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Great Moments: A Gift of Champions

Bill Livingston
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

Oh, it is most certainly a cigar store and nothing more. You have to believe that, or none of it makes sense. You have to see how ordinary it is to understand the extraordinary thing that happened there. You have to meet the firemen and the salesmen and the sports fans who frequent the store to understand the love and kindness of what they did.

Racks and racks of cigars bask in the glow from the overhead lamps in Dad's Smoke Shop on the west side of Cleveland. Hondurans, Dominicans and Costa Ricans line the cases that stretch along both walls of the small store, a division of Cousin's Cigar Co.

Kevin O'Keefe's personal favorite is an Arturo Fuente Double Chateau Maduro. On Thursday night, when the store stays open till 8 o'clock, which is about the time O'Keefe and his friends drift in to replenish the necessities for their card game, the ceiling fan is virtually powerless against the clouds of smoke.

Chris Mahall, one of Kevin's friends, fires up a Costa Rican Bahia Gold, and then Kevin's oldest buddy, George Harouvis, takes the double guillotine cigar cutter by the cash register and snips the end of a Honduran Hoyo de Monterrey.

George and Kevin played football together in grade school, then were rivals in Cleveland's western suburbs and later in the Big Ten, where George played for Northwestern and Kevin for Michigan State. All of these guys have a history, but theirs is the longest of all.

"It's Floyd's barber shop on 'The Andy Griffith Show,' except they sell cigars instead of haircuts," says Seamus Sweeney, one of the regulars at Dad's. "Everybody knows everybody. When Chris Joyce [the manager] gets overwhelmed at a busy time, the guys help him out by showing the customers the stock."

Chris Mahall is doing that right now.

They are just regular guys, household names in their own households--well, except for John Thompson. You've seen Thompson, a huge man, behind a rubber dog mask, waving a dog bone and cheering the Cleveland Browns on. He is the "Big Dawg" of the team's "Dawg Pound," and now that Cleveland has a National Football League team again, he'll be there, a presence too damn big to miss.

What makes Dad's different from a thousand other cigar stores is that, if you spend enough time there, you can get a look at something very special. Last Christmas, the regulars gave their pal O'Keefe the rarest thing in the world to him. If it wasn't the gift of the magi, it was as close as anyone gets in these times.

Nobody even remembers who found out what had happened to O'Keefe at Michigan State, or when. If you ask Seamus, he'll point to another guy, and that guy will point to another guy, and pretty soon everybody is making like weather vanes with a storm front moving in.

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