Smoke (1995) | Transcript

A Brooklyn smoke shop is the center of neighborhood activity, and the stories of its customers.
Smoke (1995)

The plot of this movie, like smoke, drifts and swirls ethereally. Characters and subplots are deftly woven into a tapestry of stories and pictures which only slowly emerges to our view. This movie tries to convince us that reality doesn’t matter so much as aesthetic satisfaction. In Auggie Wren’s (Harvey Keitel’s) New York City smoke shop, day by day passes, seemingly unchanging until he teaches us to notice the little details of life. Paul Benjamin (William Hurt), a disheartened and broken writer, has a brush with death that is pivotal and sets up an unlikely series of events that afford him a novel glimpse into the life on the street which he saw, but did not truly perceive, every day. Finally, it’s Auggie’s turn to spin a tale.

* * *

(Playground sounds)

(Train clanking on tracks)

(Rhythmic drumming)

(Background chatter to drumming)

(Radio commentary: Baseball game)

‘…against the Cincinnati Reds here at Shea Stadium.

‘One pitch and he smokes it into left field!’

I’m gonna tell you why they’re not going anywhere.


Those guys are walking around with their heads up their asses.

They made some good trades Carter, Hernandez.

That was four years ago. I am talking about now.

Look who they got rid of. McDowell, Mitchell, Backman, Aguilera, Dykstra.

Mookie, Mookie! Mookie Wilson, for Christ’s sake.

Don’t forget Nolan Ryan.

Yeah, don’t forget Amos Otis.

Amos Otis!

The team was good.

The best team in baseball and they had to go screw it up.

(Bell tinkles)

(He)’. Auggie. How’s it going?

Hey, man. Good to see you. What can I do for you?

Two tins of Schimmelpennincks.

Throw in a lighter while you’re at it.

The boys and me were having a philosophical discussion about women and cigars.

Yeah, well, I suppose that all goes back to Queen Elizabeth.

The Queen of England?

Yeah. Not Elizabeth ll, Elizabeth I.

Ever hear of Sir Walter Raleigh?

Yeah. He threw his cloak down over that puddle.

I used to smoke Raleigh cigarettes.

They came with a free gift coupon.

That’s the man.

Raleigh was the person who introduced tobacco in England.

And since he was a favourite of the Queen – Queen Bess, he used to call her – smoking caught on as a fashion at court.

I’m sure old Bess must have shared a stogie or two with Sir Walter.

Once, he made a bet with her that he could measure the weight of smoke.

(Customer) You mean, weigh smoke?

Exactly. Weigh smoke.

(Customer) You can’t do that. It’s like weighing air.

I admit it’s strange. It’s almost like weighing someone’s soul.

Sir Walter was a clever guy. First he took an unsmoked cigar and he put it on a balance and weighed it.

Then he lit up. He smoked the cigar, carefully tapping the ashes into the balance pan.

When he was finished, he put the butt into the pan along with the ashes and weighed what was there.

Then he subtracted that number from the original weight of the unsmoked cigar.

The difference was the weight of the smoke.

(A match flares alight)

He’s a writer. Lives in the neighbourhood.

What kind of writer is he? An underwriter?

Very funny.

The cracks you make, Tommy, I think you should see a doctor.

You know, go in for some wit therapy, clean out the valves in your brain.

Just a joke, Auggie.

(Bell tinkles)

He’s a novelist.

Paul Benjamin. Ever hear of him?

That’s a stupid question.

The only things you guys ever read are the racing forms and sports pages.

He’s published three or four books.

Nothing now for the past few years.

He run out of ideas or something?

He ran out of luck.

Remember the hold-up here on Seventh Avenue a few years back?

The bank? There were bullets flying.

Four people got killed and one of them was Paul’s wife.

The poor lug. He’s never been the same since.

She stopped in here just before it happened to stock up on cigars for him.

She was a nice lady, four or five months pregnant at the time.

So when she got killed, the baby got killed, too.

Bad day at Black Rock, Auggie.

It was bad, all right.

Sometimes I think that if she hadn’t given me exact change that day, or if the store had been more crowded, maybe it would’ve taken a bit longer to get out of here and she wouldn’t have stepped in front of that bullet.

She’d still be alive. The baby would’ve been born.

Hey! What are you doing there, kid? Cut it out!

(Blast of music from car)


(Horn blasts)

You better watch out, man. You’ll get yourself killed like that.

(Paul) It’s a law of the universe.

You have to let me do something for you to put the scales in balance.

It’s OK. If I think of something I’ll send my butler over to tell you.

Please. Let me at least buy you a cup of coffee.

I don’t drink coffee.

On the other hand, since you insist… if you offered me a cold lemonade I wouldn’t say no.


My name is Paul.

I’m Rashid. Rashid Cole.

If someone was to offer you a place to stay, you wouldn’t refuse, would you?

People don’t do that kind of thing, not in New York.

I’m not people. I’m just me and I do whatever I goddamn want to do. Got it?

Thanks. I’ll manage.

In case you’re wondering, I like women, not boys.

I’m not offering you a long-term lease.

I’m just offering you a place to crash for a couple of nights.

I can take care of myself, don’t worry.

Suit yourself.

In case you change your mind…



Do you happen to have a pen I can borrow?

I need it back.

In case you change your mind, here’s my address.

You never take anything serious, do you?

I try not to. It’s better for your health.

Vincent, you’re the guy with the wife, three kids, the house on Long Island.

You’re the guy with white shoes and a white Caddy and a white shag carpet.

But you’ve had two heart attacks and I’m still waiting for my first.

I should stop smoking these.

Fuckers are gonna kill me one of these days.

Enjoy yourself while you can, Vin.

They’re gonna legislate us out of business.

Yeah. They catch you smoking tobacco, they’ll line you up against the wall and shoot you.

Tobacco today, sex tomorrow.

In a few years, it’ll be against the law to smile at strangers.

You still going ahead with that deal on the Montecristos?

Yeah. My guy in Miami said he’d have them in the next few weeks.

You don’t want to go in with me?

$5,000 outlay, a guaranteed $10,000 return.

A consortium of lawyers and judges drooling to get some Cuban cigars.

I don’t care what you do. Just don’t get caught.

It’s still illegal to sell Cuban cigars in this country.

It’s the law that’s buying. That’s the beautiful thing about it.

When’s the last time you heard of a judge sending himself to jail?

Just don’t keep the boxes here too long.

They come in, they go out.

I gotta go. Terry will bust my chops if I’m late.

See you in September, Auggie.

OK, my man.

Are you closed?

Run out of Schimmelpennincks?

Could I buy a couple before you leave?

No problem.

It’s not as though I’m rushing off to the opera or anything.

(Paul clears his throat)

Looks like someone forgot a camera.

Yeah. I did.

It’s yours?

It’s mine, all right.

I’ve owned that sucker for a long time.

I didn’t know you took pictures.

I guess you could call it a hobby.

It only takes me five minutes a day but I do it every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow.

Sort of like the postman.

So you’re not just some guy who pushes coins across the counter.

Well, that’s what people see.

That ain’t necessarily what I am.

They’re all the same.

That’s right. More than 4,000 pictures of the same place, the corner of Third Street and Seventh Avenue at 8 a.m. 4,000 straight days in all kinds of weather.

I can never take a vacation. I gotta be in my spot every morning.

Every morning in the same spot, at the same time.

I’ve never seen anything like this.

It’s my project, what you’d call my life’s work.

It’s amazing.

I’m not sure I get it, though.

What was it that gave you the idea to do this project?

I don’t know. It just came to me.

It’s my corner, after all.

It’s just one little part of the world but things take place there too, just like everywhere else.

It’s a record of my little spot.

It’s kind of overwhelming.

(Slow piano music)

(Paul chuckles)

You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down, my friend.

What do you mean?

I mean, you’re going too fast. You’re hardly even looking at the pictures.

But they’re all the same.

They’re all the same but each one is different from every other one.

You got your bright mornings and dark mornings, summer light and autumn light.

You got your weekdays and weekends.

You got people in coats and galoshes, you got people in T-shirts and shorts.

Sometimes the same people, sometimes different ones.

The different ones become the same and the same ones disappear.

The Earth revolves around the Sun.

Every day the light from the Sun hits the Earth at a different angle.

Slow down, huh?

That’s what I recommend. You know how it is.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Time creeps on its petty pace.

(Piano playing continues)



It’s Ellen.

Yeah. That’s her, all right.

She’s in quite a few from that year.

Must have been on her way to work.

That’s Ellen.

Look at her.

Look at my sweet darling.

(Starts to sob)

(Door buzzer)

(Buzzes again)




Who is it?



‘Rashid Cole. The lemonade kid, remember?’

Yeah, come on up.

Come on in.

I didn’t expect to see you again.

Same here.

But I had a long talk with my accountant this afternoon to see how a move like this would affect my tax picture.

He said it would be OK.

Time to wake up.


Up and out. I’ve got to work. Slumber party’s over.

What time is it?

It’s 8.30.

It’s 8.30?

You’ll find juice, eggs and milk in the refrigerator. Cereal’s in the cupboard.

Coffee’s hot, take what you want, but I gotta get to work. OK?

(Tap of typewriter keys)


You make a lot of noise. I’m trying to work.

Sorry. They slipped out of my hands.

A little less clumsiness would be nice.

How long have you been here?

Two nights.

And how long did I tell you you could stay?

A couple of nights.

It looks like our time is up, then, doesn’t it?

Sorry I messed up.

You’ve been very kind to me but all good things must come to an end.

No hard feelings, OK?

This is a small apartment and I can’t get my work done with you around.

You don’t have to apologise.

The coast is probably clear now.

Are you gonna be all right?

Absolutely. The world is my oyster, whatever that means.

Do you need money? Extra clothes?

Not a penny, not a stitch. I’m cool, man.

Take care of yourself, OK?

You too. Make sure the light is green before you cross the street.

By the way… I liked your book.

I think you’re a hell of a good writer.

(Tap of typewriter keys)

(Knock at door)

(Urgent knocking)

Paul Benjamin?

Can I help you?

I just want to know what your game is, mister, that’s all.

How did you get into this building?

I pushed the door and walked in. What do you think?

The lock is broken again.

So you barge in on strangers? Is that what you do?

I’m looking for my nephew Thomas.

Who’s Thomas?

I know he’s been here. You can’t fool me.

I don’t know anyone named Thomas.

Thomas Cole. Thomas Jefferson Cole. My nephew.

You mean Rashid?

Rashid? Is that what he told you his name was?

Well, whatever his name is, he’s not here any more.

He left a couple of days ago.

Why was he here in the first place?

Why are you messing around with a black boy? Are you a pervert?

Look, lady, that is enough.

If you don’t calm down I’m gonna throw you out of here.

I just want to know where he is.

As far as I know, he went back to his parents.

His parents? Is that what he told you?

He said he lived with his mother and father on East 74th Street.

I knew he had an imagination. Now he’s made up a whole new life for himself.

Oh, Jesus.

Do you mind if I sit down?

He’s been living with me and his Uncle Henry since he was a baby.

And we don’t live in Manhattan.

We live in Boerum Hill in the projects.

He doesn’t go to the Trinity School?

He goes to John Jay High School in Brooklyn.

And his parents?

His mother’s dead and he hasn’t seen his father in 12 years.

I shouldn’t have let him go.

Did anything happen recently, unexpected? Anything unusual?

There is one thing but I don’t think it has anything to do with this.

A friend of mine called two weeks ago.

She’d spotted Thomas’s father working at a gas station outside of Peekskill.

And you told your nephew about that.

I figured he had a right to know.


And nothing. Thomas looked at me and said, “I don’t have a father. As far as I’m concerned, the son of a bitch is dead.”


You gonna sit here all day?

I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.

Why don’t you find another spot?

It gives a man the creeps to be stared at all morning.

It’s a free country, isn’t it?

As long as I’m not trespassing on your property, I can sit here for ever.

Let me give you some very useful information, kid.

There’s $2.57 in the cash register over there.

Considering how long you’ve been casing the joint, I’d say that’s about 50 cents an hour for your pains.

Any way you slice it, it’s a losing proposition. OK?

I’m not trying to rob you, mister. Do I look like a thief to you?

I don’t know what you look like.

You kind of sprouted up like a mushroom last night.

You from this town or going from here to there?

I’m just passing through.

You’re just passing through.

Lonesome traveller, just plopped your knapsack down, sit across from my garage just to admire the view.

There are a lot better places to roam, kid.

You know? You don’t want to make a nuisance of yourself, right?

I was working on a sketch.

That garage of yours is so run down, it’s kind of interesting.

Yeah. It’s run down.

You drawing a picture of it ain’t gonna improve it.

Let me see what you got.

It’ll cost you five bucks.

Five bucks just to look at your picture?

Once you look at it you’re gonna want to buy it. That’s guaranteed.

It costs five bucks.

If you’re not willing to buy it, you might as well not look.

Once you look at it, it’ll just tear you up and make you miserable.

Son of a bitch. You’re some piece of work, man.

I just tell it like it is, mister.

If I’m getting on your nerves, you might want to hire me.

Are those eyes in your head?

Or are those two brown spots bulging out of the sockets just marbles?

You’ve been here all day.

How many people have you seen come in for gas?

Not a one.

Not a one.

Not a one. Not one customer.


I bought this piece of land, this piece-of-shit place, three weeks ago.

If it don’t pick up business, I’m going broke.

So what the fuck do I want to be hiring somebody for?

I can’t even pay my own wages.

It was just a thought.

Keep your fuckin’ thoughts to yourself.

Keep your hands to yourself.


Auggie, I think there’s a customer.

Hello, Auggie.

It’s really you, isn’t it, Auggie?

Christ, Ruby, it’s been so long.

I figured you were dead.

18 and a half years.

Is that all?

I thought it was about 300.

You’re looking good, Auggie.

No, I’m not. I look like shit.

And so do you, Ruby. You look just awful.

What’s with that patch, anyway?

What did you do with that old blue marble?

Hock it for a bottle of gin?

I don’t really want to talk about it.

If you really want to know, I lost it.

I’m not sorry I did.

It was cursed. Never gave me nothing but grief.

You think it’s better to go around dressed up like Captain Hook?

You always were a son of a bitch.

A little weasel with a fast, dirty mouth.

I stayed true to myself, which is more than I can say about some people.

Look. I came here to talk to you about something.

The least you can do is listen to what I have to say. You owe me that much.

I drove from Pittsburgh. I ain’t leaving till you’ve heard me out.

Fine. Talk away, lady of my dreams. I’m all ears.

I think this is between you and I. Maybe we can have some privacy.

You heard her, pipsqueak.

The lady and I have private business to discuss.

Wait outside.

If anyone tries to come in, tell them we’re closed. You got it?

Yeah, I got it.

The store’s closed.

When do I tell them it’s open?

When I tell you it’s open. It’s open when I tell you it’s open.


I got it. You don’t have to yell.

All right, sugar, what’s on your mind?

Stop staring at me like that. It gives me the creeps.

Like what?

Like that.

The way you’re staring at me. I’m not gonna eat you up.

I need your help. If you keep staring at me I might start screaming.

Help? I don’t suppose this help has anything to do with money, has it?

You jump to conclusions. I haven’t even opened my mouth yet.

Besides, it isn’t for me.

It’s for our daughter.

Our… daughter?

Is that what you said? Our daughter?

I mean, you might have a daughter but I sure as hell don’t.

Even if I did, which I don’t, she wouldn’t be our daughter.

Her name is Felicity.

She just turned 18.

She ran away from Pittsburgh about a year ago.

She’s living here in Brooklyn with some guy called Chico in some shithole.

She’s strung out on crack.

And she’s four months pregnant.

I can’t bear to think about that child.

It’s our grandchild. Our grandchild.

Stop it already. Stop all this crap right now.

Was it your idea to call her Felicity?

It means happiness.

I know what it means. That still don’t make it a good name.

I don’t know who else to turn to.

You’ve suckered me before, sweetheart.

Why should I believe you now?

Why should I lie to you?

You think it’s easy coming in here, talking to you, in this place?

Why would I do that if I didn’t have to?

That’s what you said when I shoplifted that necklace for you. Remember?

The judge gave me a choice, either enlist or go to the can.

So I wind up in the navy for four years instead of going to college.

I watch men lose their arms and legs. I almost get my head blown off.

And you, sweet Ruby McNutt, you run off and marry that asshole, Bill.

You didn’t write to me for over a year. What was I supposed to think?

Well, I lost my pen.

By the time I got a new one, I was clean out of paper.

It was all over with Bill before you came home.

You may not remember it now but you were pretty hot to see me back then.

You weren’t so lukewarm yourself.

At least at first.

It fizzled, baby. That’s the way it goes.

We had our good times. It wasn’t all bad.

A couple of moments, I’ll grant you that.

That’s how Felicity came into the picture.

One of those two seconds.

You’re conning me, sweetheart. I ain’t responsible for no baby.

I thought I could handle it.

I didn’t want to bug you. I thought I could handle it on my own.

And I couldn’t.

She’s in it real bad, Auggie.

(Raised voices outside)

Nice try, old girl. I’d like to help you.

You know, for old times’ sake.

But I really can’t right now.

All my spare cash is tied up in a business venture.

I haven’t collected on my profits yet.

You caught me at the wrong time.

You really are a cold-hearted bastard.

How’d you get to be so mean?

I know. You think I’m lying to you. But I’m not. Every word is the truth.

Hey, the store’s closed. Did you hear what the kid said?

Your sign says you’re open till six.

The goddamn store’s closed!

Ma vaffanculo!

Get out, you fat fuck.

Tell you what.

If you want to work, I’ll give you a job.

See that upstairs room, the one above the office?

It’s a mess.

It looks like they’ve been throwing junk in there for 20 years.

It needs to be cleaned up.

What you offering?

Five bucks an hour. That’s the going rate, right?

It’s about a quarter past two now. My wife’s gonna pick me up about 5.30.

That gives you about three hours. If you can’t finish today, finish tomorrow.

Is there a benefits package or are you hiring me on a freelance basis?


You know, health insurance, dental plan, paid vacation.

It’s not fun being exploited.

Workers have to stand up for their rights.


No, I think we’re gonna work on a strictly freelance basis here.

Five dollars an hour?


All right, I’ll take it.

Cyrus Cole.

I’m Paul.

Paul Benjamin.

Let’s take a pause, kid.

All right.



I don’t mean to be nosy, but I was wondering what happened to your arm.

It’s an ugly piece of hardware, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you what happened to me. I’ll tell you what happened.

Twelve years ago, God looked down on me.

He said, “Cyrus…”

“you’re a bad, stupid, selfish man.”

“First, I’m gonna fill your body with spirits.”

“Then I’m gonna put you behind the wheel of a car.”

“Then I’m gonna have you crash that car,

“kill the woman that loves you”.

“But you, Cyrus, I’m gonna let you live.”

“Because living’s a lot worse than dying, kid.”

“But just to make sure that you don’t forget…”

“what you did to that poor girl…”

“I’m gonna rip off your arm and replace it with a hook.”

Now, he could have ripped off both my arms and both my legs.

But, no, he was merciful.

He just ripped 0ff… my left arm.

So every time I look at this hook… I can remember… what a bad, stupid, selfish man I am.

Let that be a lesson to you, Cyrus.

A lesson so you can mend your ways. A warning.

So, have you mended your ways?

L try-

(Every d8)’-



How you doing? All right?

If I have to wash one more old lady’s hair my fingers are gonna fall off.

That’s good. It means you’re busy.

It’s kind of sleepy over here.

It’s early days yet.

Look who’s here.

(Cyrus growls playfully)

Let’s come out and see.

How you doing?

OK, let’s go.

(Car engine starts up)


It’s you.

I just wanted to give you this as a token of my appreciation.

Appreciation for what?

I don’t know. For helping me out.

Where did you get that thing?

I bought it.

29.95 on sale, Goldbaum’s TV and Radio.

Well, I guess that just about does it.

Now you’ll be able to watch the games as a break from your work.

Where do you think you’re going?

I’m meeting my accountant.

Cut it out, will you? Just cut it out.

Come back here.

I don’t really have time.

Close the door.

Sit in this chair.

Now listen carefully.

Your Aunt Em came by a couple of days ago.

She was sick with worry. She was out of her mind.

We had an interesting talk aboutyouu.


You understand what I’m saying?

Your Aunt Em thinks you’re in trouble.

And so do I.

Tell me about it, kid. I want to hear all about it right now.

You don’t want to know.

I don’t? What makes you an authority on what I want and don’t want?





It’s all so stupid.

There’s this guy, Charles Clemm, the Creeper.

That’s what people call him.

The kind of guy you don’t want to cross paths with.

I crossed paths with him.

So I’m staying clear of my neighbourhood.

Is this to do with whatever it was you weren’t supposed to see?


I was walking by.

The Creeper and this other guy run out of the cheque-cashing place wearing masks and carrying guns.

They just about run smack into me.

The Creeper recognises me and I know he knows that I recognise him.

If the guy from the cheque-cashing place hadn’t run out screaming, the Creeper would have shot me right there on the sidewalk.

But the noise distracted him.

When he turned around, I took off.

One more second and I would’ve been dead.

Why don’t you go to the police?

The man has friends.

They’re not likely to forgive me if I testify against him.

Why do you think you’re safer here? It’s only a mile from where you live.

It’s not that far away but it’s another galaxy.

Black is black and white is white and never the twain shall meet.

Well, it looks like they’ve met in this apartment.

Let’s not get too idealistic.

(Laughs) Fair enough. I wouldn’t want to get carried away.


Call your Aunt Em and tell her you’re still alive.

(TV: Baseball commentary)

‘It’s hard to watch him swing a bat ‘without thinking of that pitch that broke one of his fingers a few years ago.’

(TV crackles commentary distorted)

(I LOUIS PRIMA: “Brooklyn Boogie”)

Get in. I got something to show you.

You don’t give up, do you?

I’m not asking you to do anything, just come with me.

Where to?

Don’t ask questions. Get in the car!

I told her she was gonna meet her father.

You what?

Otherwise she wasn’t gonna see me.

I think you’d better stop the car.

No, no. Just relax. Please? Relax.

You just gotta go in there and pretend a little bit.

It wouldn’t kill you to do me a favour.

Besides, you might learn something.

Like what?

Like I wasn’t bullshitting you. Like I was telling you the truth.

I’m not saying you don’t have a daughter.

But she’s not my daughter.

Wait till you see her, Auggie.

What’s that supposed to mean?

She looks just like you.

Cut it out.

I gotta tell you something…

Just cut it out.

When I told her she was gonna meet her father, she melted.

She hasn’t spoken nice to me since she left home.

She’s dying to see you, Auggie.

Nice neighbourhood, full of happy, prosperous people.

Honey? Felicity?

(Knocks on door)

(Voices on stairs)


Well, what?

Aren’t you gonna say anything?

What do you want me to say?

I don’t know.

“Hello, Mom, hello, Dad.” Something like that.

I ain’t got no Daddy. I got born when some dog fucked you up the ass.

Jesus Christ. This is all I need.

You said that you wanted to see him.

Well, here he is.

I might have said that.

Chico told me to check him out, see if there might be some dough for us.

I’ve seen him now and I’m not too impressed.

Are you rich, mister?

Yeah, I’m a millionaire.

I walk around in disguise because I’m ashamed of all my money.

Sweetie, come on. Please be nice.

Get away from me!

We’re trying to help you!

I’ve got a man, which is more than you can say for yourself, Hawkeye.

Hey, don’t talk to your mother like that.

Are you telling me you actually slept with this guy?

Are you telling me you actually let him fuck you?

You can do what you want with your own life.

We’re here for that baby.

Why don’t you get yourself cleaned up for the baby before it’s too late?

What baby?

Your baby. The baby inside your body.

There ain’t no baby. There’s nothing in there.

(Wailing sirens outside)

What are you talking about?

An abortion, stupid. I had an abortion the day before yesterday.

There’s no baby. You don’t have to bug me about that shit any more.

(Bye-bye, bah)

Come on. Let’s get out of here.

Yeah, you’d better go.

Chico will be back in a minute.

I don’t think your boyfriend wants to mess with Chico.

Chico’s a real man, not some scuzzy dickhead you picked out of last month’s garbage, you hear?

He’ll chop Mister Dad here into little pieces.

That’s a promise.

He’ll kick the living shit out of him.

Listen carefully.

About 25 years ago, there was a young man who went skiing alone in the Alps.

There was an avalanche.

The snow swallowed him up and his body was never recovered.

The end.

No, no, not the end. The beginning.

His son… was just a little boy at the time.

But the years passed

and he grew up to be a skier, too.

And one day last winter, he went out alone for a run down the mountain.

He gets about halfway to the bottom and he stops to eat his lunch beside a big rock.

Just as he’s unwrapping his cheese sandwich, he looks down and sees a body right there at his feet, frozen in the ice.

He bends down to take a closer look.

Suddenly he feels that he’s looking in the mirror, that he’s looking at himself. There he is, dead.

The body is perfectly intact, frozen in a block of ice like someone preserved in suspended animation.

He gets down on all fours, looks right into the dead man’s face.

And he realises he’s looking at his father.

And the strange thing is that the father is younger than the son is now.

The boy has become a man.

And it turns out that he’s older than his own father.

What are you gonna do today?

I don’t know. Read, think.

Do some drawings if I get in the mood.

But tonight I’m gonna celebrate. That’s definite.

Celebrate what?

It’s my birthday.

I’m 17 years old as of 47 minutes ago.

I think I should celebrate making it this far.

Hey, hey. Happy birthday.

Oh, dear.

I thought I recognised you. You’re Paul Benjamin, the writer, aren’t you?

I confess.

I keep waiting for the next novel to come out.

Anything in the works?

Well, I…

It’s coming along. He’ll have a story finished by the end of the summer.

(April) Wonderful.

I’m sorry that this is at the last minute.

Mr Benjamin and I are attending a celebration tonight.

We would be most pleased if you chose to accompany us.

Isn’t that right, Mr Benjamin?

Yes. We would be honoured.

What’s the occasion?

It’s my birthday.

And how many people will be attending this birthday party?

I wouldn’t call it a party.

It’s more a dinner in celebration of my birthday.

The guest list is quite restricted so far.

There’s Mr Benjamin and myself.

If you accept that will make three of us.

A cosy dinner. Aren’t threesomes a little awkward?

What’s the phrase? Three’s a crowd.

I’m aware of that.

I have to keep an eye on Mr Benjamin wherever he goes, make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.

Are you his chaperone?

Actually… I’m his father.

Most people assume that I’m his father, seeing as how I’m older than he is.

But the fact is that the reverse is true.

He’s my father and… I’m his son.

(I TOM WAITS: “Downtown Train”)

I Nothing will ever capture your heart.


Hey, man.

This is April Lee. April Lee, say hello to Auggie Wren.

Howdy, Miss April.

I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.

And this here, pretty little lady, is Miss Violet Sanchez de Jalapeno!

The hottest chilli pepper this side of the Rio Grande.

Ain’t that so, baby?

That’s right, Augusto. You not so cold neither, baby!

I love this guy!

What are you doing in a dive like this?

It’s Rashid’s birthday and we decided to whoop it up.

How old, kid?



I remember…

When I was seventeen…


When I was seventeen, I was a whacked-out little son of a bitch.

Is that you, son? Are you a whacked-out, crazy kid?

Definitely. That’s exactly right.

Good. Keep it up. Maybe you’ll grow up to be a great man like me.

Yes, yes, yes!

He’s a great man, he is.


Auggie, do you need any help in the store, some summer help?

Help? What did you have in mind?

I’ve been thinking about the kid. I’m sure he’d do a good job for you.

Hey, kid. Are you interested in a job?

Your employment agency says you’re looking for a position in retail sales.

Ajob. I definitely would not turn down a job.

Come to the cigar store tomorrow morning at ten and we’ll talk about it.

Ten o’clock tomorrow. I’ll be there.

Let’s go.

I owe you one. I won’t forget.


It’s 1942, right?

He’s in Leningrad during the siege, one of the worst moments in history.

500,000 people died in that one place.

And there’s Bakhtin, holed up in an apartment, expecting to die any day.

He has plenty of tobacco but no paper.

He takes the pages of a manuscript he’s been working on for ten years and tears them up to roll his cigarettes.

His only copy?

His only copy.

You think you’re gonna die, what do you want?

A good book or a good smoke?

So he huffed and he puffed and little by little he smoked his book.

Nice try. You had me going, but no.

No writer would do a thing like that. Would he?

You don’t believe me?

All right. I’ll show you. It’s all in this book.

What is this?

I don’t know.

Is this yours?

Yeah, it might be.


So you’re saying that it wasn’t like that at all.

Not exactly. There was more to it than I told you.

You didn’t just see it. They dropped the package on the ground and you picked it up?

I picked it up.

And started to run?

And started to run.

Good thinking.

That’s just it. I wasn’t thinking. I just… l just did it.

You’ve got a hell of a knack for getting into trouble.

How much is in there?



$5,814, to be exact.

So, you robbed the robbers and now the robbers are after you.

That’s it in a nutshell.

Yeah, well, you have got to be crazy to do what you did.

You should take that money back to the Creeper and tell him you’re sorry.

No way. This is my money now.

It’s no use if the Creeper finds you.

This money is my whole future.

With an attitude like that you’re not going to have a future.

Seventeen is a hell of an age to die.

Is that what you want?


News report)

(Auggie sings to himself)

I’ll be back in about an hour.

Keep your eye on the register.

Sure thing. See you later.

…but the intent is clear. The main thing, said the President, is to stop the oil ‘from coming out of there and that’s what we’ll do.

‘That’s what the Saudis have also decided to do.

‘The Saudi decision to turn away Iraqi tankers is the key to this stalemate.

‘It is a decision the Saudis…’

(J Radio on Music)

(Water trickles)

(I Music masks trickling)

Jesus God, save me.

(Shop bell)

It may be illegal but I don’t see what the problem is if there’s no victim.

This is like going to a speakeasy during Prohibition.

Forbidden pleasures.

Any business?

A little, not much.

Step this way, gentlemen. Let’s retire to my office.

What the fuck is going on here?

Look! The goddamn place is flooded!

Holy fucking shit.

(Quiet music plays)

The kid’s sorry, Auggie.


Well, I’m sorry, too.

It took me three years to save up those 5,000 bucks and now I’m broke.

I can’t hardly pay for this beer.

Not to speak of having my credibility destroyed.

Do you understand?

My credibility.

So yeah, I’m sorry, too.

I’m sorry as I’ve ever been in my whole fuckin’ life.

The kid’s got something to tell you, Auggie.

If he’s got something to say, why don’t he tell me himself?

It’s for you.

For me?

What am I supposed to do with a paper bag?

Open it.

Is this some kind of joke?

No, it’s $5,000.

I don’t want your money, you little twerp.

It’s probably stolen anyway.

What do you care? It’s yours.

Why do you want to give me money?

To get my job back.

You’re a dumb whacked-out little fuck.

Don’t be an ass, Auggie. He’s trying to make it up to you.

He’s crazy.

No, he’s not. You are.

You’re right. I just didn’t think you knew.

You didn’t think I knew?

It’s written all over you like a… like a neon sign.

Now you say something nice to Rashid to help him feel better.

Fuck you, kid.

Fuck you, too, you white son of a bitch.



I’m glad that’s settled.

(Knocking on door)

(Knocking persists)

(Urgent knocking)

(Banging on door)

Mr Benjamin? Yo.

Mr Benjamin, I presume.

You got a security problem in this building.

The lock downstairs is busted.

It’s not good in these troubled times.

You never know what trash might wander in off the streets.

I’ll have the landlord look into it tomorrow.

Yeah, you do that.

You don’t want any unpleasant surprises, do you?

Who do I have the pleasure of talking to?


No, I wouldn’t exactly call this pleasure, funny man.

This here is more in the nature of business.

It doesn’t matter. I know who you are anyway.

You’re the Creeper, aren’t you?

The what?

Listen. Nobody calls Charles that name to his face!

Do you understand me?

Yes, I understand.

(Creeper) You’re gonna help us locate a certain party.

And I don’t want any denials about it.

Tommy, man. Tommy Cole.

If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Do you understand?

You never know what will happen.

The moment you think you do is the moment you don’t know a thing.

This is what we call a paradox.

Are you following me?

Yeah, I follow you, Auggie.

When you don’t know nothing, it’s like paradise.

I know what that is.

That’s after you’re dead and you go up to heaven and you sit with the angels.


Hi, Auggie. Hi, Jimmy.

You’re one fuckin’ mess, man.

If the cops hadn’t come, I might not be standing here now.

They did a number on you.

I managed to keep my mouth shut for once in my life.

That’s something.

No. Jimmy, don’t.

Does it hurt?

Of course. What does it look like?

Maybe he was pretending.

Have you heard from Rashid?

Not a peep.

I spoke to his aunt.

She hasn’t heard from him. It’s starting to get scary.

It could be a good sign. It could mean that he got away.

Yeah, or didn’t. There’s no way to know.

(Plane overhead)

‘With two on and nobody out, four runs in…

‘Outside, ball three…’

You’re gonna give up and go home?

What choice do I have?

She’s made it clear she doesn’t want me around.

You can’t just write her off.

What am I supposed to do?

There’s no baby.

It’s her life and what she does with it is her own business.

There’s time for babies after she grows up.

God, Auggie dream on.

At the rate she’s going, she won’t make her 19th birthday.

She could go into a rehab programme.

She’d never let me talk her into it. Besides, they cost money.

And that is one thing I do not have. I am flat broke.

No, you’re not.

Are you calling me a liar?

I don’t even have money for that goddamn car.

Remember that business venture I told you about?

My tugboat came in. I’m flush.

Bully for you.

No, bully for you.


What’s this?

Open it up and find out.

Oh, Jesus God. There’s money in here.

5,000 bucks.

This is for me?

It’s for you, baby.

For keeps?

For keeps.


Oh, Jesus. Oh, God.

You’re an angel. You know that?

Fuck this angel shit. Just take the dough, Ruby.

And no bawling, OK? I can’t stand people who blubber.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

There’s one thing I want to know.

Anything at all. You name it.


She’s not my daughter, is she?

Well, I don’t know.

She might be. And then again, she might not.

Mathematically speaking, it’s about a 50-50 chance.

It’s your call, Auggie.

(Telephone rings)

(Phone rings)

(Ringing continues)


(Phone rings)

(Phone rings)

(Phone rings)

Bureau of Missing Persons. Sergeant Fosdick.

Blow me down. Peter Rabbit’s alive.

(Car approaches)


What are you guys doing here on a Sunday?

We’re having a picnic. Want to join us?

Yeah, sure. Just a second.

(Car horn beeps)

It’s all right. I got it.

Hiya, kid.

Wow. They really did a job on you.


I put the scene into the story.

That makes the medical bills tax deductible.

Try telling that to the IRS.

You know them? They’re not customers?

He knows us but we’re also customers.

We came here to deliver some clean laundry.

It’s all right. I really do know them.

Cyrus Cole.

Augustus Wren. Pleasure.

I’m the owner.

Paul Benjamin.

That’s funny. He’s got the same name as you.

You and Junior got the same name.

But he’s my son, my flesh and blood.

You got the same name and you ain’t even the same colour.

That’s how we met.

We’re… We’re part of the International Same Name Club.

Believe it or not, there are 846 Paul Benjamins in America but only two in the New York area.

That’s how we’re friends.

We’re the only two that show up for meetings.

You’re full of crap.

Why don’t you come clean and tell the man who you are?

What’s going on, guys?

Maybe you’d better ask him.

Come on, Rashid, baby. Spill it.



It’s sort of a nom de guerre.

What are they talking about?

Come on. Your real name.

The name that’s on your birth certificate.


Paul, Rashid, Thomas. Which one is it?


Come on, you yellow-belly. The whole thing. The whole name.

What difference does it make?

Why not just say it?

I was gonna tell him in my own time.

There’s no time like the present, man.

Well… I’m listening to you.

Thomas Cole.

My name is Thomas Jefferson Cole.

You making fun of me?

Are you… mocking me?

You’re mocking me.

I ain’t gonna let no little punk kid come here and mock me.

Like it or not, that’s my name, Cole, just like yours.

Now ask him who his mother was.

I don’t like this. I don’t like this one bit.

Go upstairs. I’ll take care of this.

Louisa Vail. Remember her?

Shut up! Shut your fucking mouth!

Hey! There’ll be none of that on my watch, you piece of shit!


Stop it! You’ll kill him! He’s your son, goddamn it! He’s your son!

You’re lying! You’re lying!



No, thanks.

Here. Want one of mine?

Look, I’m telling you. There’s gonna be another war.

The slobs in the Pentagon will be out of a job unless they find a new enemy.

They got this Saddam character now.

They’re gonna hit him with all they got.

How’s it going?

Hi, Auggie.

Two, right?


Make it one.

You usually get two.

I know.

I’m trying to cut down.

Someone is worried about my health.


How’s the work going, maestro?

Fine. Or it was until the other day.

I got a call from a guy at “The New York Times”.

He wants me to write a Christmas story to be published on Christmas Day.

That’s a feather in your cap. The paper of record.

I have to come up with something in four days and I haven’t got a single idea.

Do you know any Christmas stories?

Christmas stories? Sure.

I know a ton of them.

Do you know any good ones?

Good ones? Of course.

Are you kidding?

Buy me lunch and I’ll tell you the best Christmas story you ever heard.

And I guarantee every word of it is true.


Ready. Whenever you are.

I’m all ears.

Remember when you asked me how I started taking pictures?

This is the story of how I got my first camera.

It’s the only camera I’ve ever had.

Are you following me so far?

Every word.

This is the story of how it happened.


It was the summer of ’76, when I first started working for Vinnie.

The summer of the bicentennial.

A kid came in and started stealing things from the store.

He’s standing by the rack of paperbacks and stuffing skin mags under his shirt.

I didn’t see him at first, but once I noticed what he was up to, I shouted.

He took off like a jackrabbit.

By the time I got out, he was tearing ass down Seventh Avenue.

I chased him about half a block, then I gave up.

He dropped something along the way.

Since I didn’t feel like running any more, I bent down to see what it was.

It turned out to be his wallet.

There wasn’t any money but his driver’s licence was there and three or four snapshots.

I could have called the cops.

I had his name and address from the licence.

But I felt kind of sorry for him.

He was just a measly little punk.

And once I looked at those pictures in his wallet, I couldn’t bring myself to feel very angry at him.

Roger Goodwin.

That was his name.

In one picture, he was standing next to his mother.

In another, he was holding a trophy he got at school, smiling like he just won the Irish sweepstakes.

I didn’t have the heart.

A poor kid from Brooklyn without much going for him.

Who cared about a couple of dirty magazines anwvay?

So… l held on to the wallet.

Every so often I’d get the urge to send it back to him, but I never did anything about it.

Then Christmas rolls around.

I’m stuck with nothing to do.

Vinnie’s mother got sick and he and his wife had to go down to Miami.

So I’m sitting in my apartment that morning, feeling a little sorry for myself.

Then I see Roger Goodwin’s wallet on the shelf.

I figure, what the hell, why not do something nice?

I go out to return the wallet.

The address is in Boerum Hill, in the projects.

It was freezing and I kept getting lost trying to find the right building.

Everything looks the same there.

You keep going over the same ground.

Anyway, I finally got to the apartment I was looking for and I ring the bell.

Nothing happens.

I assume no one’s there. I ring again to make sure.

Just as I’m about to go, I wait a little longer.

I hear someone shuffling to the door.

And old woman’s voice asks, “Who’s there?”

I say, “I’m looking for Roger Goodwin.”

“Is that you, Roger?” she says.

Then she undoes about 15 locks and opens the door.

She’s got to be at least 80, 90 years old.

The first thing I noticed about her is she’s blind.

“I knew you’d come, Roger,” she says.

“I knew you wouldn’t forget your Granny Ethel on Christmas.”

She opens her arms as if she’s about to hug me.

I don’t have time to think. I had to say something fast.

Before I knew what was happening, the words came out of my mouth.

“That’s right, Granny Ethel,” I said. “I came to see you on Christmas.”

Don’t ask me why I said it. It just came out that way.

Suddenly this old lady’s hugging me and I’m hugging her back.

It was as if we both decided to play this game… without having to discuss the rules.

She knew I wasn’t her grandson.

She was dotty but she wasn’t so far gone that she couldn’t tell a stranger from her own flesh and blood.

But it made her happy to pretend.

Since I had nothing better to do, I was happy to go along with her.

So I go in and we spend the day together.

Every time she asks me how I was doing, I would lie to her.

I told her I found a job in a cigar store, I was getting married.

I told her a hundred pretty stories and she made like she believed them.

“That’s fine, Roger,” she’d say, nodding her head and smiling.

“I always knew things would turn out for you.”

After a while, I started getting hungry.

There was no food in the house.

I went to a store in the neighbourhood and picked up a whole bunch of stuff.

A pre-cooked chicken, vegetable soup, a bucket of potato salad.

A whole bunch of stuff.

Granny Ethel had a couple of bottles of wine stashed in the bedroom.

So both of us managed to put together a fairly decent Christmas dinner.

We both got a little tipsy from the wine.

After the meal was over, we sat in the living room, where the chairs were more comfortable.

I had to pee, so I excused myself and went to the bathroom down the hallway.

That’s when things took another turn.

It was ditsy enough doing my jig as Granny Ethel’s grandson.

What I did then was particularly crazy… and I’ve never forgiven myself since.

I go into the bathroom and stacked up against the wall next to the shower I see a pile of six or seven cameras.

Brand-new 35mm cameras, still in their boxes.

I’ve never taken a picture in my life… much less ever stolen anything.

But once I see those cameras sitting there in the bathroom, I decide I want one of them for myself.

Just like that.

Without thinking, I pick up one of the cameras and go out back to the living room.

I was only gone for three minutes but, in that time, Granny Ethel had fallen asleep.

Too much Chianti, I suppose.

I went to the kitchen and washed the dishes.

She slept through the whole racket, snoring away like a baby.

There was no point in disturbing her so I decided to leave.

I couldn’t even write her a letter to say goodbye, seeing that she was blind.

So I just left.

I put her grandson’s wallet on the table… picked up the camera again and walked out of the apartment.

And that’s the end of the story.

Did you ever see her again? Did you ever go back to see her?

Once, maybe three or four months later.

I felt so bad about stealing the camera, I hadn’t even used it yet.

I made up my mind to return it but Granny Ethel wasn’t there any more.

Someone else had moved in and he couldn’t tell me where she was.

She probably died.



Which means she spent her last Christmas with you.

I guess so. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

It was a good deed, Auggie. That was a nice thing you did for her.

I lied to her and I stole from her. I don’t see how that’s a good deed.

You made her happy.

The camera was stolen anyway.

It’s not as if the person you took it from really owned it.

Anything for art, eh, Paul?

I wouldn’t say that. But at least you put the camera to good use.

And now you got your Christmas story.

Yes, I suppose I do.

Bullshit is a real talent, Auggie.

To make up a good story you have to know how to push all the right buttons.

I’d say you were up there among the masters.

What do you mean?

I mean…

It’s a good story.

Shit. If you can’t share your secrets with your friends, then what kind of friend are you?


Life just wouldn’t be worth living, would it?

(I TOM WAITS: “Innocent When You Dream”)

♪ The bats are in the belfry

♪ The dew is on the moor

♪ Where are the arms that held me

♪ And pledged her love before.

♪ And it’s such a sad old feeling

♪ The fields are soft and green

♪ It’s memories that I’m stealing

♪ But you’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream.

♪ I made a golden promise

♪ That we would never part

♪ I gave my love a locket

♪ And then I broke her heart.

♪ And it’s such a sad old feeling

♪ The fields are soft and green

♪ And it’s memories that I’m stealing

♪ But you’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream

♪ We’re running through the graveyard

♪ And we laugh my friends and I

♪ We swore we’d be together.

♪ Until the day we die.

♪ Until the day we die

♪ And it’s such a sad old feeling

♪ The fields are soft and green

♪ And it’s memories that I’m stealing

♪ But you’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream.

♪ And it’s such a sad old feeling

♪ The fields are soft and green

♪ And it’s memories that I’m stealing

♪ But you’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream.

♪ And it’s such a sad old feeling

♪ All the fields are soft and green

♪ It’s memories that I’m stealing

♪ But you’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream.

♪ I made a golden promise

♪ That we would never part

♪ I gave my love a locket

♪ And then I broke her heart.

♪ And it’s such a sad old feeling

♪ Oh, the fields are soft and green

♪ And it’s memories that I’m stealing

♪ But you’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream

♪ When you dream

♪ You’re innocent when you dream.

(JERRY GARCIA BAND: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”)

♪ They asked me how I knew

♪ My true love was true.

♪ I of course replied

♪ Something here inside

♪ Cannot be denied.

♪ They said, some day you’ll find

♪ All who love are blind.

♪ When your heart’s on fire

♪ You must realise

♪ Smoke gets in your eyes.

♪ So I chaffed them and I gaily laughed

♪ To think they could doubt my love.

♪ Yet today my love has flown away

♪ I am without my love.

(Chorus) ♪ Without my love

♪ Now laughing friends deride

♪ Tears I cannot hide.

♪ I just smile and say

♪ When a lovely flame dies

♪ Smoke gets in your eyes.

♪ Smoke gets in your eyes.

(Guitar instrumental)


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