Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The shoe salesman's cigarette

We moved away from a small town in Missouri in the early summer of 1960, heading for other states and eventually settling on Arizona. We went back almost every year for a visit, usually staying for around a month in August, while my father went back to Arizona to work. We also moved back there for a while in late 1965, leaving again tn the summer of 1966. On one of these times, probably in 1961-63, when I would have been around 8 to 10 years old, my mother took me into a shoe store to buy me some new shoes.

The shoe salesman was a young man who smoked, as was common in those days, and he smoked a cigarette while waiting on us. He talked to my mother quite a bit, too, mostly about shoes, I think, what shoes he had and what might be available, even about what other stores in other towns might have, and also perhaps some about the town and some of the people there. My mother kept asking him questions, about the shoes and other things. I'm not sure now about everything that was talked about, and I don't think I paid a lot of attention at the time.

Finally, after what seemed like a long time, we had decided on what shoes to by and went to the cash register to pay for them. The cash register was at the end of a long glass display case that ran along the right side of the room, at a place where the display case turned and faced the front. The cash register was on the left side of the short section of display case there. The shoe salesman walked up on the inside side of the display case, and we walked around the outside.

As he came up to the cash register, he put his cigarette down in an ashtray on the counter, about in the middle of the short section of counter there. As he rang up the sale, he continued to talk to my mother, and she continued to ask him questions.

I started blowing on the cigarette, trying to see if I could put it out, more out of boredom than anything else. Blowing on it caused it to briefly glow much brighter, and burn more of the cigarette, but then it would go back to normal again. I kept blowing on it, and it gradually got dimmer. It was taking a long time, though. The shoe salesman glanced at me once or twice, but usually looked toward my mother, who he kept talking to. I think at least once he picked up the cigarette and inhaled on it briefly, then put it back down. I kept blowing on it, though, when it was in the ashtray. and eventually, finally, I put it out. My mother and the shoe salesman continued to talk for a little while, and then my mother and I left.

After we got out of the store, my mother scolded me, leaning toward me and saying in a low voice, "I'm so embarrassed! You blew out that nice man's cigarette! And after he was so nice to us!"

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