Ten-Cent Treasures

Steven Gentile’s grandfather opened Gentile’s Luncheonette in a back alley between the corners of Maple and Grove Streets in the midst of the depression. The wooden counter seated a dozen hungry patrons who wormed their way through the narrow labyrinth and beyond the screened-in wooden door. As you faced it, eight seats were located to the left-hand side of the massive cash register, four to the right. The opening between the two sections was three feet wide. Back in the day, customers, mostly truckers, constructions workers, and icemen beginning their workday at 5:00am, stood two rows deep to grab a 5-cent bacon and egg sandwich and a hot cup of coffee to go.The two things Steven Gentile remembered most in those days was the omnipresent aroma of grease, his and his mother’s unhappiness with everything about the luncheonette. Steven hated the heated discussions between his mother, father, and grandfather. When Steven’s father finally took over the reigns during the 1950’s and at last had full control over the business, he remodeled and expanded the dining area. Steven’s father toiled at the luncheonette six days a week to make ends meet. Still, the business was barely profitable.

A travelling salesman was the first customer to stop in one August morning and took one of the twelve empty seats at the counter. Despite the summer heat, he was dressed in a dark suit with starched white collar, a burgundy striped tie held close to his shirt by an engraved, worm-like tie clasp. His cufflinks were golden beetles. He looked around the empty luncheonette and then turned toward Mr. Gentile. “Coffee, make it strong, and toast, easy on the butter. Name’s Samuel Taylor. Call me Sam.” He held out a meaty right hand. Mr. Gentile wiped his hands on the towel dangling from his belt. The two men shook hands.

“Slow morning?” asked the salesman. A pale Mr. Gentile shrugged, turned his back on the man, pulled two pieces of white bread from a loaf encased in waxed paper and dropped them into the toaster. He grabbed a saucer and a mug and held them under the coffee spout and pulled the black handle forward. “I’ve got something that will help increase your prophets and help drive some traffic in here. Interested?”

Mr. Gentile placed the coffee in front of Taylor. “I’m listening.”

Sam Taylor pulled a business card from his breast pocket and threw it on the counter. Mr. Gentile didn’t reach for it, but he glanced down. There was a line drawing of a gumball machine in the center of the card. Above it he read, SAMUEL TAYLOR, below it, TEN-CENT TREASURES. “I’m in the business of selling gumball machines, sir. Not just any gumball machines, but ones that can turn a business around. You know, turn someone’s life around.” Taylor raised his coffee cup and took a sip. “Perhaps gumball machine is a misnomer, mister…?”


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