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Out of the Humidor

CA Readers
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

Dear Marvin,

I have been a serious marathon runner for 14 years and a cigar smoker for five. While there may be some who find this combination to be incongruous, I do not. The pursuit of happiness is not limited to any particular set of endeavors. In November, I competed in my 20th marathon and my first with cigars. Several friends along the 26.2-mile course kept me supplied with Macanudo Crystal Cafes during the race. While not my first race, it may have been my most relaxing.

When I was a child, my parents never went out to formal affairs until my father tucked two Churchills into his tuxedo pocket. My own first experience with cigars proved to be somewhat of an embarrassment. Shortly after graduating from law school, I found myself being interviewed by a prominent attorney who at one time served as attorney general of the United States. After the interview the lawyer, who is the senior partner of one of Baltimore's most venerable law firms, offered me a cigar. I accepted. I attempted to light the cigar without removing the cap. It was my first cigar and I had no idea that the cap had to be removed to allow the draw of air. I sucked very hard until the partner advised me.

Several years ago I decided to try cigars. One of my first experiences led me to believe that cigar smoking is often memorable. I was dating a young Englishwoman whose mother came to visit us in New York. We thought our guest might enjoy an evening at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony.

On a balmy July afternoon we climbed into my car, put the top down and headed for Lennox, Massachusetts. We had decided to have a formal picnic on the lawn before the performance of Beethoven's Fidelio. We had a picnic basket full of good food, wine, china and crystal. After dinner I lit up a cigar. Almost immediately I saw a woman walk toward me from a distance of about 20 yards. She demanded that I extinguish my "vile cigar." Jayne, my friend's mother, jumped to her feet to defend not only me but my cigar smoking. She informed my accuser that as a young girl she had lived through some of London's darkest hours during the Battle of Britain. She made it quite clear that a great man with an ever-present cigar had rallied the English people and led the West through a tumultuous time. My accuser walked away looking very confused. I finished my smoke with a Cognac, and as I looked at the sun setting over the Berkshire Mountains, I could only think: it doesn't get any better than this.

Roland Nicholson Jr.
New York, New York

*

Dear Marvin,

Over the years I have enjoyed reading about the cigar experiences your other readers share with us. I feel that perhaps it is my turn to share now, rather than just enjoy.

In July 1995, 11 students from Missouri Southern State College earned scholarships to attend Christ Church College at Oxford University. I was proud to be among them, although I had serious reservations about how much I would enjoy the experience. I didn't know any of the other students and was not sure that I could measure up to the challenge academically.

My first fear was put to rest during the flight to England. The other students were not acquainted with each other, either. They also shared the same scholastic fear that I had. Most of us became good friends as we shared our experiences of life and school with one another, and supported each other through the term.

On the first evening after dinner in the Great Hall, Chad Phipps, one of the young men in our group ("The Missouri Contingent," as we became known) was keeping me company as I unpacked. Not being a smoker, he took a special interest in my travel humidor, so I began to expound on the finer points of smoking premium cigars. By the end of the discussion, I knew that he had taken the bait and all I needed to do was set the hook. I told him that the next day I was going to make a run to Oxford's finest tobacconist in order to purchase my first supply of Cuban smokes. Our enthusiasm soon spread to Shelby, a young lady in our group, who asked if she might go along.

The next afternoon the three of us embarked on a journey I will always remember. From the tobacconist's small, ravaged humidor I purchased Cohibas, Romeo y Julietas and Montecristos. We carried our treasure back to my room at Christ Church and placed them in my humidor, which was now "our humidor."

That night after dinner, we retrieved a Cohiba and one of the Romeos and gathered in the Master's Garden. Shelby, who chose to forgo the actual smoking, sat on the exquisitely manicured grass and stared up at us with keen interest as I demonstrated the ritual of cutting, lighting and smoking one of life's precious gifts. Chad was hooked.

On the many evenings that followed, I would have just as many pleasant and tranquil experiences with my new comrades, such as walking with Shelby on my arm (thank God for an understanding wife) around the meadow and along the Thames, standing on a street corner with Chad, and talking to students and others from all over the world, slowly burning our treasure the whole time.

Sitting in that garden alone one night, I came to a realization: I was among the best that my college had to offer, with some of the best people a man could be associated with, drinking the best wines, while smoking the best cigars, at one of the best universities in the Western world. If a guy can do better than that, please tell me how.

Doug Shaw
Carl Junction, Missouri

*

Dear Marvin,

I am a European reader of your excellent magazine; the subscription was given to me as a present by my fiancée last year.

This year, I turned my fiancée into my wife, and as she is American, the wedding and subsequent party were held in her native Southern California. She flew to the United States some weeks before I did, and just before boarding my Los Angeles-bound plane, I could not resist buying a box of Romeo y Julietas in the airport duty-free shop, thinking it would be a great gift to give to people attending the wedding after all the partying, drinking and dancing were done with.

The wedding reception and party came, and after dinner I walked around handing out cigars. The result was startling. The cigars were gone within five minutes, with people looking in awe at these "forbidden" items, asking where I had gotten them. The dance floor quickly emptied, and everyone was out on the balcony, puffing at their Romeo y Julietas, enjoying themselves.

Because I was too busy greeting people and asking everyone how they were doing, I never actually got to finish my dessert, let alone indulge in a cigar. But I am positive the cigars made it a wedding reception with a difference, and I could see that when drinking, dancing or having a cigar are at stake, the last of these becomes the first choice.

Paul Brach
Vienna, Austria

*

Dear Marvin,

I live in San Diego and I usually take the coastal route to and from work instead of the more crowded freeway. But on Fridays, traffic is just as bad at 5 o'clock on the coastal route as it is on the freeway. So I usually end up heading south after work (I live to the north) to either my parents' house or to my sister's. It gives me time to catch up with what's going on in their lives, and it saves me from being stuck in the northbound traffic with the sun in my face.

On this particular day, the sun wasn't out and the cloudy skies were inviting. I decided to go directly home, although I knew I would hit traffic. Well, sure enough, I found myself staring at an endless line of vehicles creeping along at a snail's pace. After 20 minutes, of what seemed like hours to me, I noticed that several drivers had pulled off alongside the traffic, content to wait it out.

I remembered at that moment that I had a box of cigars in my trunk. I decided to pull over and smoke one. They weren't your expensive type of cigar, they were just some that I purchase through a catalogue. Even though they are relatively inexpensive, they smoke very nicely and have a nice aroma. So I pulled off and decided I would share some of my smokes with my fellow traffic "dropouts." With the cigar box under my arm, I tapped on the window of the first car, offering a smoke. The driver accepted with a grin that spread from ear to ear and a hearty "Thanks!"

I proceeded to the other two cars and each driver accepted my offer, both agreeing that a cigar was a definite treat in this unwanted moment. Meanwhile, after five minutes back at my car, I was joined by the first driver. He was really enjoying his cigar, this one being only the second he had ever smoked. He asked me what brand it was; I told him they were called "Palma Throwouts," the name, of course, being a misnomer. He told me it was much nicer than the other one he had smoked, which had set him back $7. When I told him that I purchase three cigar brands through the catalogue and that each one averaged out to 50 cents apiece, he nearly had a stroke right on the spot. He was in love with their aroma.

Soon, the other two drivers joined in on the conversation. All the while, the traffic continued to crawl by. What a sight we must've been, four men enjoying a late afternoon smoke; but we had smiles on our faces.

I was amazed that a cigar had brought together four complete strangers. Eventually, another driver pulled out of traffic and alongside our vehicles. He already had a cigar in his hand. Time flew by, and when the traffic had finally lessened, we rejoined the race. But not before we exchanged phone numbers. Thanks, Steve, John, William and Duke; till the next time. And, oh yes, thanks, Thompson Cigar Co., for making cigar smoking affordable.

Robert Gaspar
San Diego, California

*

Dear Marvin,

This is a co-authored letter. I'm Jim, an avid golfer and smoker of fine cigars. And I'm Bret, a retired PGA golf professional and cigar aficionado. We're down in Jim's basement smoking a fine Fuente 8-5-8 and Henry Clay, discussing an article in the March issue of Golf Pro magazine.

We are both surprised and amazed by a comment from a PGA Merchandise Show attendee. The general manager of Cog Hill Country Club in Lemont, Illinois, complained about the proliferation of cigar vendors at the recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Florida. He said, "There's too many positive things out there to promote something that's a proven detriment."

We assume this gentleman is a part of the "hang 'em high" non-smoking crowd that feels the enjoyment of any kind of smoking should be banned. But we don't understand how smoking a cigar on a golf course could be offensive to anyone in such a non-confining space. And for many like ourselves, it actually adds to the pure enjoyment of the game.

We would like to suggest to our fellow smokers a tip that will leave us out of harm's way with the non-smoking golfer. When you finish your favorite smoke, discard your stubs in trash containers provided around the course. Leaving them lying around the golf course is nothing more than littering and it just adds fuel to the non-smoking fire that we face everyday.

It is disturbing to read comments like this from individuals in the golf business who think that cigar smoking and the game of golf don't go hand in hand. The journey that one can have while playing golf with friends and enjoying a cigar is very memorable and worth living. We know that many others share our interests and will continue to enjoy the rewards of golf, friendship and cigar smoking.

Jim Rutherford and Bret Bonzheim
Manistee, Michigan

*

Dear Marvin,

I am a longtime cigar smoker whose wonderful (non-smoking) wife of 22 years is pretty understanding. She has long enjoyed the aroma of my cigars but considered smoking a "guy thing" that she didn't really understand. Lately, having seen all the pictures in Cigar Aficionado of ladies enjoying a smoke, she became more and more intrigued, even to the extent of taking a puff or two when I lit up.

This past Valentine's Day we planned to have dinner at a fine local restaurant, Cafe Citron. Knowing the bar was "cigar friendly," I told my wife that I was going to bring a cigar to enjoy after dinner. She said, "If you're going to smoke, then you better have one for me."

Later, after enjoying a wonderful dinner, we went to the bar where we ordered two glasses of Port. For the better part of the next hour, we sat at the bar indulging in the twin vices of alcohol and tobacco. The Macanudos had a perfect draw and were mild enough for even the most novice of smokers. In the midst of our reveries, my wife turned to me and said, "Now I know why you enjoy this so much." She added that not only was it relaxing after a good meal but it was also a great way for people to bond.

Marvin, my thanks to you and your most excellent journal for helping even an "old married couple" find a new pleasure to share.

David Jay Fishman
Apopka, Florida

*

Dear Marvin,

Although I sort of understand the point Mr. Washington was trying to make in his letter to you in the Winter 1996/97 issue, I was extremely upset with his line of thinking. Mr. Washington is right to say that some of our personal freedoms have been infringed upon, but his weak attempt to explain borders on being offensive. The example he uses are common of "ditto-head" thinkers. His comment about South African diamonds upsetting the "apartheid-aware diners" is a slap in the face to all those people in South Africa who struggled for a simple thing: human rights. As for drinking and driving, maybe Mr. Washington should talk to the family who lost a loved one because "someone" was exercising his personal freedom by getting wasted at a bar and driving home in his BMW. I certainly hope that Mr. Washington, or anyone for that matter, doesn't really believe that all the prohibitions in his letter are the pleasures in life. Does anyone?

Don't get me wrong; I do enjoy the fine things in life, but before I do I have to ask myself: "At what cost?" All too often we put a monetary value on success, and all too often we are wrong. There is nothing wrong with having money or being well off, but when we disregard the people and world around us, our personal happiness is cheapened. While in college, I supported myself by working at a restaurant for the well-to-do. Night after night I gave excellent service to guests who thought they could treat me any way they wanted because they had lots of money. There wasn't any respect for me or the people around them. Does a fur coat from an endangered Siberian tiger really improve your lot in life? Does it make you a better person socially? Does "individual freedom" mean we can trample on the rights of others? At what expense are you having fun, Mr. Washington?

Marvin, as a subscriber, I have enjoyed your magazine for the past couple of years and have been smoking cigars since 1992. My "best" cigar is not an Opus X or a Cuban, although both are very good. My best cigars are the ones I associate with the best times in my life: fishing with my uncles, camping with my buddies, weddings, dinner parties. In part, celebrations of life. Looking back on my college days, I remember sitting on the balcony of my fraternity house and talking with my Pike brothers about the endless possibilities that our lives held for us. Now in my late twenties, I work for an organization that is dedicated to saving rare animals from extinction. My income is modest, but I enjoy my work and the feeling that comes from knowing that I am doing something for the benefit of all. From time to time I visit used bookstores for less expensive novels. The covers may be a bit bent or dusty, but the story enchants me just the same as in a new book. The beer I drink may not be microbrewed, but the people I drink with are what's important to me. This is the "wealth" I have accumulated. This is my success. This is my pursuit of happiness.

I guess what it boils down to is respect. When I do smoke my cigars, I try to be aware of those around me. There is a simple phrase that I have found that will work wonders: Mind if I smoke? Nine times out of 10, no one minds. People just want to be acknowledged. Lighting up without asking is rude. Period. Once I do smoke, it is amazing how many want to try one, even my female friends!

Mr. Washington is right to not want to lose his individual freedoms. We all have our own pursuit of happiness, each differ-ent and unique. We should all take pleasure in living life deliberately. But maybe when he, and others like him, start respecting the individuals around him, they will start enjoying themselves even more.

Finally, Marvin, cigars are a celebration of the fine things in life. For me this includes great literature and wonderful music. Please include more of these topics in your upcoming issues. Your magazine is a celebration of the cigar. Cigar smokers are a diverse people. Let your magazine celebrate that diversity.

Scott Trudell
Ferndale, Michigan

*

Dear Marvin,

I am 67 years old and have enjoyed cigars since I was in my mid-20s. In that time my appreciation of the elements of a good cigar have evolved from plastic-tipped drugstore imitation cigars to finely constructed, hand-rolled, quality smokes. In my high middle-income professional years, I always enjoyed the best cigars I could afford (without bringing down the wrath of my wife). Now, in my third year of retirement, my fixed income coincides with the insanity of runaway prices on cigars. My regular everyday favorites, Santa Rosa Quatros, have doubled in price in almost a box-to-box time period.

The industry says that there are a lot of dollars chasing a more and more limited supply of cigar tobacco. I don't discount this. It has also not escaped my attention that there has been an almost exponential proliferation of cigar retailers lately. Since I don't believe that these nouveau dealers are in the business for altruistic reasons, I'll have to conclude that there are some fairly decent bucks assured to go into this specialized retailing. Conclusion: runaway cigar prices are largely dealer driven, not driven by supply of raw materials.

I've done the bundle-shopping drill, trying to find an at-least-reasonable value cigar as an alternative to my preferred but no longer affordable brands. A lot of others have probably done the same. The remaining options are to smoke a preferred brand, but in greatly reduced numbers, or to just withdraw my lifelong patronage of the cigar industry as others such as I will undoubtedly do. Maybe this vacuum in the market will be taken up by the new, occasional cigar smokers--women, yuppies, etc--and maybe not.

It would give me the greatest pleasure to enjoy on a regular basis the fine cigars that are so prevalently pictured in the hands of celebrities on the covers and feature articles of publications, or at least to enjoy cigars of the quality that I have smoked in my lifetime before this aberrant market. But, since this is not likely, I'll continue to smoke within the limits of my options. I smoke for pleasure, not to make a statement. It doesn't matter what band is on the cigar when there's no one around to impress. When my options can no longer provide a cigar that provides simply a pleasurably personal smoke, then maybe I'll do my bit to relieve stress on the tobacco supply by making my share available to someone else.

Michael Shaw
Vienna, Virginia

*

Dear Marvin,

I am a 23-year-old novice cigar aficionado who has been smoking cigars for about a year. During the last four months I have done extensive research into cigars and have acquired a great love for the art of smoking them. I recently had an experience that I feel is worthy of your "Out of the Humidor" column, so I have decided to share it with you.

One late Thursday night my girlfriend and I decided that we would go on a little road trip to get away from the everyday run-and-gun lifestyle of our city. On instinct we decided that we would spend our Friday afternoon traveling to see Graceland. We live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Memphis is about two and a half hours from where we live. After deciding that, I immediately went home and signed on to Cigar Aficionado On-Line to check for cigar stores in the Memphis area. Needless to say I found many shops!

The next day we were on the road by 9 a.m. Upon arriving in Memphis I immediately drove to the closest cigar store. Entering the store I found treasure, the Fuente Fuente Opus X. I was overwhelmed with joy since I had read so much about these precious smokes. After buying as many as I could afford (they are not cheap) and hitting a couple of other stores, we were on our way to see the King!

We spent hours wandering through the grounds of Graceland and had a wonderful time together. It was definitely an experience to remember! We left Memphis around 5:30 p.m. and arrived in Little Rock around 8 p.m. Although we were both tired, we took my cigars to my humidor at our local cigar shop and kept one out for later that evening. We drove around that evening for about an hour looking for the perfect spot to enjoy my Opus X. Finally, around 11 p.m. we arrived at a small, intimate pond where I could enjoy every second of the smoke. It was very dark and all you could see was the reflection of the moon on the pond and the fountain in the middle of the pond gently spraying water.

After taking the first puff of my Opus X, I was in heaven. My girlfriend actually laughed at me, although she understood the immense pleasure the cigar was giving me. We sat by the pond and talked about our trip and other things in life as I enjoyed my fine cigar. The pleasure I got from the cigar was like no other that I have had. There simply are no words to describe it, other than "heavenly." Too soon, my cigar came to an end. The 10 and a half hours I waited to smoke my precious cigar were well worth it. It was a day that I will never forget. I can hardly wait for my next greatest pleasure, which will be seeing my brother enjoy one of these fine cigars that I brought back for him.

I feel that I owe this wonderful night in part to Cigar Aficionado, and I thank you for all that you do for us cigar lovers in the world. Your magazine is not only incredibly enjoyable, it is also educational. I have acquired a vast amount of knowledge from your magazine as well as from your Internet pages. I would also like to thank my beautiful girlfriend for putting up with my obsession.

Aaron Manning
Little Rock, Arkansas

*

Dear Marvin,

I read with interest the letter published in the March/ April 1997 Cigar Aficionado from David Bernick of Boston. But before my fellow aficionados form an impression of "Generation X" from his letter, I must come to my generation's defense.

I, too, fall under the broad description of Generation X, but I disagree with David's letter. While I believe in diversity and non-discrimination, I don't think we will see a sudden proliferation of blue-haired, body pierced, leather-and-stud clad punk rockers in our local smoke shops. When individuals like this realize that being poor and hungry isn't fun, they will change and get jobs that let them earn a living. In the meantime, I welcome all the Davids that enjoy cigars to shop alongside me in the humidor, to openly discuss cigar experiences with me, and even recommend a smoke I haven't tried yet.

I am Generation X. I am 27 years old and am recently married. I wear suits to work, I have short hair and I drive a Honda. I have two dogs, a two-bedroom apartment, and consider myself to be a success by most of today's standards.

I have an undergraduate degree in finance from Auburn University. I struggled to find work in the lean job market of 1992, working as a temp, as a waiter, as a part-time painter. I finally found a good job working in a securities processing center. After a year, I went back to school at nights and for two and a half years worked toward an MBA. I finished my MBA in May of last year from Belmont University's Massey Graduate School.

I now work for the greatest health-care company in the world, as a financial analyst. Every day I work with hospital CFOs to resolve problems with their budgets, I use advanced spreadsheet and database programs to analyze data, and I interact with a great team of professionals in my department.

For about a year I have enjoyed a fine cigar twice monthly with a co-worker who is also an aficionado. I don't have a favorite yet; I enjoy trying new smokes and trying to determine what subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) differences I can taste from my last cigar. I enjoy Padrón, Macanudo and Hoyo de Monterrey. My wife and I also enjoy collecting wine. I don't scrape change together to buy these cigars, but I keep a budget in mind to please my wife, as we are saving for a house.

I look forward to the time when I can afford a beautiful humidor, and I can buy cigars by the box instead of individually. I'll probably have a small wine cellar to accompany my passion for cigars. Until then, I'll enjoy my occasional cigar with a glass of Merlot or imported beer.

I am Generation X. There's nothing to be afraid of!

Andy Loving
Brentwood, Tennessee

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