Out of the Humidor

| By CA Readers | From Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

Dear Marvin,

On Christmas Eve 1997, my girlfriend of 2 1/2 years and I agreed to open our gifts from one another. I had picked out a stunning business suit for her and knew it would be perfect, as the wet "thank you" kisses showed. I had given Pam the usual wish list and was unsure of what to expect, but when handed my gift, I should have known by her Cheshire cat smile what was forthcoming.

And what to my wonder-ing eyes should appear as I unwrapped this perfectly wrapped gift? Not just one or two ordinary cigars, but two perfect cigars for the smoking. The first was a Thomas Hinds White Label torpedo, the other a Diamond Crown. I was overwhelmed. But of course my story doesn't end there.

New Year's Eve, the night of celebration and reflection. It was also a night that I had been quietly anticipating the right opportunity to enjoy the delights of my newly acquired cigars. I couldn't think of a better way to bring in the New Year than with my cigar in one hand, Champagne in the other, and the girl of my dreams by my side.

As the countdown to midnight quickly approached, Pam made sure my cigar was lit. After sharing our mid-night kisses bringing in the New Year, she and I shared puff after puff of the sweet Diamond Crown until it was no more. My New Year's resolution: to never be without a fine cigar on New Year's Eve.

Raoul A. Cortez
San Antonio, Texas

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Dear Marvin,

It was the day of the second Tyson/Holyfield fight. My dad and I decided to order the fight from pay-per-view, knowing that anytime Tyson fights, it is worth watching. You never know what is going to happen.

On the night of the fight, my friends and I arrived at my house where we found my mom making us all dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful meal that evening--a gigantic, juicy steak with mashed potatoes and some steamed vegetables--while out on the deck basking in the warm June air.

To top off that wonderful dinner, we sipped cappuccino and each smoked Cohiba Esplendidos; that cigar is as its name describes: splendid. Complemented by the steak dinner, the cappuccino and the company of my father and my two best friends, I must say that I have never enjoyed a cigar more.

As we smoked our exquisite cigars, we entertained each other with speculation on the fight. Nothing we anticipated, however, stood up to the reality of that infamous night. I thank the boxers for one thing, and one thing only: for providing the punctuation that ensured this special evening would never be forgotten.

Aaron Guy Leroux
Amston, Connecticut

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Dear Marvin,

I hope you will allow me the privilege of paying a cigar-related tribute to some people who mean very much to me. I have been a subscriber from the beginning and can think of no better forum to do it.

I am a U.S. Army captain stationed in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division, about 13 miles from the DMZ. I have been in the Army for a little over seven years now, taking the road less traveled and enlisting after graduating from college. I was an infantry- man ("grunt"), was later selected for and graduated from Officer Candidate School and commissioned as an infantry officer, and went through many courses of training such as Airborne and Ranger schools.

Ranger School is one of the nastiest courses in the military, especially during the winter months, and spans 72 days, taking place in desert, mountain and jungle environments, where there is no shelter, no sleeping bag and the luxury of only one MRE (Meal Rarely Edible) a day. This is where my tribute begins.

Between each phase, usually after parachuting into the next location, we sometimes were allowed to open "care packages" from loved ones back in civilization. The contents had to be consumed in a limited time, usually with the result of violent sickness because of shrunken stomachs for those who received the rich foods we craved and requested in the incoherent letters we had scribbled quickly.

I had that experience as well, but the gifts as great as gold were the Macanudos that my future wife mailed to me. Tobacco products were allowed to be taken into the patrolling phase, about 10 days in each environment. They could be smoked only in extremely limited quantities, but the joy of lighting a fine cigar during the medics' periodic foot checks for frostbite was indescribable. The moment of relaxation in between the stress, sleep deprivation and toll of exposure to the elements gave new energy for the next patrol. My wife's steady stream of letters and those cigars helped me make it through that ordeal.

Although the situation is much different being statiozned in Korea, the separation from my wife; my beloved Doberman Pinscher, Liza; family; friends; and the creature comforts of home all take their toll on the spirit. One truly learns to appreciate the little things, as well as the larger, more profound blessings of our own country, when stationed abroad. And although I am able at times to go south to Seoul and purchase my favorite Cuban cigars, Romeo y Julieta Churchills, the cigars my wife picks out and mails in her care packages are even more special to me.

Another person I wish to pay a cigar-related tribute to is my father, Bill Downs, of Austin, Texas. For as long as I can remember, he was strongly antismoking, but in recent years he has become an aficionado himself. In fact, we went to one of Cigar Aficionado's Big Smokes in Dallas, where we had a fantastic time.

I would like to take the credit for my father coming to appreciate the relaxation and often spiritual times of deep thought that go with smoking good cigars, but I know there were also others from whom he learned the value of a good relaxation-filled hour with a fine cigar. One of my fondest moments with my father was enjoying Cabinet Selection Macanudos on the balcony of our apartment when my wife and I were stationed in Virginia. The camaraderie I enjoyed with my father on a beautiful Richmond evening is something I will always remember.

As can be expected, Christmas spent thousands of miles from friends and family can be a little tough. But one of the presents I received was a box of 1988 Cabinet Selection No. 1 Macanudos from my father. It was great to share several with friends during a Christmas dinner in my quarters, but the memories of that quiet night with my father that they bring back is even more special. Sharing a cigar in the presence of family and friends is truly one of the simple joys of life. I look forward to many more such moments with my father.

I am thankful to all those, such as my mother and stepfather; my best friend, Mark Beadle, who served in the Navy and well knows what mail from home means to those in the military; and all the rest who have sent so many packages and letters to me here.

But I especially want to take the opportunity in this forum to thank my father for all of the cigars and the expression of love they represent, as well as wish him all the best in his upcoming marriage, which I will be unable to attend.

And I thank most of all my beautiful, intelligent and loving wife, Tammy, who deals with the sacrifices of the military better than I do, and puts up with all my foibles and flaws. And who knows the value of cigars to my spirit. Thank you.

CPT Gregory C. Downs
Camp Casey, South Korea

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Dear Marvin,

It started out on a Friday night with a holiday party for about 20 at The Palm in Chicago. We had a private room overlooking Lake Michigan and a great view of the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. The dinner, service and company were excellent, as you would expect, and we capped the night with after-dinner drinks of various Ports and Cognacs.

I had been fortunate enough after searching for a month to locate a box of Arturo Fuente 8-5-8s (any Arturo Fuentes are hard to find in Chicago). As the drinks were being served, I passed the box around to share with anyone who wished to partake.

To my surprise, the box returned with only four cigars left. This was not a group of cigar lovers, save for my wife, me and another gentleman. I spent a few minutes educating those who asked about the cigars and particularly about the Fuente's reputation for excellence. We passed around the cutters and lit up. What a great experience to be sitting with a group in that setting during the holidays.

The following night my wife and I were invited to my best friend's house to christen his new outdoor hot tub. After making all the preparations (drinks and food), it was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside when we finally got settled in. I had brought cigars for everyone. Our wives had their favorite Zinos, my friend had two Avo No. 7s that I had purchased for him, and I had a Moore & Bode corona and a LGC corona gorda that I had brought from my humidor. What a glorious night sitting under the stars with good friends, good drink and great cigars. After three incredible hours in the hot tub we finally decided we had had enough.

After dinner on Sunday, I suggested to my wife that we finish off the weekend with Port and cigars. We adjourned to our garage (it wasn't too cold), she with a Zino and I with a Montecruz, both sipping Port as we looked out at all the homes decorated for Christmas. We relaxed and reminisced about the great weekend we had just enjoyed.

My wife and I have been enjoying fine cigars for about two years (she is my favorite smoking partner) and have had times like this before, but being the weekend before Christmas it seemed extra special to me.

I want to thank you, Marvin, for your continued efforts to bring the enjoyment of cigars to everyone, because sharing cigars promotes friendship and a spirit of closeness that we all need to feel.

John B. Cannizzo
Downers Grove, Illinois

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Dear Marvin,

On the eve of my 19th wedding anniversary, two weeks after my 41st birth- day, I celebrated several blissful moments worthy of your readership. Any cigar smoker worth his ash would envy the time my family and I recently spent at the Elk River Inn and Touring Center.

We have always celebrated our anniversary by taking a vacation trip to the North Carolina mountains or South Carolina coast, with a couple of Caribbean cruises for good measure. Never, before this trip, had our children tagged along. However, this ski trip to the West Virginia mountains would not be complete without them.

We left home two days after Christmas and didn't encounter snow until we crossed through the tunnel separating Virginia from West Virginia. By the time we got off the interstate, we were driving through a veritable blizzard. The first night we were too tired to do anything but crawl into our warm cozy beds.

The next day, after sleeping in late, we spent snow tubing and shopping for ski attire. After returning to our cabin, I poured myself a stiff Scotch, stepped out onto the covered porch and fired up my La Gloria Cubana Robusto. By then it was nearly midnight, and an unearthly calm had settled around the former sheep ranch as I walked down the drive, across the Elk River bridge, to the main highway. The winter stars twinkled brightly in the night sky as I contemplated the nearly finished day, and interestingly enough, it was still snowing in the cloudless night.

The next night, after a full day of strenuous Nordic skiing with my wife and daughters, the girls napped while my wife and I sipped bartender Mark's wicked hot chocolate in the inn.

Following a sumptuous Italian feast prepared by my gourmet wife in our cabin's kitchen, I played a challenging game of Scrabble with my youngest daughter before putting both daugh-ters to bed. As the witching hour again approached, I noticed that my wife had fallen asleep on the sofa. It was now or never!

After putting on my bathing suit and covering up with ski bibs, jacket, woolen socks, snow boots and ski gloves, I pulled my fleece ball cap over my head, poured myself two fingers of Glenmorangie, picked up my pocket humidor and trudged through two feet of snow to the nearby redwood hot tub perched on the deck behind the old farmhouse next door.

After stripping down to my bathing suit, I grabbed my Scotch and Fonseca pyramid and stepped daintily across the icy deck, immersing all but my head and hands into the 120-degree water. The snow actually sizzled as it hit the water, adding to the clouds of steam that were soon to be combined with my own smoke. As the snow landed in my glass, it released the wonderful flavor of my birthday whisky. I thought, this can't get any better! All I was missing was my beautiful, bikini-clad wife! OK--forget the bikini!

As I dictate this letter, the snow is tapering off and we are preparing for bed. A full day of Alpine skiing is planned for our anniversary, followed by a fabulous home-cooked meal by the inn's fireplace. And yes, I will try to improve upon the previous two evenings with my Arturo Fuente Gran Reserva Hemingway. Perhaps another letter to the editor will be in order!

Chuck Morgan
Charlotte, North Carolina

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Dear Marvin,

Like many of your readers, I have become increasingly aware of the influx of counterfeit Havanas. The piece you ran on your Web site showing the genuine article as well as the knockoffs was terrific. I printed them out and went through my entire collection.

I am happy to report that I have only the real thing.

Richard Berkowitz
Westport, Connecticut

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Dear Marvin,

I wanted to have a very special evening on my 52nd birthday. My wife made dinner reservations for us and several close friends at a local Spanish restaurant. The establishment is known to be very cigar-friendly, which fit into my plans.

I had been hoarding a Cuban Cohiba in my humidor for months. It was given to me by a friend who would not reveal his sources. I was having a fantastic evening enjoying my friends and trying to flamenco dance, after a little too much sangria. The time finally arrived to light up my prized Cohiba. It was akin to a religious experience. I finally knew first hand what all the fuss was about.

At this point nature called. I proceeded into the men's room with my cherished Cohiba. While washing my hands I ever so carefully placed it on the edge of the sink. This is when tragedy struck.

Suddenly, my cigar rolled into the sink, as I watched helplessly! Well, I returned to the table with my soggy Cohiba. I spent the remainder of the evening lighting and re-lighting my smoke.

What did I learn? A wet Cuban Cohiba was still better than anything else I had ever smoked.

Dominic Bianca
Boca Raton, Florida

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Dear Marvin,

When I lived in Burbank, California, a colleague from work was a big Kansas City Chiefs fan, and they were playing the Chargers in San Diego. He wanted to drive down just to see the game. I wasn't really up for it, but he said he'd drive, so we went to San Diego.

Neither one of us knew where the stadium was, so we pulled over in one of the business districts to ask for directions. Wouldn't you know it, we stopped in front of two cigar stores! I was in cigar heaven. I had brought along one of my H. Upmann Monarchs, packed in the aluminum tube, because I needed something to make the day pleasurable.

When my friend Javier and I walked inside one of the stores, there were four or five guys hand-rolling the cigars right in front of us. The only place you usually get to see that is in Cigar Aficionado. I hadn't witnessed this in person before. The aroma and atmosphere were wonderful.

While my friend was getting directions to the stadium, I was looking at one of the invitations for a cigar night at one of the local clubs. I picked it up and put it in my back pocket and then we left.

We got to the stadium at about 4:45, but there wasn't a car in the entire lot. The game was supposed to start in about two hours. We saw a security officer driving by in a golf cart making his rounds, so we asked him.

He told us that the box office closed at 4 and that we would probably have to get tickets at a Ticketmaster or some other facility. Just out of curiosity, I asked him if the Chargers/Chiefs game was playing there. He called on his radio and awaited for a reply. (Now, you would figure the security detail would know if there were going to be 50,000 screaming fans coming within the next hour, but he was unsure.)

The message came back over his radio that the game was being played in Kansas City, not San Diego.

You could probably imag-ine how my friend and I felt, especially since he nearly had to drag me to the game. But I didn't get mad. I thought about it and decided that there could be much worse things in life than showing up for a sporting event that is a thousand miles away.

I pulled out the invitation to the cigar night and studied its map. Turns out it was to a local sports club that belonged to one of the Chargers, so we went. (Of course, we got lost for another 45 minutes before we found the place.) It resembled one of those large lecture halls you find at an Ivy League school, with a huge 40-foot screen. The cigar bar was in a glassed-off area in the rear.

For 20 bucks, I got two cigars, a buffet dinner and a Jack Daniels sampler--and that included taxes and tip. It was about what I would have paid for a seat alone at the stadium. My friend doesn't smoke so he got a couple of beers and joined me in the cigar lounge. In the end, I enjoyed it and had a better time than my friend because he wanted to see the game in person. As for me, well, I was happy with my stogies and I didn't care who won or lost.

We had a good laugh over the whole experience. We also paid a hell of a price in laughs from our friends at work. Javier didn't tell his wife what happened. I think she would have divorced him. In the end we all had a new tale to tell. But next time your buddy wants to take you out of town for a game, check to make sure the team is there.

Michael Zaccherio
Ridgefield Park, New Jersey