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Thomas Moore
Charlotte, North Carolina

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Dear Marvin,

I think I know how subjects felt at the Inquisition. To find out, just try going through the border crossing at the U.S./Canada border.

On my return to the United States during a recent car trip to Montreal, I was, upon first sight, grilled like a salmon filet. After answering the INS officer's arrow-tipped questions, I was asked to pull into a garage for inspection. When they went through my belongings, they eyed my Ziplock bag full of cigars, which had not been concealed but tossed on the top of my travel bag. Now, to be honest, some were Cubans that I purchased in Montreal, but many were Dominicans that I had brought with me from the United States. In any case, none of the cigars had a band on them. I suppose, foolishly, I was under the impression that if they had no bands on them that I could safely bring my cigars into the United States.

However, the innocent until proven guilty method on which our country's system of justice is founded did not play here. They confiscated ALL my cigars. I dug a Fuente band out of the ashtray as evidence of the cigars' origin, but the uneducated INS inspector wouldn't know a Dominican cigar from his you-know-what. Even though it did not read Habana, it did not make a difference to him. "That dark one, I know, is a Cuban," he said, "because I saw one just like it the other day." I was taught never to argue with an armed man. I left feeling lucky that I wasn't fined, or worse--tied to a torture rack in some immigration office dungeon.

Now I'm out a small fortune and have no cigars to show for it. The question remains, was I treated fairly? Or, more importantly, was it legal?

Alan Kleinfeld
Somerville, Massachusetts

Editor's reply: We sympathize with your plight, but it proves once again that U.S. Customs is playing hardball when it comes to Cuban cigars. Removing bands from legal cigars outside the United States is a mistake; it plays into Customs' hands by making you unable to prove your cigars are not Cuban. Was it legal? You can fight it, but you damaged your own case by mixing in Cubans. Was it fair? We never said confiscating someone's personal smokes was fair.

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Dear Marvin,

I love my wife, and feel she is the kindest, most understanding and generous person I've ever met. She is always unselfish, and takes into account other peoples' needs. I could go on and on about my better half, but I'm sure you get the point. I am one lucky man to spend my remaining years with her.

I am a police officer and have been on shift work for many years. My wife and I have also opened a restaurant, which we started from the ground up. If that's not enough to keep us busy, we also have four children. Two of them are toddlers, just getting out of diapers. Our lives are full, and are duties occupy the entire day.

To make the most of our quiet times, we really kick back and relax when time affords it. Life is full of simple pleasures and momentary pauses of tranquillity. In a busy lifestyle like ours, we make the most of these moments.

Last year a friend of mine returned from a vacation in Cuba. He brought back five Cuban Montecristos for me to try. I had tried a few cigars in my life, but never the real thing! I waited for a special occasion, sat down, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was about to say "this is better than sex," when I caught my wife's eye and refrained. The cigar has to take a back seat to some things in life.

My wife shared in the joy and pleasure I received from that fine cigar. Since that time, she makes it a point to spoil me with world-class cigars. Tina also purchased a Cigar Aficionado for me, which I now pick up faithfully.

I have really thrown myself into the realm of cigar tasting, and feel consumed by it. I believe you must continue trying various brands until you find the right one. We have our own palates, and taste and opinions will differ. My own experiences have ranged from excellent to disappointing (judging from previous ratings). I have found the Cuban Partagas to be the most satisfying, from start to finish. I don't want to put this one down, and hope the moment will last just a little longer.

A great cigar is like a song that stands the test of time and rekindles fond memories for you. When I hear certain songs, it takes me back to a happy point in time and puts a grin on my face. The cigar, like a song, brings back those memories with passion and vivid recollection.

For Father's Day this year, my wife gave me a beautiful humidor lined with cedar. We now have a special antique table for it that acts as a centerpiece in our home. This serves notice of the new love in my life, supplied by the true love of my wife.

Tina feels my happiness should be number one and has found a tremendous way to say it. She sees the joy and pleasure that it brings me, and this also makes her smile. Each cigar she treats me to is a token and expression of something we share from the heart.

I thank my wife for being who she is and for introducing me to the passion of a fine cigar.

Randy Hooker
Carman, Manitoba

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Dear Marvin,

It's June 24, 1998, just before midnight. I am resting in my room at the Alojamiento Pinocho in Montero, Bolivia. I am a member of a volunteer medical mission supported by Andean Rural Health Care. We bring supplies and equipment, but most importantly ourselves, our experience and our willingness to help to this fine town so that we may make a difference in the lives of people in need of medical care. Many of us work together in Fayetteville, North Carolina, so our work here is aided by our friendship and our confidence in each other.

Today was a good day of work. We did five surgical procedures and all the patients did well. It was not an unusually long day, but we made good progress. After all, we have to break language, education and economic barriers to accomplish our mission.

Since we finished early and have an even busier day scheduled for tomorrow, several of us went into Santa Cruz for the evening. Our prime directive was to procure Cuban cigars. This being the second or third trip for some of us, we knew just where to go. We accomplished our mission in no time.

With goods in hand, we proceeded on an evening stroll through town. It was too windy to enjoy our cigars in the plaza, but we found a wonderful restaurant where we could relax. An open-pit grill provided some warmth, and the appetizers the chef prepared provided a great change from our usual diet.

The stage was now set for optimal cigar enjoyment. Our choice for the evening was Romeo y Julieta No. 2s. (The Punch No. 1s are being saved for another night.) We got a fine cut from a single-blade guillotine the vendor contributed with the purchase, and a nice even light from the lighter he contributed, too. Oh, what smoke! Even the person who had never smoked a cigar before enjoyed it. I think our tips on cigar etiquette helped.

What more could we have asked for? At that moment, we had it all--the satisfaction of a good day's work, fine food, cold Ducal with lime, good service, great company and fine Cuban cigars. We lingered at the table and savored everything. I would like to thank Paul DeSessa, Keith Roller, Carmen Villalobos and Christine Booth for a fine day at work and a great evening.

And thank you, Cigar Aficionado, for the Counterfeit Gallery on your Web site. I accessed the site a few weeks before the trip, reviewed the information before purchasing, and am confident we all got what we paid for.

Christa Faour, RN
Fayetteville, North Carolina

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Dear Marvin,

Two years ago, my friend Dennis and I made our joint discovery of the pleasure of premium cigars. What started as curiosity progressed to interest, and finally blossomed into a passion--a passion lovingly tolerated and then encouraged by our wives through Christmas, anniversary and birthday gifts. Two years after that first tentative puff, we have developed at least a solid basic knowledge of cigars and we definitely know what we do and do not like. A solitary hour spent with an H. Upmann or A. Fuente is bliss; that same hour spent with a good friend who appreciates the smoking experience is better than bliss. Woven around our chitchat is the binder of "cigar talk" as we discuss the look, shape, feel, aroma and taste of our mutually beloved cigars. Like lazy smoke, friendship, camaraderie and conversation fill the time.

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