Sometimes a cigar is more than just a cigar.

A long time ago my dad told me a story that his dad told him about a friend. This guy’s name was Joe and he lived in Brooklyn not too far from my grandfather. I am a little fuzzy on exactly when this took place, but I think it was after WWII. Joe was laid off from his job and was looking for work. He knew a lot of people in the neighborhood, that’s the way it was back then in Brooklyn, everyone knew everyone else, and asked around if anyone knew anyone else that was hiring. Now my grandfather was friends with the president of NYU at the time, so he told Joe to go see him and mention that he was a friend of his.

Joe did not know what to expect when he walked into that office that day. Once the president heard that Joe was a friend of my grandfathers, he was receptive to hearing him out. “There are not many positions available at the university right now, but I can keep you in mind for something in the future” the president told him. Joe pleaded to him “I have no means to support my family” he said, “is there anything? I will do anything”.

The president thought about it and said told Joe the only thing he could offer him was a position as a janitor. In fact some people were moving around recently and he could arrange that Joe became the head janitor, which was worth a little bit more money. The president told Joe to simply fill out the paperwork and the job was his. At this point, Joe had to fess up and admit that he could not read or write.

This bothered the president. He told Joe that because this was a prestigious institute of higher learning, he could not allow a member of the staff that could not read or write. Of course Joe was deeply upset by that and began to get emotional. The president felt for him and gave him a gift. It is not much he said, but this could help you. The president handed Joe a box of Cuban cigars. He then told Joe about how this was a gift and he had an idea. He told Joe about a nice tobacco shop in Manhattan that he was a regular at. He then told him to take this there and mention his name and try to sell it to them, that way at least he would have some money to help hold him over until he was able to find another job.

Joe was always hopeful and did not let the rejection get him down. He took the box and went to the store as the president had instructed. When he got there, he met the manager and explained his situation. The manager wanted to help, but it was not possible. He told Joe that it was against his contract and other regulations to accept the box in exchange for money. Not that he did not trust Joe; it was just that the reputation of the store was on the line if the cigars were bad. He gave Joe a great piece of advice though; he told him that the box was worth $25 in the store. He then told him that if he took that box and set himself up on a street corner down in the financial district and sell them one at a time for $2 apiece. Between all of the stock brokers and lawyers down there, the manager figured Joe would do well to make some extra money.

Joe got up bright and early the next day to give it a shot. To his surprise, he sold out before lunchtime. Joe had 2 options at this point, he could take the money he made and use it to help support his family and look for a new job, or he could reinvest it into another box of cigars and see what would become. It was a nice day out, so he decided to buy another box from the shop that helped him out. It seemed to be successful, because he was able to sell that box also.

Joe was onto something and continued to do this every day no matter how bad the weather was. Each day he gave what was left to his wife and told her to buy the essentials and pay the bills; then put what is left into a bank account. This practice went on for years, growing more and more successful each day. Soon, there was a great word of mouth and people expected Joe to be on his corner selling his cigars.

Eventually Joe began to get tired of all the work each day and he and his wife had talked about moving to Long Island and buying a house, but he was concerned there would be no way he would be approved for a mortgage. At that point his wife reminded him that she had opened a bank account with the leftover money from each day. He excitedly went down to the bank to see a mortgage officer. During the discussion, Joe mentioned that he had an account there and gave the number. The officer looked up the account and to his amazement; there was over $50,000 in the account. In shock, he asked Joe how he had accumulated that much of a savings. Joe then told him the story.

The mortgage officer could do nothing but grant the loan to Joe based simply on his savings account and the story. He told Joe all you have to do is fill out this paperwork and you will be on the way. At that point Joe had to tell him that he could not read or write. The officer looked at him with even more amazement. He said, “you were able to do this without even being able to read or write!?! Can you imagine where you would be in life if you had those skills?”

Joe simply replied “yeah, I would be the head janitor at NYU.”

Although I was told that story by my dad, it was not about a friend of my grandfather. In fact, he heard it at a seminar, but I do not recall who told it and I assume it was not true, although in NY anything is possible. If any of you know the origin, I would love to find out who started it and if it was indeed a true story. I apologize if I messed up some of the details, it was told to me a very long time ago and I am writing from memory.