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Out of the Humidor

| By CA Readers | From Matt Dillon, Spring 96

Dear Marvin,

As a teenage girl, I was often bemused with the dreams and plans of how I was going to fall in love. You know--the courtship, the roses, the letter sweater and all that Gidget-type stuff.

Well, here I am, 25 years later, and I have never actually fallen in love--until now.

A couple of years ago, an attractive gentleman sat at my game (I deal blackjack in Las Vegas) smoking a handsome Churchill. I think he was surprised at how welcomed he was with his cigar and at my extreme interest in what he was smoking. When he learned through further conversation that I smoked cigars (what I now realize was garbage), he presented me with a beautiful Montecristo. He was the first man I had met that didn't frown on my indulgence of cigars.

This experience prompted me to purchase my first copy of Cigar Aficionado in hopes of gaining more knowledge about the smoking of fine cigars. Not only did I find your top-notch publication very educational, but it really opened my eyes: I was not the only woman in the world who smoked the occasional stogie!

Several visits and months later, my cigar smoking player blurted out an invitation to join him and his traveling companion for dinner that night. (It just so happened to be Valentine's Day). I met them for dinner. We ate, we drank, we smoked, we talked, we laughed and a sweet connection occurred.

He returned to the Midwest the next day and has called me every day since. The courtship has begun, and though it has its challenges with 1,514 miles between us, it has its own uniqueness as well. Instead of sending roses, he makes sure my humidor is filled with my favorite smokes. Every time I light up, I feel a sweet presence of this special man who has touched my life. Instead of a letter sweater, he gives me his boxer shorts and oxford shirts. I still have the cigar band he slipped on my finger recently--we're going steady. He visits frequently and we enjoy checking out the local tobacco shops, selecting and experimenting with a variety of fine cigars. Some of my most cherished moments with him have been simply sitting, smoking and talking.

In the not too distant past, if anyone would have suggested that a cigar would be an icon of my falling-in-love experience, I would have laughed. Not only have I fallen in love, but I no longer smoke in secret.

Life is good.

Melinda Quick
Las Vegas, Nevada

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Dear Marvin,

Following a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to stop at my favorite tobacconist, Liberty Tobacco in San Diego, to replenish my severely depleted humidor.

You can imagine how thrilled I was as I entered the humidor room to discover my name inscribed on a brown paper bag. As I slowly opened the bag, I was delighted to set my eyes on 15 Partagas 150th Anniversary robusto-sized cigars.

When I arrived home, I found my wife and two small children, ages three and 14 months, all enjoying an afternoon siesta. I immediately placed 14 of the cigars in my humidor, opened a bottle of Samuel Adams and headed for the patio to experience one of these rare beauties.

I must say this was one of the richest and deepest-flavored cigars I'd ever experienced. Twenty minutes into my smoking pleasure, my three-year-old appeared on the porch with one of the cigars in each hand, completely damaged and torn. My blood pressure went through the roof as I sprinted through the house toward the humidor in the living room, where to my dismay I found my 14-month-old with a Macanudo Hyde Park Cafe in his mouth and an array of shredded cigars, including my coveted Partagas, scattered throughout the room.

As I finished my cigar, my wife vacuuming the tobacco, a tear fell into what was left of my second Sam Adams, and I realized the saying is true: When the Partagas 150th Anniversary cigars are gone, they will be gone forever.

John F. Hiser
Poway, California

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Dear Marvin,

I thought your readers would enjoy this news item:

Coolidge Discards Cigar; Riot Starts in Los Angeles

Los Angeles. February 19, 1930. (AP) Former President Calvin Coolidge threw away a half-smoked cigar here and a crowd of souvenir coveters immediately started a fight for the butt. Some hands were stepped on and some kicks administered. A woman who refused to give her name won the stub. She put it in her handbag and hurried away.

Louis Phillips
New York, New York

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Dear Marvin,

Your article on Tom Selleck was particularly insightful. I'm writing to put Tom's mind at ease on an issue so close to his heart.

My son, Max, and Tom's daughter, Hannah, attend the same school on the outskirts of Los Angeles. I have, on numerous occasions, seen Tom and Jillie standing dutifully in attendance at early Friday morning school assemblies, spending quality time "being there" for Hannah. This at an hour when many other, much less-famous fathers are onto their 10th telephone call or third business meeting.

To you, Tom, take pride in knowing that you are a great father. Although we've never met, I have a Cuban Montecristo No. 2 waiting in my humidor for just the right early morning introduction, a symbol of your commitment to your family.

If only all daughters had such concerned daddies.

Greg Ström
Malibu Lake, California

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Dear Marvin,

In the Autumn edition of Cigar Aficionado you mentioned that President Clinton should admit that he is a cigar smoker. Then I read with great interest the article in which Arthur M. Schlesinger stated that the Cuban embargo was now useless since the Cold War was over and Cuba is no longer aiding guerrilla groups in Latin America.

So, I wrote a letter to the president asking him about his Cuban policy, and also asked him about his favorite cigars. I have enclosed the letter I received from his office.

Keep up the great work! Cigar Aficionado is truly a superb publication. My only grievance is that it is not printed monthly.

Michael D. Moore
Franklin, Tennessee

Dear Michael:

Thank you for sharing your views regarding U.S. policy toward Cuba. As you know, my administration has acted to address the issue of Cuban migration. The steps we have taken address the humanitarian problem at Guantánamo and will deter illegal migration, protect political refugees, and enable at least 20,000 Cubans to enter the United States legally every year. In addition, the regularization of our migration relationship will enable the United States to focus on its fundamental objectives in Cuba: a peaceful transition to democracy, respect for the human rights of the Cuban people, and an open economy with opportunity for all.

Taken alone, the measure allowing migrants at Guantánamo into the United States might well have triggered another mass migration, endangering lives and impairing our ability to control our borders. I concluded that the only way to forestall such a dangerous exodus was to signal our determination to put an end to illegal migration from Cuba while maintaining expanded opportunities for legal admission.

My administration is seeking a peaceful transition to freedom and democracy in Cuba. To accomplish this, we are enforcing a comprehensive economic embargo that presses the Cuban regime to end human rights abuses and adopt democratic reforms. We are also reaching out to the Cuban people through private, licensed humanitarian assistance as well as an increased flow of information. We would welcome an indication that the regime in Havana is prepared to take credible steps toward democratic reform and respect for human rights.

I appreciate knowing your thoughts on these important issues.

Bill Clinton
President of the United States

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Dear Marvin,

Newly ordained cigar smokers need the service found at America's century-old cigar stores (Cigar Aficionado, Autumn 1995). Their original owners must have understood that teaching cigar smoking's refined rituals and rubrics to new smokers would cost them a cigar or two. New stores are opening daily. Do dealers expect to enrich our experience, earn our business and tolerate our inadequacies? Or will they show a snobbery guaranteed to keep their sales on a level much lower than their egos?

I believe this personal incident will encourage new smokers and admonish misguided dealers. I'll call my story "The Cigar Aficionado and the Arrogant Tobacconist--A Cautionary Tale."

I'm relatively new to cigar smoking, and I'm trying to find a very mild but flavorful cigar to enjoy on occasion. Every couple of months, I search for a new tobacconist who might be able to recommend a brand that will become my favorite smoke. The discovery process has been slow, because my wife hates the smells cigar smokers dare to call aromas. Last Thursday, I purchased two Churchills from the aforementioned dealer. While trying one, I noticed that the cigar's wrapper had begun to unravel. With the cigar still burning, I returned to the shop to show the owner. "Can you tell me what's happening to my cigar?" I asked. My disappointment in his product must have been evident. To answer me, he arrogantly picked up a nearby pen to demonstrate the rolling or banging or general mishandling of which I was undoubtedly guilty.

He went on to show off his product knowledge by romancing the cigar's very delicate outer layer, disturbed by (my) indelicate handling. I was truly impressed with his insight into the possible reasons for the problem I had experienced, and equally aware that he had absolutely no empathy for my frustration. After coldly delivering his polished response, he advised me with thinly veiled mockery to "throw that cigar away before it burns a hole in your suit."

I was a little embarrassed as I left, and I knew I would not do business with him again. Once back in my car, a valuable lesson occurred to me. He need not have replaced my cigar at no charge to satisfy my complaint, although that would surely have been the response of someone genuinely interested in my business. Had his professional explanation been given with concern over my misfortune, I would probably have seen the comedy of my errors. More important, I would then have simply bought another cigar on which to prove my newfound ability to handle it with the care and grace good cigars deserve.

Instead, I was treated with the superiority of a dealer who had sold "thousands of those very cigars" without so much as a trace of the unraveling problem I brought to his attention.

I'm certain that none of those 10 cigar shops around the country that have been in business for more than 100 years--nor any new stores that hope to be--would have failed to please a customer for the cost of a single cigar.

Bob Macaluso
Branford, Connecticut

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Dear Marvin,

As the lead mechanic of Red Eagle Racing, I've often worked 12- to 14-hour days to ready our off-road car for a race. Tired and a little greasy after such a long day, I'll clean up and go to a special drawer in my tool chest where I keep a small supply of my favorite premium cigar. The team owner, who has been working as hard as I have, also digs out his favorite cigar and we snag a cold beer--premium beer, of course--out of the shop fridge, call to his wife to join us and retire to the hot tub. To the rear of the shop (which is at his home) is a beautiful view of our foothill community. There we can truly relax and plan race strategy and future plans.

As a reward for my work, which is unpaid, the team offered me a ride in the 1995 Baja 1000 off-road race, the longest nonstop off-road race ever held: 1,131.4 miles. I would drive about 120 of those miles. As with any serious race effort, all contingencies must be planned for. A survival kit with two days' food was prepared. Then it occurred to me that something was overlooked. We had no cigars! That was remedied with the inclusion of four cigars, a lighter and a clipper.

As luck would have it, I was in the car at about 8 p.m., 750 miles from the start, in a very remote part of Baja California Sur, when the steering box broke. After checking everything I came to the sad conclusion that the race was over for us. Luckily, a pit was within two miles and we were brought there by one of the pit crew members after radioing for help. When we got to the pit we were given a cold premium Mexican beer, a most welcome way to ease our suffering. Then I realized that I had forgotten the cigars--they were still in the car!

Lamenting this, I was overheard by a young Israeli man who was touring North America by motorcycle. To my surprise, he hopped on his bike and retrieved our cigars. So there we were, in the middle of nowhere, on a warm and beautiful night with a great cigar and a cold beer. Even though we didn't finish the race, life couldn't have been better.

Rick LaZelle
Alpine, California

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Dear Marvin,

Pleasant surprises are too few in our lives; as a man who has had several, I consider myself lucky. I write this letter after enjoying my Autumn copy of Cigar Aficionado, which was a surprise gift. My other recent surprise was a party hosted by my wife for my 40th birthday. Christine managed to coordinate the arrival of my four siblings as well as over 80 friends from around the country, and succeeded in keeping it all a secret. Coming from the nosiest man on earth, I call this a significant accomplishment in itself.

Another gift from my wife was an absolutely beautiful humidor filled with an assortment of my favorite cigars. The party was an unbelievably great time for all and a memory I will never forget. As you can well imagine, cigars were enjoyed by many that night, a true celebration of a significant passing in one's life. I consider myself very fortunate to have such a caring, supportive wife who understands the important things in life: family, friends and a great cigar.

Vincent DiGrangi
Chicago, Illinois

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Dear Marvin,

Last week, I was at my son's high school football game (yes, that same premature baby who is now a 210-pound, 12th grade defensive tackle), when an officious-looking young man sauntered up to me and requested that I put out my cigar because it was disturbing the cheerleaders. His exact words were that "they found the smell offensive." We were outside, for heaven's sake!

Having been considerate enough to remove myself from the bleachers and to stand at least 20 yards away from any other human beings (even cheerleaders) before I lit up, and having looked forward to a chance to enjoy a rare weekday afternoon smoke (I work in a smoking prohibited building), I was admittedly in no mood to be trifled with. "Frankly," I began, "I find it offensive that several students are using the foulest language in the stands despite the presence of small children. Moreover, I am offended at the players who seem more interested in Deion Sanders-style strutting and trash talking than playing the game." I could feel the momentum building up in me like the tight draw of a Cohiba Robusto. "I also find it offensive that the cheerleader's cheers are lame, poorly timed and without the slightest bit of emotion. And that the coaches don't use the run more effectively. And I find it offensive..." The poor fellow looked at me wide-eyed. If his name had been Aladdin, he would have wished me struck dead by lightning on the spot. "Never mind," I said. With one last dramatic draw of Ashton, I allowed the still viable cigar--my last--to extinguish of its own volition rather than risk that my son be rendered a pariah with no chance of getting a date for the senior prom (the cheerleaders looked like the types to hold a grudge). By the way, my son's team won, 13-9.

Darrell E. Walker
Los Angeles, California

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Dear Marvin,

My wife and I are in our 40s and have been married for 12 years. Approximately five years ago, we changed our routine when making love in bed. We light a candle, then bring a glass of wine and a fine cigar to bed with us. We sit (unclothed) on our bed and together we enjoy our cigar, wine and slow, wonderful foreplay. This can last up to 45 minutes before we really get to the serious part. This small change has made an enormous difference in our marriage and both of us can hardly wait until the next time when we start our ritual over again. My wife and I have shared cigars during disagreements and it always seems to defuse the situation, mainly because we sit next to each other while sharing. I really feel that if two people can find something as simple as this, couples would stay together longer.

Mike and Mary Adams
Irving, Texas

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Dear Marvin,

I had a beautiful day at work. But when I went to the post office to get a registered package, bang. The letter, although very nicely formulated, was what is known to be the fear of every part-time writer: a rejection slip. Thinking of Gertrude Stein and the numerous rejection slips she got before being recognized as a genius didn't help. I came home quite depressed. A question of ego, I suppose.

I tried to rid myself of my depression by eating dinner. Whatever was available without cooking: a can of sardines dumped on a plate, a piece of cheese sprinkled with sesame seeds, Cabaret crackers and a bottle of white Bordeaux. Even so, my depression got the better of me.

I decided to treat myself to a cigar. I thought of a dry one, a William Tell. Then I said to myself, "No. Tonight calls for a real cigar." I looked into my homemade humidor. An Ashton? No. It's too mild and I was too sour. Let's go for a Hoyo du Prince. I had not smoked one for months. Before lighting it, I went through my scrapbook and read your rating of it: "Decent, toasty aroma, flavors: cedar, sweet spices," and my own comment, "No band. Too long but nice. Gift of A."

I took refuge in my backyard. Picture this: An early evening of an extremely mild autumn night. Green grass covered with yellow maple leaves. No neighbors in sight. Quietness. Solitude. My blond cat sitting by me at the picnic table. And a great cigar--suddenly too short and very tasty--accompanied by a double Amaretto di Saronno--to counterbalance the cigar's aggressiveness. A perfect moment, as Simone de Beauvoir would have called it, notwithstanding my mood.

I'm writing to you as I listen to the piano compositions of Clara Schumann, feeling, at last, totally relaxed and proud of myself for having conquered adversity. Thanks to the time spent alone with Hoyo du Prince.

J.K. Belleau
Longueuil, Quebec

* * *

Dear Marvin,

My mother, who is retired and lives in Canada, has friends in Cuba and speaks Spanish fluently. I often try to find creative ways to occupy her time and one of the things that I find works very well is to send her on vacations to exotic and warm destinations.

As you know, Canada does not have a trade embargo with Cuba, and over the past six or seven years I have often sent my mother there to visit with her friends on weeklong charter trips. In that I am an avid cigar smoker, I would also give her some cash and ask that she acquire as many cigars for me as possible.

This request served two purposes, the first of which was to allow her to feel as if she had a mission on her trip and that I was getting fair value in exchange for sending her there, and the second was that I would acquire some very good cigars at a reasonable price.

I have been sending my mother there about every three months, and on each trip she returns with a bag of wonderful cigars for me. But on a recent trip she did something that I simply must convey to you.

Canada only allows you to import two boxes or fifty cigars on any trip. While my mother was in Cuba, I received a garbled collect telephone call from an operator yelling at me in Spanish, with my mother's voice in the background prompting me to accept the call. She told me she couldn't stay long on the phone as she had to leave for the airport, but asked that I get two cases of the best vodka I could find and meet her at the airport when she arrived.

I did not understand the request, but she is my mother and off to the store I went. Twenty-four bottles of vodka are quite weighty so I used a shopping cart to lug them into the arrival area. After the flight arrived, my mother came flying out of customs in a frantic rush to find me (and the vodka). Then, as the other passengers began to come through customs, each greeted my mother and exchanged a box (in some cases two boxes) of cigars for a bottle of vodka.

In all, I think I acquired about 35 boxes of cigars.

My mother had bought as many boxes of Davidoff and Montecristo cigars as she could find and then distributed them among all the other passengers (who were all staying at the same hotel) that did not smoke, promising them each a bottle of vodka if they would bring them through customs in Toronto for her.

Over the years, I have obtained a very considerable surplus of some of the finest cigars in the world, and every time I sit down to smoke one, I am reminded of and thankful for my mother'screative streak.

Hillsboro Beach, Florida

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Dear Marvin,

I am a 24-year-old student in police sciences here in Montreal. I have never smoked cigarettes but I've been enjoying cigars for about eight years. For me, smoking a cigar is a special moment. I don't smoke just for the heck of it; I do it because I have something to celebrate. I must admit that over the years I have found all of the reasons in the world for smoking a good cigar. For example, the end of a hard day of work, the first snow of the season or my wife's beautiful eyes.

Recently, as you have heard, the population of Quebec had to decide if they wanted Quebec to separate from Canada or remain a province. Being a separatist myself, I was hoping to contribute to the birth of a new country. One of my reasons for voting "yes" was to stop needlessly paying for both federal and provincial departments that seemed to do the same job. (For example, the Canadian Justice Department and the Quebec Justice Department.) I think it is a total waste of money that could be used otherwise. Don't get me wrong here, I've always been proud to be a Canadian citizen; as a matter of fact, I am a former officer in the Canadian Navy. I just think that if there is a better way to spend our money, let's do it!

I met my wife, Deanna, in the service when we were both stationed on the west coast. Deanna comes from Ontario and speaks English; therefore, she was more inclined to vote for the Canadian unity, which is totally understandable. We respected each other's choice without any problem. Anyway, last October 30, I bought a cigar to celebrate a potential victory of the "yes" vote. I picked a Dominican--they are my favorite, as I prefer smooth cigars. I chose an Ashton Churchill. To my humble point of view, they are as great as my wife's eyes! As you know, the results of the vote were 50.6 percent for the "no" and 49.4 percent in favor of the separation. What a battle, wasn't it?

So in the end, it seemed that I had nothing to celebrate. My wife, on the other hand, pulled out an Arturo Fuente Double Chateau and lit it up with obvious satisfaction! (Cigar smoking is one of the many things we enjoy sharing.) Also being a former officer, it was as if she was celebrating her victory after a long battle! So there I was, in the living room, watching Deanna celebrating as I sat in utter disappointment! After all, there was no way I was going to smoke that cigar just for the heck of it. So after a few minutes, I lit up, deciding to celebrate the maturity of all voters, considering that nobody was hurt or killed for their allegiance. This was a reason worth celebrating, don't you think?

By the way, I just finished reading your Winter 1995/96 issue with Tom Selleck on the cover. My question is, who's the genius that said perfection is not of this world?! Long life to your work of art, Marvin!

Sylvain Dostie
Montreal, Quebec