Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I spent nearly every day from January 1999 until September 2008 in a little building downtown on Madison Ave. Day in and day out I sold cigars, pipes and pipe tobacco to people for a nickel, trying to make a living. That little building became like a home to me and the people who wandered in and sat, smoked, relaxed and commiserated like a family.

I sold the business, Memphis Tobacco Bowl, then in its 59th year, last fall because it was time to move on. Other dreams and aspirations were calling and my family needed me around the house more.

I haven't looked back, I love what I'm doing now. I do miss those people, that family, who came in weekly, some daily, to talk about their day or their own families. They knew my kids, they asked about my life outside of work and we bonded there around a little round table over cigars and coffee.

I was a terrible businessman, I'll admit that. I was simply a man who owned a business. I'm proud, though, of what I made there in that little building on Madison. I felt that I created an oasis for people from their offices, their bosses, their employees and the stresses of a weekday. I saw friendships made and grown, deals brokered and businesses bought and sold.

I was in the thick of it when downtown Memphis was thick with possibilities - AutoZone Park, the Grizzlies and their Forum and Peabody Place. It was occasionally exciting, sometimes lucrative and often heartbreaking, yet it defined me, I thought, for nearly a decade.

But, again, it was time to move on and I did.

The new owner of that little business is closing up shop this week. When it's time to move on, it's time to move on. I can't say I blame him, part of the game is knowing when to fold 'em. I probably should have long before. I'm glad, in a way, I didn't have to.

I had my last cigar at 152 Madison in its incarnation as a cigar shop this afternoon among the tile, plasterwork and age. It tasted just as good as any I'd had before, if not somewhat bittersweet.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Diving Bored

Despite my fear of the germs (not my germs, mind you, but yours) and whatever else might be living in the tepid water of a man-made hole in the ground, our family joined the Jewish Community Center last week so that the kids might swim.

And swim they did.

We went on Friday and they ran (no running!) and jumped and slid and swam. They had a big time and, I might add, I had a good time watching them. The facilities at the JCC are amazing, with something for every age group outdoors and indoors. In addition to the pool area, there is a great work out facility and game room for kids.

My first thought when I walked out into the sunlight and saw the pool was disbelief. We never had anything like this when I was a kid with the slides and the fountains and different swimming areas for all different ages and skill levels. As a parent, I really appreciate all the shade so that it's easy to escape the sun if anyone is getting a little too pink. I also feel comfortable letting the kids run (no running!) wild with so many lifeguards on duty.

I'm sure my kids' first reaction when they saw all there is to do was one of amazement as well. I'm sure that last week they were amazed, too, that their procrastinating parents finally did what they said they'd do ages ago and joined the JCC. But that had all worn off by day two when JP announced he was bored.


There are slides and fountains and a lazy river and kids everywhere and more slides and he says he's bored. I told him I didn't ever want to hear that come out of his mouth while standing in the middle of a place like this.

Bored? What more could he want? It's all here! He wants the same thing most kids want and that is whatever is next. It doesn't matter what that next thing is, they've experienced this thing and now they want that thing.

I've decided that next thing, should they ask, is always going to be cleaning something. Their room, the kitchen, bathrooms, it doesn't matter, that's the new next thing. Be careful what you wish for, kids.

Friday, July 10, 2009


As we rest firmly in the clenched jaw of the dog these days of summer were modeled for, I sit on the patio waiting for Kristy and SAM to return home with sushi. It would be better served in breezy, beachy, tropical climes instead of coming from the dank, loud kitchen of a Summer Ave. restaurant where some young person, half-stoned and watching the Friday night clock wasn’t in charge of touching my food, but I take what I can get.

Everything is better on the beach, where we were not so long ago, but I’ve been slightly more pro-Memphis lately, having visited some local bookstores, the zoo and Flashback just this afternoon where I bought a new summer hat.

S, my 6-year-old has always been my harshest fashion critic and today was no better as she saw me and declared, “I never thought it would come to a flowered hat.”

To be fair, the whole hat isn’t a flower motif, just the band.

I had a nice chat with co-owner of Flashback, Gene Rossetti. We talked about reading and writing, retail and travel, kids and Italians. Gene is a treasure in this town. He’s friendly and helpful and genuinely curious about his customers, their needs and their interests.

Later, I took a few of the kids to the White Station branch library where GK and I read a book that featured a mama elephant and her baby. She knew of the tragedy at the Memphis Zoo this week and told her own version of the story in the book, one where the baby elephant falls and is hurt and dies, but then the mommy helps it and it’s okay. It was a good story with a much better ending than the real one.

I was recognized as the writer of a column in The Commercial Appeal at the library, something that happens rarely if never. I do appreciate everyone who takes the time to read on Thursdays. This week I wrote about golfing with the kids, or having kids instead of golfing. I told the tale of some injuries in the front yard while trying to get them interested in the game. It was worse than I said, the benefit of time making everything funnier. In reality, JP brought his club into a backswing and caught a running GK on the forehead, her feet came completely off the ground and she landed flat on her back. That was the end of the lessons. JP felt horrible and GK was upset, but there wasn’t too much swelling and all was forgiven.

Sometimes these kids are so active and funny … or maddening … that it’s difficult to keep up with all the antics to make note here or in a column. And other times it’s just deathly still. A lot of the time, recently, I’m just tired and all thought-out when it comes to writing. This is something I’ve tried to get over as I start to see more of a pattern and a schedule to my work. I hope this keeps up as I had a meeting this week with a little known, though worldwide, foundation based out of Memphis, the International Children’s Heart Foundation. The heart and head of this charity, Dr. Bill Novick, had me over to his lovely South Bluffs home for cigars on the patio and to discuss a writing project that, if it’s greenlighted, could provide me with at least a year of steady work. It would be difficult, all-consuming, gratifying work. I’ll know more in a month or so.

Memphis keeps throwing nuggets like that project at me. It continues, within the bad, the awful stories we hear, to offer a token of peace every now and then.

We are all looking forward to tomorrow’s Rock-n-Romp, which promises to be the largest to date, at the Levit Shell at Overton Park. The venue is big and beautiful and the atmosphere will, as always, be family friendly. I had the pleasure this week of speaking with Levitt Shell renovator Lee Askew III of Askew Nixon Ferguson Architects; Anne Pitts, executive director of the Shell; and board president Barry Lichterman for a story in today’s Commercial Appeal. The three agreed unanimously that the Shell is an asset for our community. For Memphis, which has no end of problems with crime, racism, hate and an all-around apathetic nature, the Levitt Shell has become a meeting place, a living room for people from all walks, all corners of the city to come together and enjoy free music in a beautiful and historical setting.

I hope to see you all at tomorrow’s Rock-n-Romp show.

It’s been busy around here and, yet, not so much. This summer has been a time to get a lot of work done, but also to spend time with family at a less hectic pace. Now, to figure out how to keep that pace slow and steady through the school year …