In the top drawer of my dresser, sharing space with dress socks, is a wooden cigar box that I found years ago in my parents’ attic.
Algonquin Hotel Special Edition, it says on the top; Coronas, reads the front, just below the metal clasp that holds it shut.
The Algonquin opened in 1902 (when a single room was $2 per night) and continues to operate today, under the Marriott umbrella. It is in the center of 44th Street, close to Times Square and Fifth Avenue.
I’m not certain how my parents came to possess the box. In 1939, my father’s father was a salesman for the Pepsi bottler in Auburn, Maine, Seltzer and Rydholm, when he accompanied owner Cliff Ryhdholm to the World’s Fair in New York City.
Perhaps they stayed at the Algonquin; perhaps Pepere, an avid cigarette smoker, picked up a box of Coronas on the trip. Who knows?
I do know that in the 1920s the hotel was home to the Algonquin Round Table, a daily luncheon gathering of literary figures.
“At these luncheons,” according to Wikipedia, “they engaged in wisecracks, wordplay, and witticisms that, through the newspaper columns of Round Table members, were disseminated across the country.”
The cigar box still has some newspaper connections, nestled among this, that and the other things I’ve tossed in it through the years.
I don’t remember there being any round tables in the library at Walter Williams Hall at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
I sat at long rectangular tables on the first floor, where racks of newspapers allowed out-of-state students such as me to keep up on news from back home. My paper of choice was The Boston Globe, so I could follow the fortunes of my beloved Red Sox.
Just down the street from the J-school was the Tiger Barber Shop, where older men in smocks cut other men’s hair. On a Saturday, you might hear a Mizzou football game on the radio as you settled into one of the four chairs.
Phill — yes, with two L’s — was my favorite barber. He must have been in his 50s, with a gap in his teeth as I remember them. He just looked the part of your friendly neighborhood barber.
It was unsettling to me when his son Ricky, recently separated from the Navy, started working there. He tried too hard to be folksy in the way that came so naturally to Phill. He was, shall I say, a little wooden.
The wooden nickel made its debut as a souvenir at another World’s Fair, the 1933 edition in Chicago.
I was in Chicago in 1997, when I attended a Cubs baseball game on Sept. 5 and a White Sox game on Sept. 8. I know this because I still have the ticket stubs, among a stack of them one inch high, mostly from the 1990s when attending baseball games, especially in the minor leagues, was a near obsession.
There is the stub from the last game of the Lynchburg, Va., Red Sox, in September 1994. I had driven down to see the Boston Red Sox’ top prospect, Trot Nixon, only to find out (this was pre-Internet) that Nixon had been sent home with a back injury. At least I didn’t pay for the ticket; a nice woman gave it to me as I approached the stadium.
There are ticket stubs from July 2, 1997, and July 2, 2007 — my 21st and 40th birthdays, spent at Fenway Park watching the Red Sox; for teams and even leagues that no longer exist: the Allentown Ambassadors played host to the Catskill Cougars in a Northeast League game on June 21, 1997; from Sept. 25, 1999, the final weekend of Tiger Stadium in Detroit.
But my stepdaughter, Susanna, brought the world’s smallest bottle of scotch home for me in 2004, when she and her father’s family traveled to Scotland for a family reunion.
I hadn’t opened the box for years until writing this post. The contents have evaporated, leaving me with the world’s smallest empty bottle of scotch.
That’s OK, because I don’t need to wet this whistle. You just put your lips together and blow.
On a visit to Columbus, Ohio, my family toured the American Whistle Corp., the only maker of metal whistles in the United States. The American Red Cross uses the whistles at disaster sites around the world, according to the company’s website; the NFL hands them out to referees for the Super Bowl.
Pound for pound, the pin-back button might be the greatest souvenir ever invented: inexpensive, wearable, memorable.
The box is full of buttons — for teams, political candidates, rock bands.
There are two large ones from 1995, one announcing the inaugural season of the American Hockey League’s Baltimore Bandits, one commemorating the retirement of Max Patkin, aka the Clown Prince of Baseball, at a Reading Phillies baseball game.
There are small ones: an impressionistic smiley face for my all-time favorite band, R.E.M., the front yellowed, the back rusted by the 30-plus years since I ordered it; the Ramones’ classic presidential seal logo, purchased the night Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Richie brought “Gabba Gabba Hey” to the University of Rochester; one from the night at the Blue Note in Columbia, Mo., that Ben Vaughn walked across the table tops.
Round table tops.