LISTEN: Talking cigars, primaries, and socialism in Castro’s Back Room

By Hannah Harn
BU News Service

MANCHESTER, N.H — It’s cold. It’s misty. It’s Primary Day in New Hampshire. But while the streets are quiet in the late afternoon, in Castro’s Back Room on Elm Street in Manchester, the self-proclaimed Brothers of the Leaf sit in leather chairs, smoking fine cigars and shooting the breeze. 

The group of four seems to sit all over the map. Two from Massachusetts, two from eastern Europe, all passionate about democracy. They do not judge, they do not push. They make fun of each other, they’re wearing everything from a sport coat to a flannel. Today’s primary is something to spectate for them, and they’re all watching from a different seat in the theater.

Harry Tuerk, 58, grew up in East Berlin before the wall fell. He moved to the United States in 2002. To him, talk of free healthcare and higher education sound familiar — and not in a good way. 

“All those countries, the East Bloc, couldn’t survive,” he said. “[In] ’89, East Germany was bankrupt. Hungary was bankrupt. Romania was bankrupt. Every one of those countries that tried the principles of socialism.”

To his left sits Karl Pease, 70, of Fall River, Massachusetts. He’s got a black “Make America Great Again” hat on, sports a neat beard and can blow smoke rings around the competition. 

MANCHESTER, NH — 02.11.20 — Karl Pease, from Massachusetts, came to Castro’s Back Room to smoke cigars with the Brothers of the Leaf as they watch the New Hampshire Primaries unfold. Photo by Meagan House / Boston University News Service

“Look at every major city in this country, it’s Democratic,” Pease explained. “Every one of them is upside-down. So it just goes to show that when one party is in control … it can go left or right, real bad.”

Across the circle sits Andrew Dobos, 50, of Manchester, New Hampshire, who was originally from Hungary. Now, he looks quite the New Englander, dressed in his Patriots jacket and hat. 

“I’m gonna vote for that hat,” Dobos said, gesturing up to Pease’s cap. 

“Why are you gonna?” asked the fourth member of the group, Charles Lax. “Why are you gonna vote for that hat?”

Dobos responded with a shrug.

 “Why wouldn’t I?” He asked.

Lax, who hails from Dover, Massachusetts, is on the Boston University Athletic Director’s council. To hear him tell it, the Brothers of the Leaf are here to “watch the Democrats commit hara-kiri,” the act of ritual suicide practiced by dishonored or defeated samurai. 

“The entertainment opportunity this afternoon in enjoying New Hampshire’s activity this afternoon and picking the next president,” he said. “And New Hampshire does have a history of picking the next president, is going to be very amusing.”

Over time, the group picks up another member. Rick Chickering, 47, from Manchester, New Hampshire has on a bright yellow safety jacket and sits just beside the quartet of cigar aficionados. His priority is making sure young people know that life isn’t about handouts. It’s about working for what you get. He had his first job when he was six, and went through special education. 

“I could have clicked a disability, and they kept forcing me to do it, and I said, no, I got a job,” Chickering said. “I don’t need disability. Why take the taxpayers’ money when they don’t need to waste it?”

MANCHESTER, NH — 02.11.20 — Harry Tuerk, who grew up in East Berlin, laughs about the political climate and the Democratic candidates visiting New Hampshire for the Primaries as he takes shelter in the warmth of Castro’s Back Room. (Meagan House/BU News Service)

They close the chat with a word of advice, almost an invitation. 

“You will always find if you walk into a smoke shop…you’ll find a great conversation,” Pease said. “You’ll find great people.”

“We’re a family,” Chickering adds. “Doesn’t matter if you’re a janitor or whatnot, everybody’s welcome.”

“All walks of life,” Tuerk says through the haze of smoke. “We’re nonjudgemental. We accept any way of political orientation.”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.