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Out of the Humidor

CA Readers
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

Dear Marvin,

In two and a half years of smoking cigars I've come across many different situations, but none quite as good as this. I was recently enjoying my Montecruz on a very fine Saturday afternoon, one of those days with no heavy wind, which in turn means a great burn.

I refer to that great old saying: I saw her across a crowded room, or in this case, a field. I happened to be walking across an open field in search of shade when, all of a sudden, from behind me came a beautiful Mexican woman with long, beautiful black hair, a great smile--absolutely gorgeous. Before I had the chance to speak she said, "Your cigar smells great. Is that a Romeo y Julieta?" With shock on my face I replied, "No, It's a Montecruz." We both laughed.

As we walked, our conversation soon drifted to how she recalled her grandfather smoking Cuban cigars every time he visited this country. She also remembered her parents telling her stories about when Castro took control of Cuba, and the great sadness her parents endured. The land they loved, lost, and the once wealthy being left with nothing. About her grandparents having to come to America and stay with relatives and start a new life.

By the end of the story, two hours had passed, and it was time to eat. The food was great, and the spirits were better. Finally, she had got up enough courage to ask me if I had another cigar. Naturally I did. Nothing could be more beautiful than watching a beautiful woman puffing on a Partagas 150. Her cigar manner was outstanding. After the picnic was over we went to her place to enjoy some real Colombian coffee. With another cigar from--get this--her humidor. She even owned a copy of Cigar Aficionado. What a woman! I think I'm in love. Thank God for cigars. Wish me luck!

Aaron C. Shinault
Salinas, California

*

Dear Marvin,

I'm not a rich man. Sometimes I'm lucky if I have two quarters to rub together. Smoking a good cigar is a luxury for me. I love imported cigars, and I have found a wonderful variety in my price range, not more than $2.50 or $3. I keep them in a plastic container with a piece of cedar and a small humidifier that I bought at a tobacco shop. I reward myself with one cigar a day, usually at day's end. I find that it relieves the stress that has been building up. I'm a professional truck driver, and having to put up with weather, roads, deadlines, and bad road manners can cause the stress.

Friday, May 9, 1997, will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I had just finished my last pickup in El Paso, Texas, a load headed for Brigham City, Utah. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I had just crossed the Texas-New Mexico border on I-10 heading west. I saw a minivan on the eastbound side hit a guard rail at a high rate of speed. The van immediately went airborne, somersaulting end over end. The driver was thrown from the van. I pulled my truck off to the shoulder and ran across the interstate to help in any way I could. By the time I arrived at the scene of the accident, there were several people standing over the unconscious driver. The victim was a man who appeared to be in his late sixties or early seventies. He had severe head trauma, with blood flowing heavily from his ears, mouth and back of his head. To my horror I saw one of the bystanders nudge him with his foot as if he were a dead animal, saying, "This one's had it!" I dropped to my knees and felt for a pulse. The man was not breathing, but I did feel a faint pulse in his wrist. Just then another man checked on the inside of the victim's upper thigh. He also found a pulse.

A nurse on the way home from her hospital shift arrived on the scene. She asked if anyone knew CPR. I told her I did. At first she was a little hesitant to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. There was so much blood she didn't know if she could do it. I encouraged her by saying we could do it! She agreed. She asked the others around to find her a plastic bag, then she tore a hole in it and placed the bag with the hole over the victim's mouth. I began the chest compressions, one, two, three, four five, and she would breathe in. Nothing happened. His chest did not rise. We had to turn his head to clear the airway, so I carefully cupped the man's head in my hands to feel if the bones of his lower head and upper neck were broken. His neck was broken. We had to turn his whole body. I carefully placed my arm under his frail body and on the count of three, while she held his head straight, I turned his torso. The blood quickly ran out of his mouth. We rolled him on his back and started again. This time we saw his chest rise slightly when she blew in.

It seemed like everything was going in slow motion, but it was actually only a few seconds. We applied CPR for about 20 minutes, stopping from time to time to clear the blood from his mouth and throat. The fire department and paramedics finally arrived. They didn't think he was alive, but the paramedic also found the pulse. Within minutes they had his heart stabilized enough to stop manual chest compression. He still could not breathe on his own. I will be surprised if the man survives! The trauma to his head was very severe. All I know is that the 30 minutes that the nurse and I had with him we were able to keep his heart and lungs going. He was airlifted to a hospital in El Paso. I never knew his name, or even if he made it. As a matter of fact, I didn't even get the nurse's name. Thank God she was there still in uniform, looking like an angel. We just high-fived each other when the helicopter took off. She went her way and I went mine.

I climbed back into the truck feeling every emotion from excitement to sorrow. That evening, 300 miles down the road, I stopped and pulled into a scenic overlook on a mountain pass. I took out my plastic humidor, found my last Fuente that I was saving. I lit it, climbed down out of the cab of the truck, and sat down on a large rock overlooking the valley below. Looking up at the stars I said a prayer. It was a good and a bad day. I smoked my cigar for him! I saved the paper ring off of the cigar, and I'll keep it forever!

Douglas A. Narigon
Hurricane, Utah

*

Dear Marvin,

Once in a blue moon I smoked cigars and really didn't care about the brand or type of flavor. I just smoked them for the sheer fun of it. All I know is that tobacco has been a big part of my life and my native culture, since we offer them to the spirits with our prayers and ceremonies.

Late last summer while on the set filming the movie, Copland, I had a sudden urge to smoke a cigar. Brad Anderson, who does Sly Stallone's wardrobe styling, was around and I approached him and said, "Brad, I feel like a cigar. I'd like to buy one from you." I didn't know the proper etiquette of asking somebody for a cigar. Anyway, he said no, just let me know when you're ready.

Soon, he asked me if I was ready. Yeah, I said. He drew out his leather-fingered case and started explaining the cigar we were about to indulge in and the ritual that goes with it. This is why I like cigars; the meaning behind every detailed act shows reverence for one's self and to the people who took care of the tobacco seeds to the finished creations of art. It is a thanksgiving.

I believe it was the lunar eclipse that gave birth to the genesis of a passion within me. Like a seed, my interest in cigars grew and now I am enjoying the potpourri of flavors that are offered. I knew that it was just a matter of time before I would claim that I am indeed a cigar aficionado.

Renzo Spirit
Buffalo, New York

*

Dear Marvin,

While I was on patrol one Saturday morning, experimenting with an Hoyo De Monterrey that I received for Christmas from my brother, a notification came over the radio that a bank was robbed northeast of my location. The dispatcher, via a motor vehicle inquiry, found a pretty good match to the vehicle used in the crime registered to an address southwest of my location. I parked my patrol car in the middle of a fairly large roadway, which I figured the bank robber might use to get home, smoking my cigar and watching traffic. Sure enough, about 40 minutes later, I spotted the car that fit the description perfectly. I was in the middle of a nice draw when I saw him; we made eye contact and I was certain that was the guy. I threw the cigar down and made a U-turn to go after him. He pulled right over--I did not even have my overhead lights on yet--and he was caught. We recovered $11,000 in cash, and at least one other bank robbery was solved after the robber admitted his wrongdoings to the detectives.

Needless to say, the cigar unfortunately went out in the car. I called my brother from the precinct and thanked him for the lucky cigar. The next time I smoke an Hoyo De Monterrey on patrol in my police cruiser, I will be alert and ready for the next bank robbery notification.

Robert S. Coffman
Suffolk County, New York

Editor's note: Congratulations on the collar! We are sending you a box of "lucky" Hoyos with our compliments.

*

Dear Marvin,

I wanted to tell you about a night I will not soon forget. After moving to Fort Collins, Colorado, I found a place where I could do the two things I love to do: talk to new people and enjoy a good cigar, with the best Martinis in Fort Collins at Erott's, a retro-type 1920s-style bar that makes you feel at home. As I was relaxing with a great Ashton Panetela and a twin Gibson Martini, two gentlemen sat down next to me. As I looked over I noticed something very familiar about one of them. It was Tom Jones.

I am 27 years old, and while I was growing up, Mother would melt to hear the music of many of the greats like Elvis and Tom Jones. So for me it was a treat to sit next to someone whom I listened to when I was a kid. My first reaction was to ask for his autograph, knowing how much my mother would love it. She went blind about 10 years ago, but she can still describe people and places with better detail than I. Instead, I amazed myself by letting him just sit and enjoy his cigar. A few minutes later he started talking to me. We talked for a couple of hours like old friends. It's great how a good cigar and a good Martini can bring two different generations together.

Jon Graham
Fort Collins, Colorado

*

Dear Marvin,

I enjoyed your story on James Woods, and I have to tell you that I became a cigar smoker partly because of him.

It was the summer of 1982, in Rome. I was an extra in Sergio Leone's epic, Once Upon a Time in America. Robert DeNiro and James Woods were the main stars. During the last week of June, I rode out to the movie set on the outskirts of Rome each day, ready for a day of shooting. But despite my initial expectations, being an extra in a movie wasn't too glamorous. Squeezed into a tuxedo that felt like a suit of cardboard, I was boiling hot. For much of my 12-hour day I stood around waiting, until interminable preparations were done and cameras were ready to roll.

The movie set was a giant old speakeasy, and we spent the week filming a party scene celebrating the end of Prohibition. The set was filled with music, and Champagne corks were popping from colorful magnums. There were lots of "movie gangsters" such as myself in the scene--along with DeNiro and Woods.

All week, we toiled away at the speakeasy scene. But despite all the sweat, it was still fun to watch these big names do their jobs. I stood just a few feet from DeNiro and Woods as they acted out their parts for the cameras, Woods giving a toast, DeNiro somber at the bar.

By the end of this long, grueling week, we extras were exhausted, but somehow still exhilarated. On the Friday evening that ended my little bit in the film, one of the extras brought along some Italian cigars, called toscanos, to celebrate. Most of the big stars had long since retreated to their villas or their rented Rome apartments, except for James Woods. He wandered over and joined us for a while, chatting amiably as we puffed away, obviously enjoying the company. We sat outside the set, in our tuxedos, in the cool early evening of the Rome summer, smoking our cigars, talking about Italy, about America, about the movies.

I had never really smoked cigars before, and the cigar I puffed on that evening in Rome wasn't a gem. But in that setting, surrounded by friends and new acquaintances, I savored it much more than I thought I would.

And what ever became of our movie? After much infighting between Sergio Leone and the studio about its four-hour length, Once Upon a Time in America was finally released in 1984. It wasn't really ever given a fair hearing by the critics or the public. I still think it's an underrated movie, with particularly strong performances by Woods and DeNiro. But back on that lovely summer evening in Rome, we weren't thinking about all that. We were too busy savoring our cigars and drinking in the scene.

I wasn't a cigar smoker before that, but I became one. Thank you, Marvin, and thank you, James Woods.

Frank Davis
Massapequa, New York

*

Dear Marvin,

Joseph S. King (Cigar Aficionado, "Out of the Humidor," May/June 1997) claims that cigar smokers inhibit his right to breathe fresh, unpolluted air. Well, Mr. King, have you ever considered that by driving a car you are emitting very noxious fumes that are far more detrimental to one's health than cigar smoke? I, for one, am nauseated by internal combustion engine-produced pollution and have no choice but to endure it if I take a walk, especially in the big city. On the other hand, smoke wafting from cigars does not irritate me in the slightest.

Mr. King, before you tell me, a moderate cigar smoker, to forgo my puros whenever I, purportedly, impact on the health of others, I suggest you give up your car and, to demonstrate further your concern for fresh, unpolluted air, that you campaign to eliminate cars from city centers and have them replaced by trams and other environmentally friendly rail transport.

Since your emotionally charged missive appeals to objectivity and fairness, you can hardly be applying these standards to yourself if you fail to take the above challenge, and thus your invective would be revealed for what it is--the proverbial house of cards.

Oh, by the way, Mr. King, I have never possessed a motorcar.

Zenon S.J. Kuzik
Wanganui, New Zealand

*

Dear Marvin,

A few months ago I received an invitation to my high school reunion just as my wife announced that she and her friends were headed to Mexico for a vacation the same weekend. Since Duke University had been asking me, a plastic surgeon, to be a guest lecturer, I decided to attend the reunion, which would be held in a giant National Guard armory in my hometown in North Carolina, a short drive from the Duke campus. Since North Carolina was a tobacco state, I left my flask behind but brought cigars.

My wife and I run a longhorn cattle dude ranch in the Hill country near San Antonio, so I decided to wear my usual western jeans, Lucchese boots and jacket and, of course, one of the cleaner cowboy hats. The reunion went quite well (although I kept thinking that so many of my classmates could have used my services). I lit up a cheroot and leaned back against the wall to talk to old friends, when there was tap on my back.

"Sir, are you going to smoke cigars all night?"

"Yes, ma'am, I certainly am."

"Well, if you do that, some of us will have to leave."

"Well, ma'am, I am sure sorry to hear that, but if you gotta go, you gotta go!"

There was only North Carolina-type beer (not even a good Texas brand), but the conversation kind of made the evening.

Tolbert S. Wilkinson, M.D.
San Antonio, Texas

*

Dear Marvin,

I have been meaning to write about an incident that occurred this past summer. My wife, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and myself went to New York City for four days as a finish to our vacation back east. We stayed at the Marriott, which by the way is a cigar-friendly hotel. After a long day of shopping and walking the streets of New York, we went back to the hotel. My brother-in-law and myself went to the lounge area, while our wives went up to the room. Matter of fact, I couldn't wait to smoke one of the cigars I purchased that day and have a cold beer. We chose a table, right next to the unoccupied piano, which was away from the other people as to not "offend" them with my smoking. While we were there the piano player arrived and began to play. I myself was very relaxed, enjoying my smoke and conversing with my brother-in-law. I was not paying attention to the music being played until my brother-in-law advised me to listen to what song was being directed at me. The piano player sitting in the direction of my smoke was playing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Needless to say I did not appreciate his sarcasm, but we remained until I finished my cigar.

Ken Gomes
Redlands, California

*

Dear Marvin,

I've had the trip of a lifetime to Cuba. I found the people to be among the nicest and warmest that I've ever met. And one thing about a communist system--the education system sees that everyone is literate and, in most cases, bilingual. When the date comes that the insanity ceases and we reestablish our trade relations--look out. These people will work and be able to read the schematic!

There are so many memories that space precludes mentioning many, but here are a few. We stayed at the Riviera. The water was unreliable, there were no safe deposit boxes and the rooms were a little shabby, to say the least. However, after leaving a bag of candy and a few dollars for room service, it was amazing to see all my dirty clothes washed and hung up on the drapery rods in the room! A letter of gratitude was also there, which I'll always enjoy.

Our personal tour of the José Martí (H. Upmann) factory was remarkable. At first we were informed there were no tours. As factory manager Benito Molina Menendez was leaving for lunch, we managed to talk to him a moment and were soon in his office drinking espresso and receiving gifts of Montecristo No. 4s from his desk. After some coffee, pictures and handshakes, Mr. Menendez turned us over to Joaquin R. Gomez Yera. Mr. Gomez Yera gave us a step-by-step tour and explanation of each and every process in the manufacture of various sizes and shapes of H. Upmanns. After the tour we walked around the corner of the Partagas factory and Montecristos store for an afternoon of mojitos (a Cuban drink) and great conversation.

The afternoon slipped away and we made arrangements to have dinner with Mr. Gomez Yera and his very beautiful and charming wife at the Hotel Nacional. Since our knowledge of Spanish was very limited and Mr. and Mrs. Gomez Yera's English was the same, we managed to enlist the receptionist at the Nacional phone desk to act as an interpreter. She did a splendid job throughout the meal, dessert and of course, the wonderful cigars provided by Mr. Gomez Yera. As we parted company, we were given handmade commemorative plaques containing bands and labels from the 150th anniversary year of the H. Upmann Co., signed with best regards by Mr. Gomez Yera. A very memorable night.

The rest of the trip was colorful, as we were there during the Mardi Gras parade. My association with the local street kids was also enlightening and entertaining. They gave me a tour unlike any tour guide could give of old Havana. I also picked up some pointers on top spinning and marbles. The kids there interact with each other and are inventive in their play. (No Nintendos!) Their entertainment was produced by themselves, rather than their being entertained at the flip of a switch, and very social. We walked many back streets and I got a real feel for the city. As you are aware, some of the better food may be had in people's living room restaurants (of 12 persons or less). The kids led me to a third-floor residence up a stairway without light. Fumbling up the stairs was a bit awkward, but I found the living room quite nice and the service exceptional. I highly recommend experimenting with the local eateries.

The trip's end was eventful as well. I lost my best friend in a fight on a Havana side street--over a woman, of course. Luckily, we didn't go to jail, as there is no nonsense tolerated by the police there. I walked the streets at 3 a.m. without incident. I suspect the consequences of harming a tourist are harsh, to say the least.

On the flight from Havana to Nassau I talked to the captain of the YAK-42 (a Soviet version of a 727) and was able to sit in the cockpit for the trip. As a student pilot at that time, this was another great thrill. It was especially exciting to come down through the clouds (zero visibility) and begin looking for the airport. (U.S. aviation regulations prohibit anyone besides crew in the cockpit.)

One experience that may benefit your readers: Nassau customs confiscated my cigars! They have 300 percent duty on anything more than 50 cigars. Since I had about 300 for friends, etc., they were seized. You can pay the 300 percent or they will hold them and escort you onto your outgoing flight, or at least to the U.S. Customs agents. Neither situation was desirable. It was a very tense 24 hours figuring out how to handle the situation. So, be advised, you can encounter difficulty bringing cigars into Nassau, not only the United States. As my friend Hercule Poirot used to say, it took many "little gray cells" to extract my confiscated cigars from the customs people in Nassau.

It's been a year since I've been there, and I can't wait to go back. I fell in love with the people, their culture and, of course, their cigars and rum. I learned a lot on the trip. Another trip might be anticlimactic, but I'll see. Most inconveniences are worth the price to be able to sit on the front porch of the Nacional at night, Cohiba Lancero in hand, mariachis playing among the palm trees, and thinking--this is living!

Bob Z.
Tinley Park, Illinois

*

Dear Marvin,

I have been following your ongoing controversy about cigar smokers' "rights" and would like to add my own opinion on the subject for what it's worth. I've never smoked cigarettes, but recently I have discovered the pleasure of smoking fine cigars. Over and over I am truly amazed at the wonderful complex taste of a well-made cigar! But, one thing I've found to be constantly true, for me at least--a cigar never smells as good as it tastes. I know that many of you enjoy the smell of cigar smoke, but for me, unless I am in a well-ventilated area (like outdoors!) I just can't stand it! If you can't comprehend what this is like, here is something that might bring home what I am trying to say. Have any of you men ever been stuck on an elevator with a woman who is drenched in perfume? Hey, it may be fine perfume, but it's still overwhelming. Well, it's the same way with nonsmokers who are stuck in a small room with cigar smoke. It may be a fine cigar, but it's just too overwhelming!

One thing I've noticed in Cigar Aficionado is that you promote not only fine cigars, but all the good things in life! Art, music, a gourmet meal, a fine cigar--these are the things that add to the pleasures of life. But, for all you people who feel you can light up anytime, anywhere, especially in a restaurant, well, that's pretty gauche! How can a person enjoy the subtle flavors of, let's say, a salmon mousse, and the complex bouquet of a vintage wine, when the robust smell of cigar smoke overpowers those delicate flavors?

Another thing your magazine seems to promote is the return to a more genteel era when men were gentlemen and lived by a certain code. I'm all for that, since gentlemen always retired to the smoking room after a meal to partake in cigars and brandy. Of course in the modern scenario, the women are going to have to join the men in their partaking.

So, instead of complaining about not being able to light up anytime, anywhere, let's use our energy to champion our favorite restaurants and hotels to open special cigar rooms, and we will be able to enjoy the pleasure of smoke without making it unbearable for the nonsmokers!

Janet L. McAuley
Kunkletown, Pennsylvania

*

Dear Marvin,

During a recent stay at the Hilton on Marco Island, Florida, I learned that anti-cigar policies may not only frustrate and embarrass, but can confuse the management as well as the cigar lover.

After a great day on the beach, I phoned from our room for a reservation that evening for my wife and myself in the hotel's premier restaurant, Sandcastles. The woman who pleasantly took our reservation casually asked if I would prefer the smoking section. "No," I said, "unless you permit cigar smoking." She said they did not permit cigar smoking and would seat us in the nonsmoking section. That was OK with us. As pleasurable as an after-dinner cigar is, I will never push the cigar smoking thing in the face of an establishment's policy on the matter.

Three minutes later, as we were dressing for dinner, the phone rang. It was the reservations woman with the pleasant voice telling me that her boss said it was OK to smoke a cigar in the restaurant's smoking section, and if I wanted to do a cigar after dinner she would seat us in the smoking section. I thought that was very considerate and accepted the offer. After all, I hadn't even pressed the matter. It was their decision, apparently trying to be all things to all diners. Preparing for dinner, I had visions of a cigar with espresso and brandy. My wife enjoys the aroma of a good cigar. It was going to be a luxurious and relaxing meal. I selected a Macanudo and we headed for Sandcastles.

The meal was great--that is, until we ordered espresso and I lit the Macanudo. The restaurant manager raced over to our table in the smoking section to tell us quite loudly that there was no cigar smoking at Sandcastles. I tried to stay cool as I told him about the reservations woman who called me back to offer me cigar smoking even though I hadn't demanded it. He smugly said he'd send over the assistant food and beverage director.

Again, I explained the situation and pointed out that we would have preferred sitting at one of the choice tables in the nonsmoking section if I hadn't been invited to smoke a cigar in the smoking section, the second-rate part of the restaurant, as usual. This fellow was somewhat more polite and listened with apparent compassion. But rules are rules, he indicated. By this time, other diners' heads were turned toward our table. Embarrassed, we canceled our plans for espresso and brandy. I extinguished the cigar, asked for the bill and we left the restaurant, the eyes of the other diners following us.

The next day, determined to get to the bottom of their switch on cigar policy, I spoke to the reservations woman again. She said she worked for two bosses, the restaurant manager and the assistant food and beverage director, the very guys who ordered me to ditch the cigar. She said she couldn't recall who told her to call me back to OK my smoking a cigar in Sandcastles. Then the assistant food and beverage director got on the phone. He admitted that there had been a screwup on their part and said that I had been needlessly embarrassed. He offered to take some of the sting out of the affair by refunding the cost of the dinner.

When we checked out, there was a credit for the meal on our bill. And I'll say this for the Marco Island Hilton: when they get contrite they really do a mea culpa. A few days after our return from Florida, I received a letter signed by yet another level of management, the food and beverage director himself, apologizing "for the confusion" they caused.

Herb Kurz
Pleasantville, New York

*

Dear Marvin,

I am writing to you today regarding a disturbing letter published in the May/June Cigar Aficionado. I wholeheartedly agree with the writer's commendations of your journalistic excellence, but I cannot say the same for many of his opinions.

Specifically, I am extremely bothered by his characterization of Cigar Aficionado as catering to readers who are "primarily (even if not exclusively) upper middle class, the wealthy, and those who want to be wealthy."

I am a young professional, recently graduated from a four-year university, and have recently discovered one of life's fine pleasures in an occasional smoke. Along with my moderate indulgence, I thoroughly enjoy reading Cigar Aficionado. I don't need to tell you that when starting out in any new career, a tremendous salary is difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate. My ambition in life, however, is to be happy with my career choices and lifestyle decisions, not necessarily to be wealthy (although it would be a nice added benefit). One of those choices I make is to allow myself the privilege of being able to enjoy fine cigars in moderation. Though I must admit I cannot afford the high-end line of fine tobacco products and all of the glorious accessories, I very much enjoy and treasure my prerogative to indulge in some of the finer things that life has to offer.

With any new trend, like the increasing popularity of cigars, a diverse group of people will be captivated. I think that Cigar Aficionado realizes that within each issue. And for the reader who has such a bleak outlook on the increasing diversity of cigar smokers, I say relax and have a nice smoke!!

Chad R. Beckstrom
Orange, California

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