Thursday, June 4, 2009

Smoking in Hell

On a recent trip stateside I had the pleasure of visiting a real honest-to-goodness tobacconist. That might be a ‘so what’ moment to most others, but you have to understand what a barren wasteland I live in culturally, and that includes a lot of things typical Americans take for granted, including a lot of common basic shopping outlets. I’m an occasional cigar smoker. I don’t like cigarettes, though I can tolerate the smoke just fine. The chance to indulge this vice really only comes ‘round during the four month stretch of warm weather we get here. Can’t smoke ‘em indoors, and winter is just too brutal for smoking something that can last you upwards of an hour or more (if smoked slowly/properly). So summer it is. A very short summer.

If you visit the stores that carry cigars here you will find scant selection, questionable humidification, and incredibly high prices… sometimes triple the costs you can get a stick for in the states or over mail order, even with shipping figured in. So I have some stuff in storage in North Caroline where I made a trip to try to get things organized, and while I was there I got to visit some malls and stores the like of which my current town of residence doesn’t supply. Having lived in the Baltimore area for years this sort of consumer super-overload wasn’t unfamiliar, just hadn’t been around it for awhile… ‘civilisation’ as I often call it.

So I looked around this clean, shmancy cigar store, overwhelmed by the selection and the low costs and ended up buying only one because I needed to rethink my strategy; at these prices I should be purchasing a box of twenty-five or more and I didn’t have space for that in my return luggage.

So upon return I looked up the website for the store I was in, but the website wasn’t up to the impression left by the shop. It was mostly trying to sell the store’s special brands and I’m particular to some global marks. One online retailer, a huge popular one, just had incredibly high shipping rates to Alaska. The point of ordering the cigars online is not just to get ones I can’t get here… which frankly, is just about every cigar of quality… but to also NOT spend the money I’d have to here. Finally (and sure I’ll plug ‘em) Famous Smokes in Pennsylvania turned up and they will ship via the post office for nominal rates.

I just wanted a basic go-to smoke. Nothing super-fancy, and it needed to be medium-bodied/strength, since I was only getting one box to start… and that might be all I’d manage to get through this summer since I don’t smoke ‘em every day. I’d never know when an opportunity to light up would present itself and a really heavy full-bodied cigar is just not appropriate all the time. Basic doesn’t mean crap though. I had some experience with different brands and I understand cigar terminology, sizing, and all that, so I decided on a box of (Dominican) Partagas Almirantes. Medium to large-ish cigar with decent width (ring gauge) so it’d be a cool smoke, last a decent while, but not so big it’d be obnoxious-looking in casual company. Natural wrapper. I’m familiar with these, though from quite awhile ago.

The trick to great cigar experiences is not to rush anything. Light ‘em slow, smoke ‘em slow. Lighting them so you toast the end as opposed to charring the shit out of it is the first step. Then don’t huff the motherfucker like its an oxygen mask. One puff every minute or so… a slow puff. With no significant inhaling.

So I get this box in the mail that worked out to only $4.60 a cigar after shipping and everything, and these things are just the best cigars I’ve smoked in a long time. I handed some out to people at work—and showed them the right way to light and smoke them, and you’d think I was giving away cards for free blow jobs. After two weeks, I’ve only got half my box left, but they were so cheap I don’t even care.

Understand. Cigars are a luxury item. When I say cheap, I don’t mean ‘comparable to cigarettes’. Good cigars are expensive but you can’t equate them on a smoke-for-smoke basis with cigarettes because the two have completely different roles. Cigars are not habitual for most smokers. They are more like the occasional glass of good scotch. Not the beer you drink almost every day.
I’m sure I’ll be hitting that smoke shop up again pretty soon, though. Paying one-third for your smokes finds you looking for opportunities to smoke more often!

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