Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Denzel Washington, Jan/Feb 98
(continued from page 13)
"Cigars don't lie, but the people behind them often do," was one of the maxims my dad raised me by, right along with his Romeo y Julieta Churchills. Our Guajiro (Wahiro) culture values honesty, and cigars above all else. I was born in Camaguey Province, Cuba, the son of a frustrated artist--a romantic dentist whose greatest joys were making beautiful gold teeth for the very wealthy and original jewelry for the family. And his word was as good as the gold he wrought till the end. He died happily in his shop on a rainy day.
Many, many rains later, in November 1994, I found myself on the west coast of Canada at the end of an overworn marriage and an overdue master's degree, looking for sun-shine. I decided then to visit Cuba for the first time in 33 years. This would be the most important trip of my well-traveled life; it was where and when I ran head-on into Luz Maria (pseudonym), a stunning upper-class Cuban-American living in New England. She was petite, tanned and educated, a dreamboat with a great job and a naturally perfect set of "pearlies," who looked and danced well enough at fortysomething to out-shine much younger women. We met over breakfast at our hotel and that starry Havana night she opened her purse, offered me a Romeo y Julieta Churchill and stole my heart.
Upon our return to North America we called, wrote and I flew to see her in February. She met me at the airport with a box of Savinelli E.L.R. (lonsdales). I was hooked. Our romance grew to transcontinental proportions over the following months. We visited furiously back and forth, and by summer's end we pledged to love each other only, a difficult but wise move in these times of plagues.
That Christmas of '95 we went to Miami to meet our respective families, and one night I formally asked her father for her hand. I gave her an heirloom diamond and platinum ring (Dad's) and she gave me a kiss and box of Honduran Hoyo de Monterrey Maduro Sultans. I thought she already knew I like claro wrappers and thinner ring gauges--Maduro Sultans are 54s, but I accepted my gift most graciously. When she came for Easter she brought me Canaria d'Oro Finos: wrong again, too thin and mild this time. She seemed distant that visit, a bit short, curt and even cold in little ways at times. I thought it was the weather.
With our wedding plans set, I started wrapping up my art business to go live with her in the United States by the fall of '96. Before I went to meet her in May, I designed and made our wedding bands in antique 19-karat dental gold. She was late picking me up from the airport. "The traffic," she said at 10 p.m., and handed me, apologetically, a box of Aylesbury Puritos. They were simply below my taste. I protested and the next day found just what I wanted in three calls: Montecruz 200 Natural Claros and Juan Clemente Churchills. She was slightly offended, but I was definitely alarmed. It seemed she wasn't putting much thought into my preferences, and the quality kept dropping. Something was clearly amiss, and cigars don't lie.
Back in Canada, I took the trip's film to my usual lab. When I picked up the pictures, the clerk's smile appeared to show more than just cheap dentures. That night, at home, I opened the envelopes and there was Luz Maria on her bed, covered only by the light of the flash, in the most revealing and provocative poses a man could ever hope to see. The problem was, I hadn't taken those shots! Obviously, her roll had gotten mixed in with mine, but now the cat was out of the bag. I made some calls and a month later received a confidential report in the mail, complete with lots of black and white photographs.
Luz Maria led a very loose life when I wasn't looking. Promiscuity is, of itself, not a moral issue with me; honesty most certainly is. I am a practicing hedonist and support freedom of lifestyle, but I never wanted an "open" relationship or marriage. I had kept my word scrupulously, Guajiro style; she had chosen otherwise. Confronted with evidence all she said was, "If you don't lie, you don't get anywhere in this life." In her zeal to "safeguard her privacy," she had opted not to tell me until then that she (and therefore I) could have been exposed to AIDS through her unprotected participation in a love triangle (her best friend's boyfriend). I yanked Luz out of my life like an abscessed wisdom molar and went to work double-time to dull the pain and nervously await the six-month H.I.V. incuba-tion time.
One sunny winter day, after the tests for diseases had turned out alright, I was alone in my penthouse when I thought about my dad. I took the last two Cuban Romeo y Julieta Churchills from my humidor, lit them, placed one in the ashtray by my father's portrait and began to slowly enjoy mine. "Things could be worse," I told my dad in Guajiro Spanish. "At 49, I am a healthy, youthful, bon vivant with no debts and a successful career I really like. Just think, I could have married that woman; instead I am a free if not an entirely happy man. Thanks Papi, for teaching me about honesty, people and cigars.
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