Cigar Time?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Business and her sister's baby shower take my wife to Texas and various points west. Yes: Without me even bringing it up, she said I could skip the shower. Upon hearing this, a friend said, "I'd take that any day of the week and twice on Sundays." As always on such trips, I miss her terribly, but take advantage of having more time, with fewer interruptions than normal to get things done.

Mrs. Van Horn has traveled enough lately that I've noticed a pattern: Although I know I'll miss her, I look forward to the extra time and make plans -- only to surprise myself anyway by how much I miss her. In particular, I don't sleep nearly as well when she's not around. Life is still good: It's just not as good.

One of the small things on the plus side of the ledger about such absences is that I sometimes indulge in activities that she would be willing to tolerate, but that I don't do often, because I know she doesn't want me doing them when she's around. The one I'm considering right now is a prime example: smoking a cigar. For starters, it ruins smooches for her and makes me reek of smoke.

Now that I think of it, the pattern with cigars bears an amusing, if exaggerated, resemblance to the one surrounding my wife's trips: I look forward to lighting up, enjoy the smoke, and then swear off tobacco indefinitely the next day when I notice that I can taste my own mouth. This is a big part of why the last time I smoked a cigar was a couple of years ago when I was in Mexico and realized I could buy a Cuban. It's also part of why there's a question mark in the title of this post.

My best cigar was, by far, my first. I was in the Navy, then, and we were on a port visit to Antigua, where, too, I realized I could buy a Cuban. No other cigar since has matched its smoothness. My best smokes both took place in Texas, and I liked them for different reasons.

The first of these took place on the porch of the small apartment I moved into during the middle of grad school, during a time in my life I'll always remember fondly. Looking back, I'd say that that was the time I'd really recovered from a divorce a few years earlier and was finally moving forward in life again. The apartment was a step up in many ways from the cheap, crime-ridden place I'd crash-landed in before: I chose that place. I liked it there. I was in charge. One spring evening, I decided to break out the grill, crack open a beer, and enjoy a cigar. I still remember the sound of frogs filling the warm, humid Houston air and the glorious solitude of that dark, starless evening. I don't think the cigar itself was even particularly good, but that evening called for one, so it really didn't matter.

The second "best smoke" took place a few years later, in Nacogdoches, where my then-fiancée, my mother, and I were visiting one of Mom's sets of aunts and uncles. I'd never met them before because there had been a longstanding argument between Mom's aunt and her mother that had estranged them for practically my entire life. Mom ended the rift and we made the drive up from Houston to visit them. Mom's uncle was a veteran World War II submariner and we were having a great conversation. At some point, he showed us around their home, pointing out his shed in the back yard at some point. He mentioned that that's where he smoked his cigars and asked if I'd join him for one later on. Needless to say, I did. As we left after that visit, he gave me his officer's sword, which I used to cut the cake at our wedding. I got to see this charming, benevolent man only one other time after that memorable visit.

What makes a good smoking session? As a first stab, I'd say that the quality of the mental activity that goes with the cigar has to be top-notch, although I would not say it has to be of any particular type. I am not so sure that it has to (or should) be focused, either, based on the above two examples and a couple of others I can remember. In the first case, I think I was enjoying, on some not-quite-explicit level, that I was back on track. That was a contemplative (or maybe even a meditative) smoke. In the second case, I was socializing with a very interesting person from a time better in many respects than my own. Smoking is a relaxing activity, and I think it is best enjoyed when one feels fully in command of his life and eager to consider what the world has to offer.

Having thought about this a bit, I think I know what kind of mood I ought to be in before lighting up, to make that evil, persistent taste the following day worth my while!

-- CAV

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