November 17th 2016: Overheard
The Ashtray
, by Ross Vassilev

Do you ever wonder how many ashtrays there are in the world? I sometimes do. That’s because I am one of them. I’m a Jacob Bromwell® ashtray, beautifully made of quality copper. Most ashtrays are made of glass, ceramic, metal, or plastic. But I’m an expensive-looking designer ashtray, top-of-the-line workmanship. I am one of the best—made of pure, solid copper and guaranteed not to rust, crack, peel, or break. Made to last a life-time…. I’m one of the classiest ashtrays you’ll ever see, the kind you buy as a present for Father on his birthday. As TV commercials claim, “a Jacob Bromwell® is an investment for life.” The kind you show off to friends when you want to impress them—without ever actually bringing me up in conversation. That’s why hotel guests often steal us, but many come to regret it later—when the missing ashtrays are charged to their credit cards. If there’s one thing all ashtrays have in common, it’s that we love the smell and taste of cigarettes—the smoke, the ash, the butts, the deadly carcinogens, all of it! We have to love all that—we don’t have any choice, it goes with the territory….

I’m an old ashtray in a hotel room in Dallas, Texas. It’s an old medium-sized hotel frequented mostly by traveling salesmen and other motorists who drive all over the state or across the country as part of their jobs. A few of the men bring in hookers at night, reeking of cigarettes and cheap perfume. The guests in this hotel room are mostly middle-class and very ordinary. A few single mothers check in with their kids. The only time anything interesting ever happened in here was back in the fall of 1963, just days after the management of the newly-built hotel had purchased me—along with several dozen other new ashtrays. Two middle-aged Cuban-Americans stayed for a week in my hotel room, each traveling with an ordinary-looking musical-instrument case that was actually hiding a military rifle with a powerful telescopic sight. They would sit around, watch TV, and talk in Spanish, while smoking big, fat cigars. Two English-speaking men visited them several times for long hushed conversations, mostly in English, but the only words I could clearly make out were “Playa Girón,” “Castro-enslaved Cuba,” and “that playboy bum in the White House.” The Cuban-Americans addressed the two visitors as “Lee” and “Jack.” The older one, “Jack,” seemed to be the more important one, because the other three men treated him with respect and called him “Sir.” Then, they all suddenly disappeared and I never saw them again….

Well, I guess maybe this wasn’t that “interesting” after all, but it was something different from the usual boredom here. Other than that, I’m just an old ashtray on an ordinary coffee table in an old hotel room in Dallas (some locals jokingly pronounce it “Dull-ass”). Hey, fella, what do you smoke—Kent Filter, Marlboro Lights, or Camel Wides?


Ross Vassilev was born in Sofia, Bulgaria and now lives in Ohio.

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