An Enjoyable Vice

The glass door is opened and I step into the small room. The atmosphere is moist and the temperature is warm. Just right. It’s a tight space and I’m happy to have it all to my self. Another visitor would make things too difficult to properly scan the boxes. It’s been a while since I’ve done this and it takes a few moments before I start to feel comfortable enough to begin making a decision.

“I remember these. Hmmm. Did I like them?
I read the tiny labels carefully.
“Ah, HA! Perfect!”

A box of Griffins cigars.

I am not a smoker. Well, not of any measurable quantity at any rate and never a consumer of cigarettes. A good cigar though? That’s a different story entirely.

I shall refrain here from discussing all the issues and health risks involved with smoking since they are very well known and called into question only by those making money through tobacco sales or by folks so hooked that they feel the need to delude themselves into thinking that breath after breath of burning leaves does no damage. I admit, I am happy when ever I see the smoking areas disappear from eating establishments. It means that I can enjoy my meal and actually taste it as well. I reserve my smoking habits to one type of tobacco product and the out doors. Even then, It’s only about six to seven times a year. For me, it’s a treat, and one that is best enjoyed with good friends.

Growing up, smoking in my house only happened when I was very young. Too young, actually, for the memory to take root. My Father smoked, as did most folk’s dads, it seemed. He was a company man and cigarettes and gin and tonics were part of the corporate dress code. He had smoked for years, though not heavily. As the story was related to me, one day after work, my Father came home, went into the bed room and started to switch into work clothes. His three piece suit was hung up and the pockets emptied out onto the bed, their contents to be set aside for tomorrow. While he was in the closet rummaging for a hanger, his two year old son quietly meandered into the room, spotted his father as well as the items on the bed.

“Look, daddy!”

My father turned around an saw his only child, his toddler, standing there smiling at him, with a Marlborough sticking out from between his lips. He carefully removed the cigarette, smiled at his son and as soon as he was out of sight, crushed the little white cylinder, the rest of the pack and threw it in the garbage. He never bought another pack again. He told me that quitting was one of the hardest things he ever did, but he was a non-smoker from then on. I never started, until one day at college.

I never liked the smell of cigarettes so avoiding the habit wasn’t hard. I’m also pretty much immune to peer pressure since I like to do what I want to do. If pressured, (C’mon! We’re all trying it! You should too!) my contrarian nature tends to raise it’s head and I just dig in my heals that much harder. I have an odd habit of making my mind up using logic and personal preference and letting the rest of the world do what it pleases.

So, away we went to college. For the first time, kids who had found it necessary to furtively smoke behind the maintenance shed had the chance to smoke openly, and with gusto. There is nothing like an eighteen year old who has decided that they are a smoker. Their discolored fingers were like badges of adulthood. I still had no interest in the little white sticks and left them to it.

Final exams. They were over at last! As an art major, that meant that the long hours spent burning the three AM oil finishing piece after piece, the mating and framing followed by the instructors critique the next morning, was finally over. We had finished our art work for the semester and it was time to celebrate. Too young to legally buy booze we trooped down to the smoke shop to purchase something new and different. Victory cigars!

I knew nothing of what to buy. Actually, none of us did. As we crowed into the small humidor someone made a ground rule. “Nothing under two bucks!” This seemed like a good idea. We might not know what were were looking at, but keeping the price at this level solved many problems. This way, no one could cheep out and buy something that smelled like a immolated raccoon, we had a better shot of picking something that was actually good and most importantly, being poor college students, we were assured that we wouldn’t be able to afford this as a habit. With our purchases tucked in tiny bags or shirt pockets, we went home to try them out. We had mixed success.

Some were good, some were awful, others smelled a bit… raccooney. Over the next four years, I found my favorite, Griffins. I have tried many, many others over time. When spending time outside the U.S. and its deranged trade embargo, there are a few Cuban varieties which I enjoy very much. I own a pipe as well, though it hasn’t been lit in years, the tobacco drying out after only one or two dips into the bag. I just don’t smoke it often enough to warrant the expense, and that’s fine. Good, probably.

With my college friends long since moved away and my rarely seen brother-in-law being the only other guy I know who will seek out a good cigar, I just didn’t buy them anymore. That is, until the day that seemed to demand it. It was a cool March morning and I was sitting on the steps of the hospital making phone calls. My son was two hours old and you couldn’t have wiped the smile off my face with a floor polisher. Then it hit me. Cigars! I need cigars!

A quick walk down the street brought me into the local smoke shop. I found the humidor, walked in and after a moment of feeling overwhelmed, found my old favorite. I had never bought an entire box before and the cost made me pause. Did I really need to spend that much? I hesitated. Yes! When else was this going to happen? Purchase in hand, I strode out and back to the hospital. My prize Griffins were handed out over the next few days.

Naturally, I did the same thing for Lulu Belle when her day of arrival came along and though empty now, I have saved the neat little wooden boxes and written their birthdays on the bottom. I’ll give them to my kids later on to keep what ever they please in them. It took over two years to get through the remainders of the two boxes. I hadn’t handed them all out at the time of my children’s births and still others were politely refused. It was nice to have a good cigar handy when going to the shooting range or on the front lawn with friends while playing boule. I enjoyed how they enhanced the experience of these moments.

The last two were memorably smoked. At his request, my Father and I waked down to the sea shore, sat on some rocks and enjoyed them as we talked and solved the world’s problems. Before he lit the cigar, he informed me that this was his first time for him since the day he threw that pack away so long ago. It was rather odd to see him puffing away, my ex-smoking Dad, but then again, it must have been doubly strange to watch his son do the same.

I never bought them very often and now, even less, but sometimes it seems like the moment just calls for it. I doubt I’ll ever buy another box but I’ll pick up the odd single here and there. Who knows, some day, that might be me, sitting with my son or daughter, sharing a thoughtful moment and a good cigar as we watch the waves roll slowly to shore. I hope they have the taste to get something devoid of “Parfum de Raccoon.”

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6 Responses

  1. Well written memoir mate! I love the smell of a good, unlit cigar. Lit? Another story I’m afraid…

    No worries. They are not for everyone. Kind of a bit like Moxie, if you think about it. Perhaps that’s the way cigarettes are as well. I can’t stand them but obviously lots of people do. Thanks for the compliment, too!
    -TP

  2. You should definitely have another child. If you had twins, you could buy TWO boxes which would only be fair since you would not want the twinkies to have to share an empty box at a later stage of their lives. The prospect of that gift seems to alleviate your cigar guilt so I would just go ahead and start producing, my friend.

    My dad smoked the pipe. I loved the smell. Still today, I have Proust moments whenever the familiar aroma hit my nostrils. When my father died, his pipes became mine. I would have fought tooth and nail anyone claiming his collection. Over my dead body!

    I began smoking at 14. Pony camp. First cigarette. First vodka. First nightclub. First a lot of things. Pony camp! Sounds so innocuous, doesn’t it? Ha! I smoked two to three packs a day for 15 years, then one day, I visited a hypnotist. It lasted half an hour. I never smoked cigarettes ever since. Never felt the need either. Never really believed in hypnosis but apparently, I’m hysterical enough for it to work really well. Must be my rich imaginary world…

    Glad to see you are turning your brood into cigar snobs. Parfum de Racoon? Too funny! I guess if you are going to kill yourself slowly, you might as well do it in style. Another great example of exemplary parenting… 😉

    That’s the best part of cigars vs cigarettes. If you inhale cigarette smoke, it will slowly kill you. If you inhale cigars, it will kill you right there. I remember one kid in college who joined our group out on the dorm porch. We had been smoking cigars for some time but it was his first. After about 5 minutes, he turned to me and said, “I don’t know how you guys can do this.” Poor kid was lime green. Astonished, I asked, “You aren’t inhaling that, are you!?” He replied that he thought that was the idea. “No! Puff, man! Just puff!” He never came back for a second try.
    -TP

  3. Probably no accident that I love Moxie and enjoy the occasional cigar as well… Actually have a Cuban from an undisclosed source but never had the Moxie to light it up. Something about furtively reveling in the discrete aroma as the humidor is opened…

    It’s a funny thing about Cuban cigars. Because we can’t get them in the U.S., when I have the chance to get my paws on one, I Have no idea what to get. An extended stay in Prague helped me out with this problem but still, when the chance arises to get one, it always takes me forever to remember what I liked. Oh well. Honduras makes some wonderful cigars and we haven’t decided that we hate them so, I’ll just be happy with those.
    -TP

  4. 3 new blogs while I was away! (but not really very far)

    I know what I’m doing tomorrow morning 🙂

    note to self: start in the middle of the blogroll sometimes.

    Heh! Hope you had a blast while you were away (but not far). Taking a break from the computer is always a good thing to do from time to time.
    -TP

  5. I think the last time I bought a cigar was for a poker game with friends when I was 20. It was of the raccoon perfume variety and I think I lost my $20 worth of quarters bluffing. 😦

    Ahhh, yes. A cigar will make a lot of things better, but a person’s ability to play poker is not one of them. You need beer for that!
    -TP

  6. Three examples of 2-word combinations representing the Purgatory of cigardom:
    White Owl
    Dutch Masters
    Phillie Blunts

    Nuf ced

    Ohh! You forgot the dreaded Swisher Sweets. Ack! Gag!

    This was the reason for the two buck rule. Oddly enough, I do have an Achilles’ heal so far as cheap cigars goes. For some bizarre reason I always enjoy Backwoods, especially while fishing and camping. I have no idea why.
    -TP

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