Not too long ago, I found myself smoking a Cohiba Lancero atop a beautiful hotel in Quito, Ecuador, wondering if it was the thin air at 10,000 feet that was making the smoke so difficult. Anyway, the next day I found myself racing down the Andes through the rain forest and into the Amazon river basin in a four-wheel drive on my way to an assignment. I was not familiar with the area, but I figured that my "good looks" and my perfect Español would get me through any situation that may arise in the jungle. Little did I know how wrong I was about to be.
The poor roads were not safe at night, so I stopped at a small oil town near the Colombian border. After settling in and having a good dinner, I found my way to the local watering hole. As I walked into the bar, I noticed that, one, it was also a bordello, and two, the local security force was armed and did not necessarily agree with the government in Quito; nor did they appreciate strange gringos on their turf.
I decided to follow Sun-tzu's advice to know my enemy, so I walked over to them with a couple of beers and started to make small talk. My first surprise came when I learned that they didn't speak a lick of Spanish, and my trying to communicate with these native Indians in a tongue other than their Cechuan made me an even bigger threat/target, depending on how you look at it. The long silence seemed interminable as I reverted back to instinct and did the only thing I could think of to fill the void--I took out a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur No. 1.
The large cigar took all the attention away from me as the men now focused in on the smoke. I really screwed up by not bringing more than one, but I recovered by pulling out my knife and cutting the cigar in half (sorry, desperate times require desperate measures). I gave the end to one of the men, making sure that they understood not to inhale. The one who took the cigar seemed to understand and relayed it to the rest of his group. As we lit up, things really got mellow and I no longer felt as uncomfortable as in the beginning. He took a couple of long hits and passed it to the next guy, who proceeded to take one long drag straight into his lungs. Now, I know that Hondurans are mild, but try inhaling, as this poor gent did, and you can understand the sight of this unfortunate fellow as he dropped to the ground and practically coughed up his lungs. Needless to say, the rest of the group wanted nothing to do with the cigar, so that left me and the first smoker to enjoy the rest of the Excalibur. After a few minutes, he confessed in perfect Spanish that he failed to tell them not to inhale because he had always wanted to try a cigar and didn't feel that his buddies would appreciate the experience as much as he (bad form, but a great plan).
We continued to talk about nothing and enjoy the smoke, and that's when I got my second real surprise. He wanted to know how much an Excalibur costs in the States. I told him that you can find them for about four bucks. His jaw dropped as he exclaimed, "How can one cigar cost as much as a 'poke' at the bordello?" My jaw dropped as I exclaimed, "You can get 'poked' for four bucks?" Anyway, I kept to the cigar and the cold beers, 'cause we all know that we get what we pay for.
Roy D. Garcia
Albuquerque, New Mexico
I have a great story to pass on. I happen to be an inmate at a Federal prison facility that is a minimum security institution. Having been here a few months, I have been given a job working outside the fence with civilian personnel. Through talking with fellow inmates here, I've come to learn of the many possibilities of bringing contraband merchandise into the institution. Through these conversations I was successfully able to have my wife deliver a package to a courier which was subsequently given to me, for a small fee.
I had instructed my wife to send a few contraband necessities: my clip-on sunglass lenses, some prescription facial cream, and I had also requested her to go into my humidor and include a few cigars in the package. Even though I've been smoking cigars for over 25 years, my wife is not a connoisseur, but my stash is all top-shelf. Anyhow, I successfully smuggled two well-packaged cigars into the prison and preserved them in an empty protein powder container to keep them as fresh as possible. Because of their excellent packaging, I didn't bother to look at what brands of cigars were sent.
Shortly after my successful smuggling operation, our room was "shaken down" (searched for contraband). When I returned to my room from work that day, I realized some items in my locker were askew and was told by my roommate our room was involved in a shakedown. My first thoughts centered on the precious tobacco sticks I had stored, then I figured, "Oh well, if they took them it was only two cigars." I then opened my locker drawer containing my booty, and to my surprise, found that the wrapping to my package was partially removed, but the cigars were not confiscated.
Cheap machine-made cigars are sold in our commissary, I rationalized. Being curious for aficionado's sake, I slid out the first cigar and saw a Macanudo label and thought, "Oh, that's pretty cool," even though I usually prefer a stronger smoke. As I delicately slid the next chocolate stick out of the wrapping to view the label, my heart began to flutter and I broke out into a cold sweat. As fate would have it, my wife just happened to pick my one remaining Cohiba Robusto as the second cigar! Now though I'm not a proponent of prison contraband, certainly the intrigue of this entire episode was duly climaxed in one of the finest smokes I've had in a long time.
D.O.C.Name and address withheld for obvious reasons
Since I started receiving your magazine a year ago, you've managed to squeeze into every issue an article or photo spread dealing with women and cigars. It would seem, if one were to believe all the hype that has arisen around women who (supposedly) enjoy cigars, that my opinion is in the minority, but I have an awful lot of trouble believing that modern American women are and have been enjoying cigars since long before all of us men caught on. If it is indeed true that women smoke and enjoy cigars, why take such an in-your-face approach to publicizing it?
It is true that the sight of a woman smoking a cigar nowadays scarcely warrants a second glance, but I invite anyone to take a closer look at that woman smoker next time you see her. Take some time to study her face. Does she really appear to be savoring the subtle array of flavors that a fine cigar can offer? Is she engaged in informed discussion with her companions about her favorite smokes and what she likes about them, or is she holding back coughs and tears and nervously glancing about to see who in the room has noticed that she is smoking a cigar?
I realize that I am making a broad generalization. I am reasonably sure there are a few women out there who truly do enjoy the pleasures of a good cigar on a regular basis. Perhaps there are women who have their own carefully maintained and well-appointed humidors at home or in the office. I have yet, however, to meet, read or hear about them. Call me a pig, and I'm sure some of you will, but I openly question the motives of any contemporary American woman who claims to be a true cigar aficionado...excuse me ...aficionada.
Morris Plains, New Jersey
Gay Talese's comment on the cigar as a peace offering in the Winter 1995/96 issue reminded me of an experience I had last year, when I was managing a humanitarian relief project in Kabul, Afghanistan.
I should explain that there is not much peace in Kabul. A civil war continues there, and the city was under siege and cut off by a blockade for most of my nine-month stay. And while life in Kabul was rich in adventure, it was deprived of the finer things you celebrate in your magazine. No fine wines or Ports, only cheap Russian vodka and Bulgarian beer left over from the Soviet occupation. No cigars; only dry Dutch cigarillos and bad Japanese cigarettes.
One day, some French doctors I knew told me they had found a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label on the black market. I went to their house that evening to savor it. A French TV journalist had arrived from Paris that day and was staying with my doctor friends. The whiskey was poured and a general discussion began on the state of the world and its wars. The journalist had traveled the world's hot spots. Everywhere, behind every tragedy, he saw U.S. expansionism and the dastardly hand of the CIA. I told him that I found his view to be a bit simplistic, and I tried to explain the complexities of U.S. foreign policy to him (nothing inspires me to patriotism like the company of a Frenchman). The discussion outlasted the Scotch and then grew quite heated. Hours later we reached a tense impasse where we knew we would never agree, nor would we ever convince the other. Voices had been raised and insults had been exchanged. Everyone was a bit uncomfortable. Then the journalist reached into his pocket.
"Do you smoke cigars?" he asked me.
"Yes," I said, surprised.
"Here." And he passed me a Romeo y Julieta he had brought from Paris. I smoked it the next day, and while smoking it the following poem wrote itself:
The other night I found myself
Mired in a deep debate
Defending firm with whiskey talk
A Frenchman's attack upon my state.
You know how the Frenchman argues:
Red-faced, spitting bile and bluster
Poor Indians; that Hitler: Custer!"
Stunned, I sat back marvelling
Such talent for hypocrisy
His accusations ringing hollow
Through his country's sordid history
Later, though, he offered me a fine Cuban cigar
I thanked him and we both agreed
The embargo went a bit too far.
The next evening, invited over for dinner, I recited my poem to the journalist, explaining that I had written it while smoking the cigar he had kindly offered. He insisted on keeping a copy, and we parted as friends.
Manchester, New Hampshire
I am a 26-year-old cigar lover. I do not smoke cigars because they are trendy or hip, nor do I smoke them because they create the illusion of a wealth or affluence that I have yet to attain. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I must say that I enjoy them for all the right reasons. Please allow me to explain.
My two closest friends, Joe and Mike, also enjoy cigars. The three of us have been friends since childhood, yet for the last three years or so, our friendship has developed a strength and unity that is nothing short of remarkable. I'm not about to say that our shared affinity for stogies is the only thing that keeps us close because that is simply not the case. We have many things in common: similar backgrounds, values, hobbies and passions. However, it seems that most of my fondest memories of time spent "with the boys" involve cigars. I can only guess how many warm summer evenings the three of us have spent on Joe's front porch, sipping wine (or Cognac, Scotch, or beer) while smoking our favorite cigars. Sometimes we'll discuss or debate important topics such as politics or religion, while other times we'll lean toward lighter fare such as sports, entertainment or the like (sometimes we just sit around and talk about the cigars). The atmosphere can be animated and gregarious or it may be more serene and low-key, but it is always friendly, honest and above all, respectful. We are three young men who enjoy each other's company and the fine lost art of conversation. The cigars started out as an excuse to sit and talk but have evolved into a unifying accessory to these cherished moments. There is no doubt in my mind that no matter where our lives take us, Joe, Mike and I will always make the time (at least once in a while) to sit, have a cigar and celebrate friendship.
About a year and a half ago, on a cold Thanksgiving Day, I ventured outside to enjoy a newly acquired Onyx No. 852. My father, whom I'd never known to smoke a cigar, said he "would not mind trying one" if I could find something a little smaller and lighter. I happily offered him a corona-sized Macanudo (a brilliant choice, I must say) and to my delight, he enjoyed it quite a bit. Since then, my father has been a proud cigar smoker. In fact, he smokes more often than I do, and I have to pry my issue of Cigar Aficionado away from him when it arrives in the mail. The two of us often can be seen sitting in the garage, discussing the issues of the day while puffing our stogies. He's told me stories of his childhood that, oddly, he never felt the need or inspiration to tell me before. My father and I have always shared a close relationship, but I can't help but think that it has gotten so much closer since I handed him that Macanudo on Thanksgiving Day. He has gained an appreciation for one of life's simple pleasures and I have gained an unsuspected and most-treasured smoking partner.
Like most cigar smokers, I am often ridiculed, even condemned for my hobby by people who view cigars as an unhealthy, pretentious, even chauvinistic indulgence. However, like most people who adhere to a certain prejudice, these folks are generally ignorant and uninformed, and thusly their opinions don't offend me.
I know the truth. Cigars are not about pretense, chauvinism or machismo. However, they can be catalysts for communication and an excuse for people to sit down, relax and enjoy each other.
Michael J. Fleming
Rochester, New York
As a long-time cigar smoker, I found the passage below to be particularly interesting when it first appeared in Advertising Age. I wrote the author, who was kind enough to make me a full-size photostat of the original, which was hung on the wall over my humidor ever since. I agree that, "For sheer mood evocation, it still stands as a copy masterpiece." Hope you find it interesting.
William L. Hartman
Erwin, Wasey & Co. Inc. landed the Consolidated Cigar account because of this essay, and the agency kept it for 30 years.
It is no mere coincidence that a man carries his cigar next to his heart. Badge of his majority--throughout his manhood, in the seclusion of his thoughts and on his thoughts and on his far excursions, it is his intimate companion. The young man sees his dreams of conquest take form in its curling smoke. The old man in his easy chair blows retrospective rings without regret. In the good brown leaf is solace for the loser and exultation for the victor. It glows at the wedding feast, heralds the new born and turns to ashes at the wake. A man's smoke! Strange that in advertising its appeal should have been so neglected!
-- Erwin, Wasey & Co. Inc. Advertising
I would like to share a true story that happened to me that should warm the hearts of all cigar smoking men who have wives who don't share the same passion for fine cigars.
Last year we remodeled our upstairs and incorporated into the renovation the construction of my own den. Finally--a place to listen to music, warm up by the fireplace, read and enjoy an Arturo Fuente or a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur after a long day.
First and foremost, I must say I have the best wife in the world. I love her with all my heart, and even after 12 years of marriage, it is still exciting to be with her. She still is, and always will be, my best friend. She understands how much pleasure cigars give me, how they help me unwind and relax. So even though she doesn't care for the "smell," she gracefully puts up with it.
Back to the story. The other night, our daughter was staying with friends overnight. I was in the den, the sun was just starting to set. My wife came in and sat down next to me on the couch and asked if she could take a few puffs on my cigar. Shocked but happy, I obliged. She even remarked that she kind of liked how it tasted. I told her how nice it was to share something I enjoyed so much with her. She smiled, got up and said "I'll be right back."
A few minutes later, as dusk was setting in, she came in the room again, this time holding two glasses of brandy and wearing an extremely sexy black lace teddy. She sat down next to me, gave me my glass and asked for my cigar. She took my cigar, picked up her glass and sat back in my big, black leather chair. I tell you, the picture of her reclined back, drink in one hand, cigar in the other and in that teddy is still embedded in my memory. What an incredible turn-on!!!
Honor and modesty do not permit me to divulge the events of the next few hours, but suffice it to say that the evening ended with us by the warm glow of the fireplace sharing an Arturo Fuente Petite Corona I had purchased for her months before--just in case.
In conclusion, even though my wife is not, nor probably ever will be, a cigar smoker, she understands how a great smoke can top off a great day. And to all the guys who have wives who "just don't understand," just be considerate and patient. And maybe stash a cigar for her in your humidor--just in case.
Name withheld by request
Upon finishing the Spring 1996 issue of Cigar Aficionado, I felt the urge to have a late-night smoke. My choice on this early March evening was a Partagas 150th Anniversary robusto, which was buried deep in my already crowded humidor. These cigars are so enjoyable that I am almost afraid to smoke them, knowing that when my small supply runs out there will be no more. But with a warm breeze moving through the air, a fiery full moon in the sky and my favorite chair waiting, I felt this was a perfect time to smoke one of these gems. So with cigar in hand, and one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen CDs, I headed outside for that favorite chair.
As the music played and the warm breeze blew, I savored every draw I took, while watching the thin clouds move gently across an almost florescent moon. As I smoked my way through one of the most relaxing 30 minutes of my life, I could not help but think what a great country we live in. A place where freedom, coupled with great opportunity, make America the greatest country in the world. And as I took the last draw from the cigar, which by now was down to my fingertips, I could only think about how fortunate I was to live in the U.S.A.
Glenn W. Fleming
Greensboro, North Carolina
Several weeks ago, while attempting to pay a luncheon bill in New York City, the waiter told me my American Express card had expired. Since I have been a member in good standing since 1970, I searched my wallet for my current card--but to no avail. I therefore paid the bill with another card and immediately called American Express for my current card.
I was astonished to learn I had been purged from the file because I had not used my card in a while.
Since I have an impeccable credit record, American Express was happy to reinstate me, however my new card would have a 1996 membership date.
My 1970 American Express card is my "lucky" card. Now what could I do?
I remembered an article on [American Express vice chairman] Jonathan Linen in the Summer 1995 (Jack Nicholson) Cigar Aficionado. I quickly sent Mr. Linen a letter explaining my problem. Needless to say, Mr. Linen has the grace and style and class that personifies most cigar men and women.
The common bond of cigar lovers is a wonderful thing. I received my new American Express card with the 1970 membership date. (Thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Linen). I sent Mr. Linen my favorite La Unicas as a thank you. I hope he enjoys them as I do.
Convent Station, New Jersey
As many of my fellow Cigar Aficionado readers will attest, there is simply no better combination than a good cigar and a round of golf. However, recent experience has brought to my attention that this opinion can be raised to a new level.
I was on a golf outing with business associates on Hilton Head, South Carolina, a few weeks ago. The weather had been a bit uncooperative during the three previous days of our stay; however, our last day turned out to be simply gorgeous. As we stepped up to the Number 8 tee box of Old South Golf Links, a member in our group asked, "Could it get any better? A Monday, no work, great day, good company, golf and cigars."
I studied the hole, a beautiful par-3 over marsh and water. A true island green completely surrounded by hazards. Any mistake and your ball ends up as an alligator appetizer.
For some reason, I had had trouble all week achieving my typical distance with my clubs. It could have simply been fatigue from the late nights spent carousing on Hilton Head. The friendly pro had suggested I consider clubbing down since we were at sea level and I was accustomed to playing at a slightly higher altitude in the Chicago area. I took his advice, but I still think it was acute Mondavi/ Johnny Walker/ Fonseca/ assorted brews fatigue syndrome. Very common ailment on four-day golf outings.
There was a slight wind off the intercoastal waterway and I held up my Arturo Fuente 858 to get an exact wind read. This was a practice I had witnessed my Uncle Shorty Monroe do hundreds of times. He was one of the people responsible for my love of a great cigar. Based on my read from the smoke of the 858, I determined that I should go with a seven iron. The flag was playing 147 yards. Usually I would hit an eight iron, but I listened to the pro.
I teed the ball up and made a comment to my playing partners that I needed to put this close to get back into our little Nassau golf wager. I took one last puff on the 858, let the smoke slip out, set up the ball and tried to emulate a Freddie Couples swing. The ball came off the club head so sweet and true. I knew by watching its flight that this one would be close. The ball landed on the green, took a small bounce, skipped once and started rolling directly toward the flag. It seemed as if it was going to roll forever, and then it simply disappeared. A hole in one! I almost swallowed the 858. My playing partners were ecstatic.
As anyone knows who has ever hit a hole in one, it is quite a unique golf experience. I'm sure it is a little different for each of us. One of my first thoughts was, I wish all of my golf buddies that I've played with over the years could have witnessed this with me. Then I wondered, Wow, I could have a good round. Will I win anything for this? How much are drinks going to cost me? Are they going to put my name up in the clubhouse? Let's celebrate!
With this last thought, I went to my golf bag and pulled out four fresh La Gloria Cubanas, presented to me as a gift from our Hilton Head host, Jim Channell. I passed them out to my partners and we celebrated the moment, the achievement and the beautiful day the good Lord had provided us.
As we walked up to the green and looked into the cup, sure enough, there was my ball. I had to reiterate my friends' earlier comments. Could it get any better? A Monday, no work, beautiful weather, good company, golf, great cigars and an ACE! No, it sure couldn't! I wish every day was that wonderful.
Jim Bob Morris
P.S. For the last several years, I have made a practice of playing golf with a trusted cigar in my mouth during all of my shots. Not only for the great taste and experience, but for the fact that I do not move my head as much, especially on putts (when you haven't made a hole in one!). My head stays steady and over the ball and my alignment is much improved. I have not heard of any pros coming out in support of this theory, but it works for me. I went from an 18 handicap to a 10. I do know that I smoke a lot more cigars now. I think the correlation is actually: more golf equates to more cigars or vice versa and more cigars equate to a lower handicap or vice versa. Let the handicappers figure it out.
I feel like the luckiest man in the world. I just married the perfect woman. I wanted to share my happiness with your readers for two reasons. First, to let my fellow cigar lovers know there are wonderful ladies out there (although one less now) that do like cigars and know how important cigars are to their men. Second, to your female readers, I want them to know just how much a man appreciates an open-minded wife who is willing to try a new experience just because she knows her husband enjoys that activity. A little compromise goes a long way.
Keep up the good work.
I am a 36-year-old psychologist and hospital administrator. I recently applied for a substantial life insurance policy because my wife and I are expecting our second child. My current policy is held with one company and my recent application was submitted to another, due to the hope of a slightly better premium on the new policy. I would also like to note that I have been an athlete all of my life and I currently exercise vigorously five to seven days per week with weights and aerobic machines.
I was honest on my application by admitting to smoking one to two cigars per week. Although no nicotine was evident on my blood or urine tests, this company (Allstate, if you must know), who holds my car and homeowners insurance by the way, would only approve my application as a smoker and at a significantly increased premium. That is, Marvin, if I smoked three packs of cigarettes per day or one to two cigars per week, my premium would be the same!!!
Marvin, I am outraged!! How moronic, ill-informed and out of step can those folks be? I complained, as did my agent to his supervisors, but to no avail. Needless to say, I will be applying to my current policyholder for the increased amount of insurance in the near future.
David R. Youngelman
Funding a Cure
In the March issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine, I called upon our readers to make donations to CaPCure, the prostate cancer research foundation. Prostate cancer is a disease that may affect up to 20 percent of the adult male population in this country. It is an insidious killer. The research underway has already made gains in early diagnosis of the disease, and there is hope that more breakthroughs will be made in the years to come.
Your response was overwhelming. We have already received more than $20,000 from our readers. Thank you.
In addition, the Fourth Annual "A Night to Remember," held on Monday, April 1, 1996, included a charity auction to benefit CaPCure. The dinner, held this year at New York City's Four Seasons Restaurant, was attended by 166 men from around the country (see Nights to Remember, page 392). The lots auctioned featured rare cigars, including two separate lots of pre-Castro Cuban cigars, several humidors, including a unique piece designed at my request by Elie Bleu in France using images of Cuban cigars and Cuban cigar bands on the outside, trips to the Dominican Republic with tours of cigar factories, and a new Chrysler Sebring convertible. The auction raised $139,000, and the total contribution from the event topped $225,000.
Finally, we have set aside a certain percentage of the net proceeds from our Big Smoke events, of which 10 will be held in 1996 around the United States. It is an appropriate way for us to give back for some of the good times that we have had.
The total contribution to CaPCure from the readers of Cigar Aficionado magazine and all Cigar Aficionado events to date is approximately $575,000.
Thank you very much.
If you haven't sent in your contribution already, please do. We'll be glad to forward it to CaPCure.
Marvin R. Shanken
Editor and Publisher