’s also my birthday. A lot has gone on in the six decades plus that I’ve walked this earth – some good, some very bad. But I wanted to give you an idea that as a cigar broker I did other stuff. I do other stuff. I’m not a cigar fanatic that talks about cigars all day and night. I don’t even think about cigars when I’m on the road. How’d I get here?
A wide streak of independence and no idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up that’s how. There is a constant. Women. I gave my first ring to SK in first grade and just met her at a recent class reunion. You should have seen her smile when we met. Met hell, she hugged me as if I had the secret to life and she wanted to squeeze it out of me. I had girlfriends like guys had baseball cards.
But my main love in grade school was music and it still is today. I’m a percussionist. I got my first kit in 1964 just when Beatlemania was hitting the planet. I still have my Gretsch kit that my son now uses in his band. And he’s a hell of a drummer. You cannot, I repeat, you cannot get the same tone out of today’s drums like you can out of that kit I own. Even others who hear my son play remark on the clarity and crispness of the sound.
We had a group “The Extension of Sound.” We thought we were pretty good for a three-man band. We idolized Cream. We played mostly cover tunes. But regardless of my passion for the drums, I had to have money for dates. Yes, in grade school. So I worked in the neighborhood Certified grocery store as a stock boy until one day.
It was a fluke. The butcher had to go on medical leave and they needed someone to help out. That would be me. But that’s how I learned my first trade – meat cutting. I became a journeyman. I can still cut up a chicken with a knife in less than 35 seconds. I can rip beef and find you the tenderloin or the strip steak in seconds. I can bone a leg of lamb in a matter of minutes. Some things you never forget – like riding a bike.
This is funny. When I used to walk to work I used to smoke those little Winchester cigars and would always take my dad’s cigar when he brought it home from a business meeting. He never smoked it, sometimes I did. I had a passion for the leaf since I was a kid. Why? Can’t tell you. I don’t know.
So I went through elementary school, hit high school, and began to get an itch for writing and art. In fact, I ended up in journalism at Roosevelt in downtown Chicago. I was the first to be awarded The Lois Willie scholarship in Journalism for my Masters. Lois Willie, then the editor of the Sun Times, even took a picture with me and it was published in the paper. I was stoked. I didn’t want much in life – just a byline and Leon-like fame.
At the same time, I always would wonder what it would be like to be an author and or an artist. So I freelanced and went to art school in the evening while I worked. My folks took us to the Art Institute and of course I was a voracious reader – still am. I’ll read anything, but mostly biographies with a special interest toward women’s lives. Their lives seem a whole lot more interesting than men’s.
In fact, I just finished Daring by Gail Sheehy, Marcel and Me by Paulette Frank. I started Gloria Steinem’s Memoir, and am in the process of reading about the life of Amy Winehouse written by her Mom. Women’s lives are so fascinating, and I have to tell you the one I just finished by Carol King was as interesting as a life can be. Broadway must have thought so too, they produced a play about her.
I wanted to be a film maker and would make movies using a Kodak 8mm camera. Back then we didn’t have computers; we had to thread the film on the sprockets and while doing so I felt I became integrated into the film. Today, save for a few directors like Quentin Tarantino, who directed The Hateful Eight, who will still produce movies using 70mm film, making a movie can seem rather antiseptic and sterile.
I actually started smoking a pipe along with the little cigars as I walked to work. (In fact, my old boss, Art, used to tap his pipe on anything in the store and burnt ashes fell everywhere.) And believe it or not my ma would allow me to smoke in the house. Cigarettes were off limits, though I tried ‘em.
Never drank a lot but we all get into that at some time as we mature. My first beer was in Nebraska with my buddy Stan. What a hoot. One beer and I was woozy. But I learned fast to drink and drive and do all those things you’re not supposed to do.
So I went from butchering to Iceland. That’s when my life really changed. When I got back to the US, I got a job at Marshall Fields on State Street and met my future wife in the rare book room, and we’ve been married ever since. She’s an angel. She’s still trying to figure me out because of this damned independent streak that runs through me like an arrow, but we’re still together.
I wrote résumés for a while and then I just popped around until I found a job as a commercial and residential real estate inspector. That was nice. I remained independent, contracted to do the work, and got paid. But it got boring, I get bored easy. So I started a bodybuilding publication and called it Irv’s Bodybuilding Digest – after my dad. (My wife introduced me to weightlifting to try and help me stay healthy so I wouldn’t end up like my dad.) He died way too young and I kept his name around for him so he could be around with me that much longer.
So I did the publishing and the inspecting until one day I just had it. By then, I was freelance writing about cigars when I decided to call up some of the cigar manufacturers I grew to know and asked them if they needed an independent rep. Three did. And on a Tuesday, I started my cigar broker business. It wasn’t called what it is today, Irv CigarBroker was evolutionary.
My wife, who knows me pretty well, thought I was nuts. I’m not the most social guy on the planet, but I can handle myself, especially when it’s a subject I have a passion for. So I worked both jobs until the broker business’s income equaled what I was making as an inspector. When that happened – I quit inspecting. Great day. But little did I know that the cigar broker business was going to be such an uphill battle.
But I’m stubborn and I stuck with it. And here I am today. Twelve years into it and going strong. In fact, I thought about this post while I was walking Flo smoking a Buho cigar that I have to give props to. The cigar itself was a sturdy stick and it took me all the way around the park never once going out or going south on the construction.
So now I’m planning on living another year. I’ve learned a lot about life (and you don’t know the half of it), and the cigar business. The other things I did make it easier for me to have conversations with people and talk and write about other things not just sports and scotch.
We have a plan and we’re right on schedule. As long as I can keep my head on straight and the government doesn’t get over ambitious with its crazy legislation, we will make it to our goal. And by this time next year you won’t have to read all this. And thanks to those who have already wished me a happy birthday. If the weather calms down, I just might go out and have me another cigar.
(Thanks for hanging in there. My posts are usually not this long but I only have one life and today’s birthday.)