When I was a kid about ten or twelve, everyone kept a coffee table lighter and a box of cigarettes in the living room. Absent a party or some kind of entertaining, sometimes my mom moved them to a buffet cabinet to keep them “fresh.” The cigarettes were Kools. My buddies and I would “kype” a few and hide in the bushes to smoke them. Absolutely nothing like a stale, bone dry, Kool cigarette when you are ten years old. Dare to inhale and you were a dead man! In those days, any adult that saw a kid smoking would give them some kind of hell or take him to his mother.
On the day of my 18th birthday, I lit up a “Hav-A-Tampa” wood-tipped cigarillo boldly in front of my mom. “So I see you are smoking now” was all she said to me. This was how my buddy and I showed our style.
By age 22, I was married and had set up an “office” in my rented house, with a big desk and a file cabinet even. On my desk, I proudly displayed my growing pipe collection. I played with them more than I smoked ‘em.
Through my twenties, I taught high school and smoked cigarettes up to a pack and a half a day at one point, though never at home. One has to be a fiend to smoke 30 cigarettes a day just in the car or at work. The teacher’s lounge billowed smoke down the hall each time the door was opened.
About age thirty, I had a freak asthma attack one night, about two in the morning, and swore off cigarettes, cold turkey. Didn’t have a smoke for over ten years! It was hardest to do when you were sitting in a bar having a drink and everyone was smoking and your resistance was low. I did a lot of that in those days, but I hung tough on the no smoking.
About age forty, I was at a point in my life (beginnings of a mid-life-crisis) when some degree of self evaluation brought up the impression that I had pretty much lived my life by all the rules and by the proverbial book. I had never had an affair, never been arrested (“detained” for a couple of hours in Tijuana once), never used drugs (even through college in the 60’s), didn’t fudge my draft status, never consciously broken the law (stole some golf balls once when I was a kid), never cheated on my taxes, never even got a tattoo (got in the chair once, but chickened out). I had a decent hair-cut, drove an American sedan, and had given up wearing that old fatigue jacket back in college.
It was time for a new me. Time for a re-invention. Time for a little “Bad Boy” action. I was too busy for an affair, getting arrested just didn’t have the allure at 40, I liked drinking too much (and was too good at it) to start playing with drugs, the draft was over (for now, too old anyway), had enough tax deductions, and my kids had enough tattoos for all of us.
I had built up a couple of hotrods for my boys and gotten that out of my system. My knees still hurt from my motorcycle “fun” back in the 70’s. There was just something missing from my white bread middle-aged life.
Then when I was in the mall one day, I wandered into one of the chain smoke shops that used to be everywhere. I stepped into the walk in humidor, exhaled then took a deep breath. The aroma of cedar, damp bricks, and yes, TOBACCO, filled my senses. My helpful new friend, the salesman, showed me around and made several suggestions. I went home with about $25 worth of cigars (a lot back then), a new lighter, and a wicked looking cutter. These went into my sock drawer on the QT.
Out in my garage I had a little shop area with a nice work bench and my old desk chair (the “office” had long transitioned to a nursery, then to a kid’s bedroom). I had an old stereo hooked up that only played one “oldies” channel. I had a decent bottle of bourbon and a couple of glasses stashed. The cigar thing started slow, just a solo thing when no one was home. Then I “shared” with a trusted friend or two. Later, I began to cruise some more upscale cigar stores, and began to develop preferences and definite affinities for shapes, sizes, wrapper and filler content.
I fondly remember those days in the garage, leaning back in that old squeaking desk chair, sipping some good bourbon and reveling in a good cigar. Occasionally there would be a second bourbon and a second cigar. On those rare (and somewhat high) moments, life, purpose, God, politics, and the universe would almost make sense. Epiphanies and revelations were common on those occasions. One recurring theme was, “A good cigar is not really smoking. It is something better, something higher, something spiritual and somehow ordained.”
In the Spring I had some time on my hands and with the oldies playing loud on the patio and a Partagas #10 (my newest favorite) in hand, I built my first humidor from scratch. The box was of heartwood redwood from Home Depot, and I lined it with part of a Spanish cedar closet liner kit, also from the hardware store. I found some gourmet hinges at the woodworker store. A few coats of hand-rubbed lacquer and she was done; an absolute work of art to store my precious babies in.
I was a working man with a new and expensive habit. My quest was for that perfect under $10 cigar. I exhausted every source and turned over every rock. I was making my list of winners and losers. I was amazed to rule out some very popular brands, and focus on a few of my favorites.
A good friend traveled abroad and gifted me with my first Cuban cigar, a Romeo y Julieta Churchill in a silver tube. I saved it for weeks, waiting for a special occasion. One night in a fit of weakness, I broke it out and fired it up in the garage. Oh, my God! I made it last for nearly two hours. Near the end, I got a long pair of needle-nose pliers and smoked it until I singed my teeth. The search for the Cuban connection was on, and I was nuts. This was before internet cigar connections had kicked in, in earnest.
Sporting my 7½” 49 ring Partagas #10 Maduro, I was a “Bad Boy”. When smoking illicit Cubans, I was a “Bader Boy” and lovin’ it.
The kids are grown now and beginning to have grand kids. My wife and I did not survive the transitions and evolutions of mid-life. We have both found new partners and are happy. My bride of six years loves to sail, woodwork, and fish right beside me. And yes, she actually shares my obsession for fine cigars. My old garage and work-bench are gone along with my old desk chair. We have a new shop with all the toys and a stereo that only plays oldies. The desk chair has been replaced with a love seat on the patio. There is an outdoor fan that exhausts the smoke straight up and out. A large heavy glass ashtray sits on the patio table along with an old table lighter that actually works. The misses and I are official ambassadors for Maker’s Mark bourbon. We have three humidors and work hard to keep them stocked.
On the second bourbon and near the end of our latest find, we look up at the stars through the patio slats and dream of sailing away on the big boat we will likely never own. The epiphanies are fewer, and come slower at my age, but they can be just as sweet. The love of a good woman, a taste of good bourbon, and oh yes, a really good cigar, you know, it’s really not “smoking.”
Last year we bought a previously owned truck to pull the small sailboat we share. On that first day, we had to check it out and spiff it up. I was cleaning under the seat and found an old dried out Kool cigarette. You can’t look back man.
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