I’ve collected matchbooks for almost 30 years. That seems like I’m giving away my age, so let’s just pretend I started collecting matches on the day I was born. They’re scarce these days, but I still find one here and there. My collection has been stuffed in a plastic tote for so long; I decided to bring them to life with short stories based on whatever the matchbook inspires.
Jimmy Fazio’s Supper Club: Food is Our Hobby
I’m starting with a fabulous fifties matchbook from Jimmy Fazio’s Supper Club in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Opened in 1951, this high-class joint featured acts like Les Paul, Patti Page, and Rosemary Clooney. You could enjoy a delicious prime filet mignon for $3.90. Wow! Expensive for the ‘50s.
In 1955, there was a death at the club, ruled an accidental fall down the stairs. Hmm…seems suspicious. Shortly after, the highway department bought Fazio’s land for $220,000 and the supper club was flattened to make way for highway improvements. Sad, I know. Jimmy Fazio moved on up (well down actually) to the nightlife in South Florida and continued his family restaurateur tradition until his death in 1998.
And there you have it; the history behind the matchbook, Source: Milwaukee Journal, 1972. I like this matchbook so much, I’ve decided to use it as a logo for my series. Now, I’m going to Strike a Prose! in 391 words.
The Cigarillo Man
The silence between them siphoned the air out of the cramped supper club men’s room. Johnny could almost feel the tightening in his throat. He swallowed hard to keep from gagging.
The man’s cigarillo glowed amber as he casually inhaled a deep, caustic hit and exhaled in what looked like slow motion. He feigned indifference but oozed brutality. Johnny had heard the rumors. He was a man to fear.
Tossing the butt on the terrazzo floor, he narrowed his eyes at Johnny as he snuffed out the last ember with his unexpectedly small foot. “You gotta lot a nerve, boy!”
“Yes, sir. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for it to go that far. It got out of hand,” Johnny replied, his voice a mousy squeak. He felt terrified, and he couldn’t hide it.
The man slithered in close to Johnny with the speed of a snake, their noses just a centimeter from touching. He could smell the man’s smoky, sour breath, wanted to turn away, but stood his ground.
“How do you plan to fix it?” the man asked.
“I uh…,” Johnny stammered, “I’m not so sure. I um…”
“You’re not sure? That’s a pathetic answer, boy,” the man bellowed. “You’ve disgraced me. Now you gotta make it right. So tell me your plan.”
He poked Johnny’s scrawny chest with his index finger, caused him to fall back against the wet sink. Johnny could feel the water droplets soak into his best pair of pants and worried a little that they weren’t from the sink.
Johnny blurted, “I’m gonna marry her, sir, Mr. Fazio!”
Mr. Fazio stepped back and scrutinized Johnny’s face, tried to read his true intentions. Waited him out.
“I’m gonna ask Marlene to marry me. I want us to be a family,” Johnny added and barred his teeth in what looked like a petrified smile.
With a shake of his head and a gentle pat on Johnny’s chest, Mr. Fazio said, “We’re going to be just fine, son. Now get back to busin’ those tables.”
A smidgen of his pride still intact, Johnny made a quick break for the dining room. Mr. Fazio pulled out matches and a cigarillo as he moseyed out of the men’s room, a grin on his face, and went back to schmoozing with his high roller customers, as if nothing had changed.