The wooden match flared brightly as I fumbled my hands in front of my face. The flame once again danced dangerously close to the tips of my fingers. It was supposed to dance dangerously close to the end of the cigar clamped in my teeth. After five matches you’d think I’d figure it out. The pile of burnt match sticks at my feet was getting embarrassing. I just hoped no one was watching. Before I could get more than two puffs and a quarter rotation I was forced to put out that match, too. How hard is it to light up a stogie, honestly?
Some weeks back, a dear relation of mine sent me a package for my birthday: assorted candies, teas, sweeteners, etc., that I took to be the end result of her latest kitchen cabinet cleaning. Why she put it into a box to send to me instead of into the “circular file”, I could never quite figure out. I was more than a little concerned that apparently this dear relation of mine looks at a pile of refuse and immediately thinks of me. I would hope that it would be stunning works of art or paragons of physical perfection that would remind her of me. But I digress. I should have been grateful really: usually it’s the contents of her desk that end up in the postmarked box. Honestly, how many Post-Its, paper clips and ball point pens does one man need?
Included in the package amongst the assorted odds and ends this time was one of her husband’s highly prized cigars. It was a fine cigar, plump and lengthy, with just the right amount of crackle: not too wet, not too dry. The man obviously has a fine person managing his humidor. I suspect it to be my own dear relation.
I called my dear relation to thank her immediately upon opening the package and she recommended I smoke the cigar at a Super Bowl party. I thought this to be an inspired idea and I decided then and there to do just that. More precisely on the way home from the party. You know how these non-smokers are about smoking indoors, especially a cigar.
I stepped outside to the curb and lit my cigar with a wooden matchstick, as I understand that is one of the cleanest ways to light up. A lighter would pollute the flavor of the tobacco with the tang of lighter fluid, and wood smoke would serve only to enhance it. Or so I’m told. So this is what I did. And in my unpracticed hands, it took at least five minutes and a cascade of matches that, before I gave up, yielded only a lopsided result. So with a glowing orange semi-circle leading the way, I blinked my way through the smoke-induced tears and headed west for the subway.
So there I was at 11:30pm casually strolling through Harlem, NYC smoking a quality cigar and thinking I look like a real bad ass. Except when the smoke goes a little too far down my throat. At which point I double over, grab my knees and attempt to keep my lungs from making a break for the outside world. And, curiously, it’s at that very same moment that the world decides to tilt violently on its axis while the stars do their best imitation of the Northern Lights. And all the while trying to remain cool. Man, those cigars are good.
The occasional bronchial spasm aside, I thought my “puff pacing” wasn’t bad, though I was concerned I might be hitting it a little hard. Being the natural-born miser that I am, I had to try to smoke as much of the cigar as possible by the time I reached the subway entrance where I’d have to discard it before heading underground. I was concerned that a draw every three steps or so might be a little much, especially for one unused to tobacco as I was, but I had limited geography to accomplish my goal and it was getting smaller with every step. I got about half of it smoked before the green, half-domed lights loomed in the distance telling me I was close to my destination. That was when I started to feel it.
I usually have a pretty decent sense of equilibrium. I wouldn’t want to walk the high steel or start a tight rope act but there’s been no vertigo or bouts of dizziness that I can remember that weren’t induced by playground shenanigans or raging influenza. Even on the rare occasions when I’ve managed to over-indulge on fermented spirits, I’ve never felt dizzy. Tunnel vision, yes. Nauseous, yes. Vertigo, no. This time, I was dizzy.
I stood on the corner of the cobblestone island by the subway stairs taking a last couple of puffs and having them go straight to my head. It seemed a shame to discard so much of a good cigar still unsmoked. I tried to tamp out the glowing cherry on the metal rail of the stairway. No dice. It was a hard, orange, glowing ember. It wasn’t going anywhere. So I took out my pocket knife and started to cut off the glowing end.
I gave a generous length of about an inch from the lit end of the cigar and cut it against the railing. Between my swimming head and a knife not designed for such a purpose, I made a ragged job of it. I crushed out the lit end on the cobblestones under foot then examined what remained of the stogie. It looked okay, not really singed on the cut end. But what concerned me is that it was still warm. I wrapped it back in the plastic wrap I had taken it out of and twisted both ends. Then I stood there with my head swimming, staring at the wrapped remains and pondering the possibilities. In the end, the image of me tucking away a quietly smoldering half cigar wrapped in slowly melting cling wrap only to have it burst into flames at a most inopportune moment, like while slowly nodding off to sleep in the seat of a swaying subway car, won out. I regretfully tossed it into the trash and held tight to the handrail as I wobbled down the stairs to catch my train.
I made sure to stand well back from the platform edge as I texted my dear relation the results of her suggestion and offered one of my own: that maybe her dear husband could give me a lesson or two in cigar smoking upon the occasion of my next visit. I had a feeling I might need one. After all, real men smoke cigars. Don’t they?