There are certain hobbies that, while possessed of an inherent appeal, I would never take up because the subculture attached to them so repels me.

Take golf.I enjoy whacking the little white ball—I’m pretty good on the driving range, truth be told—but I would never go so far as to play the game for the simple reason that I don’t want to spend a whole afternoon with golfers.

Marijuana is another example.Pleasant though the high may be, no amount of stonedness could hip me to hackeysack and Grateful Dead bootlegs.

It’s not golf and pot I object to, mind, but golfers and potheads.I simply don’t enjoy the former enough to justify associating with the latter.

Cigars, on the other hand, are loathsome on both counts.Smoking a cigar is basically stuffing a rolled-up penis substitute in your mouth and lighting it on fire, thereby emitting a pungent waft of reek that overpowers olfactory sensors a hundred yards away.Plus it causes cancer.What fun!

And who engages in this despicable hobby?Stinky old-timers, mafiosos, Soldier of Fortune subscribers, professional poker players, Fidel Castro, and the sort of well-heeled gentlemen you might encounter at a $10,00-a-plate fundraiser for Governor Schwarzenegger.Pricks, in other words.

So it went for the first thirty-five years of my life.I was vehemently opposed to cigar smoking.You’d see Ingrid Newkirk sucking on a cheeseburger before you saw Greg Olear sucking on a Cohiba.

But then, last summer, it all changed.

We were up at Lake George, visiting my friend Sue and her husband Adam, one of the hippest guys in Brooklyn, which puts him in the running for hippest guy on Earth.He plays bass in a rockabilly band, and he has really awesome facial hair, and he makes these cocktails that…put it this way: when I die and go to heaven, there will be one of Adam’s Tom Collinses waiting for me (borne on a silver tray by Rita Hayworth and Bettie Page…but I digress).

Anyway, we’re all sitting around a bonfire after a hearty dinner, and we’re all bombed, and Adam asks if I’d like a cigar.I’d smoked once or twice before, years ago, cheap stogies at bachelor parties, usually a prelude to an upchuck.But I accepted his offer, and was shocked to discover that when I puffed on the thing, I actually kind of liked it.

A week later, back home, I decided, on impulse, to try another cigar.My wife was going out that night—my plan was to sit on our front porch, which has quite alovely view, and fire up a stogie.

Me walking by the house (porch view is similar) 

 

Me walking by the house (porch view is similar)

The first problem I encountered: buying cigars at a convenience store is like buying books at an airport.The selection caters to a more shall-we-say prosaic taste.With no real idea what I was purchasing—and mindful of the crunchy college chick behind the counter glowering at me for engaging in what she obviously considered a filthy habit—I opted for Dutch Masters, because, first of all, they’re Masters, and second of all, when you think of countries known for producing premium cigars, number one on the list is, clearly, the Netherlands.

That evening, with the kids asleep and my wife at Bacchus (the New Paltz bar, not the pagan orgy)—and after cutting the tip with scissors from the kitchen because I didn’t have a proper cigar cutter—I smoked the Dutch Master.In my sober state, I was expecting to hate it, but it was surprisingly tasty, even without the four-Tom-Collins primer.

How pleasant it was to sit on the porch, watching the trees swaying across the street and the patch of sky slowly darken!  How clear my mind became!

And then something unexpected happened.Suddenly, and without warning, the magical properties of the burning tobacco leaves took control of my senses, bestowing upon me—whammo!—a buzz of the quality I had not experienced since the first time I got drunk, halfway through my second cup of beer, at a keg party at Bill McClellan’s house after the prom in 1991.

And it all made sense!Much ado was not being made about nothing!This is why new fathers handed out cigars when their babies were born, and Red Auerbach fired one up after every Celtics victory, and the record company bigwigs pushed them on Pink Floyd.A dynamite buzz, without filling your bladder, piling on empty calories, or getting so messed up you develop a taste for Junta.

I found a place by the Dunkin’ Donuts that sold premium cigars, and bought some Macanudos—a vast improvement over the Dutch Masters (fun fact: when you smoke a good cigar, you don’t reek like stale ashtray when you wake up the next morning).But it is a Dutch Master between my teeth in the candid photograph my wife took of me out on the porch that will be familiar to readers of my posts:

That photo turned out so well, I decided to bring a cigar—a Rocky Patel, it was—to the shoot for the Totally Killer jacket.When she saw the thing, the photographer, the great Amber S. Clark, didn’t hesitate: “Fire it up.”

On the back cover, we’re going with with the picture of me where I look like a guidance counselor.But the first thing you see when you open the book, on page one, is Amber’s shot of me enjoying my cigar:

A writerly affectation?A nod to Hemingway?A touch of pretention?Guilty as charged.But at least I don’t look like every other bespectacled schmo.Which is, of course, the whole point of having an author photo.

One day, a few weeks before my birthday, some Cuban cigars mysteriously appeared on my doorstep (thanks, J____!).I smoked one of them, a Romeo y Julieta, on Election Night, well before the returns were in (I knew back in March that Obama was a shoe-in).What better way to celebrate a communist taking the White House than firing up a Habanos?

Before lighting it, I drunk deep of the husky aroma—this is one of the best parts of enjoying a cigar—and it made my heart sing, it made everything groovy.It smelled like sex, that thing.This is what I told everybody for weeks afterwards: “The Cuban cigar?Man, it smelled like sex.”

(“Stop saying that,” my wife scolded me.“You’re creeping people out.”)

Then the winter came, and it grew too cold to smoke on the porch.That’s when the tables turned on me.The New York smoking ban, which had so vastly improved the quality of my life in the city, was now working against me.I was like Tom Cruise in Minority Report when the telepathic chicks say that he’s going to commit a crime.I was being undermined by my own damn system!

The only place you can really smoke in the dead of January is a cigar store.Fortunately, there’s a superlative one, Uptown Cigar, in nearby Kingston (one of the coolest and most undiscovered cities on the East Coast, incidentally; move up here, you Brooklynites yearning to rent cheap).

I’d pick something from the closet-sized humidor and hang out on the cushy leather sofas, listening to the old guys at the next table talk about sports or politics or what have you.It was like reading a scene from a novel written a long time ago, or stepping into a time machine (one redolent with cigar smoke, of course)—there just aren’t many places like that anymore.

With the spring came the warm weather, and I’ve enjoyed a number of cigars in the last few months: Romeo Y Julieta, Upmann, Monte Cristo, Ashton.My new favorites are Acids.Acids are made by an American named Jonathan Drew.He’s called a “mad scientist,” because he has a special mix of stuff he puts in the cigars that make them taste like a combination of a) a robust premium smoke, b) incense/perfume, and c) candy.That might not read like a good thing, but trust me, it is.

(No sooner did I type that sentence when the mail carrier beeped, indicating that my Acid sampler tin had arrived.Woo-hoo!)

I took a tin of tiny Acids to the TNB Off the Blog event in New York, and convinced Kimberly M. Wetherell to join me:

Smoke 'em if you got 'em. 

 

Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Not that I condone cigar smoking, as such.I’m careful not to smoke in front of the kids, for example.And most people don’t develop the same aficion that I have—I brought some $15 cigars to a vacation I took with some buddies last year; none of them really took to it, and one of them got sick.

But for me, it works.

“Cigars are about relaxation and indulgence,” writes Alex Svenson in the latest Cigar.com catalog (which I keep in the bathroom right next to the US Weekly).“They are not habit-forming addictions and are enjoyed by choice.”Well said, sir!

Understand, I’m not a guy for whom relaxation or indulgence comes easily.My New Age bona fides start and end with astrology, and the only thing I really splurge on is books.

But smoking a cigar is not like wolfing down a Big Mac Value Meal—it’s an investment in time.It can take upwards of an hour to polish off a seven-inch cigar.And that’s part of the experience.I sit, I smoke—I commune with fire, as Tom Robbins put it—and I let my mind rest.

Meditation is so much better with a Macanudo.

 

80 Original Comments:

Comment by Zara |Edit This
2009-07-21 16:57:29

Loved your post, Greg! Always do…
Even though I’m a smoker, there’s something about the cigar that scares me. I think I like the smell of them though. I can never tell. When I first notice the aroma, I always feel sick and then I start to like it. Never been brave enough to put one in my mouth.
Oh and a sidebar to your dislike of golf – I’m with you 100%. I’m still mad that my millenium new year was spent on a wet fucking golf course in Christchurch, New Zealand waiting for the ‘first golf game of the new millenium’ to tee off. At midnight. I was a TV reporter and all leave had been cancelled and we were shipped out to all these ridiculous ‘1st’s’ to be broadcast around the world. I grew up with Prince’s ‘1999′ but there was no party for me. I got golf instead.Because of that, I will always hate it. Always. Bitter? You bet. Now I need one of your cigars….

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-21 17:02:41

It matters a great deal which cigar you smoke, of course. Some are better than others. Not sure how the fact that you smoke cigarettes might impact your enjoyment.

Just don’t inhale! I have some sort of mental block or physical impairment where I can’t inhale, so this works great for me — pot, not so much.

And I’m glad you like the pic — this sort of thing always makes me insecure.

Comment by Zara |Edit This
2009-07-21 16:58:08

Oh and I think the photo is great. Perfect.

Comment by Jim Simpson |Edit This
2009-07-21 17:20:08

Great piece, Greg. Funny and insightful as usual.

I too shunned cigars until my friend Larry gave me a Cuban (no idea what brand) when the Braves won the World Series in ‘95. Holy Macanudo, it was delicious — really, that’s how I still remember it. And no morning-after ashtray mouth. Then, a few years later, another friend gave me an Acid cigar on a hike. Truly a unique experience. I even kept the label in the console of my car for a week because it smelled so — sexy.

Great photos, too. Can’t wait to read Totally Killer.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-21 17:48:41

Thanks, Jim.

Sexy. Yes, well put. It does smell sexy.

2009-07-21 20:17:12

I think there’s definitely a difference of opinion when it comes to what tastes/smells sexy. I brushed my teeth four times before I went to bed that night to try and get the icky taste out of my mouth, and I know I flushed with the neti pot too…

But it’s nice to hear that it, at least, gives you some sort of calming, slowing-down pleasure. My grandfather claimed it wasn’t the actual catching-of-the-fish that he liked about fishing, but the time spent by the river waiting for the fish to bite.

And that brand of quietude is EXTREMELY sexy…

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 00:57:40

Yeah, but you looked so cool with the cigar, so it was worth it.

Also, the little ones aren’t as good as the big ones. Size does matter.

Comment by Jim Simpson |Edit This
2009-07-22 15:39:29

Kimberly: see Brad’s comment regarding thigh sweat. Sexy.

Comment by Becky |Edit This
2009-07-21 17:34:59

I think you should explore golf and marijuana. I don’t do either, personally, but the people you describe are nothing like the people I know that take part in such activities.

What other stereotypes are you harboring, eh?

For my part–and this is a confession–I think cigars are pretentious and smelly.

And I’m a cigarette smoker.

So I’ll cut you a deal.

You make golf and/or pot your own, without the WASPyness and frisbees and Jerry Garcia or whatever you don’t like, and I’ll make a pass at owning a cigar. I’ll rough it up a bit.

I won’t be smoking them on any porch with twighlight and stars and calm breezes, for sure. “Groovy” and “husky aroma” will probably not enter into it. But I might enjoy it.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-21 17:47:26

See, you caught me, Becky — I was wrong about the cigar people, so it figures I’d be wrong about the golfers and the potheads, too. Perhaps if I combine the two, that would make the most sense. Any takers? Lots of good public courses up here.

Comment by Becky |Edit This
2009-07-21 17:57:02

No frisbees allowed.

I think that you’d find more people on the greens are stoned than you might assume. As a Minnesotan, I feel it is within my sphere of expertise to tell you that hockey players are some of the most avid golfers and enthusiastic stoners I’ve ever met.

True independents. Mixing violence with weed; mixing WASPy with blue collar. Izod shirts and tie-dyed underpants. Weirding the system. It’s lovely.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 00:58:44

I always did like the prep-punk hybrid.

Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-22 20:29:05

In Southern California, The mixed martial arts hotbed, i would say 5 in 6 fighters that I meet are potheads. Violence and weed, indeed.

Comment by jmb |Edit This
2009-07-21 18:57:29

It’s not golf and pot I object to, mind, but golfers and potheads.

As they say in the South: That’ll preach.

Also: Your second pic doesn’t look repressed and devious enough to be a guidance counselor.
You look like a jazz pianist currently disenfranchised with the local Holidome who posesses great affection towards the latter works of Glenn Gould.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 00:59:31

James,

That is the best compliment I’ve ever received on the photo. Thanks!

Also: I didn’t post the guidance counselor one.

Comment by John Simms |Edit This
2009-07-21 19:12:21

Haha.. I love your post. A lot of people have the same perceptions of cigars as you did. The truth is that a cigar is not just something you smoke (like a cigarette). A cigar is an experience. It’s something that is enjoyed when you’re sitting on the porch watching a thunderstorm or when you’re on vacation and the theme is relaxation.

It’s very interesting to me that you would go against the horrible objections you had against cigars at the campfire and decide to smoke a cigar. What made you say “yes”? Do you think maybe deep down you knew there had to be more than just the “pricks” smoking them?

I suggest you go find a cigar-smoking golfer and I bet you two will get along perfectly. Be careful what you smoke on the course though. You want something mild. Something too strong might affect your putting :-)

–J Simms

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 01:01:21

My putting sucks, John. That’s why my rule is, “If it’s on the green, it’s in the hole.” Speeds like game along nicely.

Why did I agree? Well, I was bombed. And my wife didn’t think I’d do it. Those were big considerations. The larger question is why I did it again a week later. Just a hunch, I suppose.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
Greg

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-07-21 19:22:45

have you ever tried chewing tobacco?

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 01:02:27

Nah, I can’t handle the shit in my mouth — although I know the buzz is great. Guys did it in college, and I was always like, “Dude, no chick is gonna hook up with you if you have that shit in your mouth.”

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-07-22 02:14:38

it’s totally disgusting, and i do mean TOTALLY, but the buzz is like an electrical 2×4. cigars can approximate it, and are marginally less disgusting, but the chewing tobacco is really something. not that i mess with that stuff. good lord. i get fucked up now just by sunlight.

also, i agree with what duke says below: your piece reads like it’s written by someone. it’s relaxed and assured, like a friend who’s a tour guide and is showing you the back alleys on his day off.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 02:53:56

That’s such a great compliment. Thanks, Ben.

Next Guy Night vaca, we’ll dip. Done and done.

Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-07-21 22:04:45

i love a man with a cigar. it’s cause my dad smoked them, and my dad is all that is man.

i’m freud’s favorite person.

anyway, just so long as you don’t do it too often, you should be fine. when i was little my dad had an ashtray that said “a woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke.”

i also like the idea of some man in my life going off to some place to share cigars with his buddies while he leaves me the hell alone for a while.

oddly, i am totally annoyed by golfers. i don’t know why. i think i just like people who would rather sit around and smoke a cigar than walk around in the sun.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 01:04:36

Carlin on golf: “You hit a ball, with a crooked stick. Then, you go find it. And then…you hit it again.” I’m not doing it justice here.

Freud already likes you because you’re getting a doctorate in a discipline he helped invent. That and the riding crop.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-07-21 22:51:15

The first few paragraphs cracked me up, and I’m totally with you on both counts.

When I came back from university I found that my family had taken to watching golf as a sporting spectacle.

I smoked marijuana in Amsterdam, it didn’t really excite me at all. Although I’m a fan of the Grateful Dead, possibly the only Dead fan who doesn’t wear tie-dye or smoke.

As for cigars, they are pretty cool. I’ve wanted to smoke one ever since I started watching Magnum PI…

Great piece— that cigar store sounds awesome by the way.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 01:09:01

I forgot about Magnum! Yes, yes, yes!

I actually like the Dead now. Took me awhile, but I get it. “Sugar Magnolia” is just a great song, period.

Carlin again: “Have you ever watched golf on TV? It’s like watching flies fuck.”

Thanks, man.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-07-22 01:22:38

Magnum PI is my favourite ever TV show. I was born the year it ended and I’m British which is weird, but it has everything. Including the odd cigar.

It also spawned my new favourite game: Higgins Spotting. Basically, the when watching a film the first person to spot John Hillerman wins.

When I got into the Dead I didn’t know about any of the surrounding nonsense. Hunter S Thompson mentioned them in several books so I gave them a try. I do that a lot with books I like. I tried Jameson whiskey after reading Banned For Life.

Anyway, the early 70s stuff is the most accessible, or the 80s ‘resurrection.’ Although whenever I find a ‘digital jukebox’ that has it I play ‘Alligator’ and see how quickly the room empties.

I played it at a party and I was on my own just after the kazoos kicked in.

Carlin is brilliant. But have you heard golf on the radio? It’s even more pointless than tennis.

I get certain sports on the radio: cricket, baseball, football, soccer. They work. The action is fast enough and each play counts.

Golf on the radio is just a *thwack* followed by a monotone description of how far the ball has gone. And then a bunch of wankers in windbreakers clapping.

Golf is a hobby at best.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 01:42:00

One time in college a friend of mine was describing the Magnum episode where he shoots the guy who killed his buddy in ‘Nam (or something like that). My friend said, and I quote, “There are certain moral imperatives, Magnum feels.” And I said, “No one has ever said that before in the history of time. What a great quote!

And I like that Higgins calls the ocean “Mr. Masters’ tidal pool.”

I got into the dead with “Throwin’ Stones,” which I heard on the radio in 1989 or so, and thought, “THIS must be why people like the Dead,” only to discover that it was a new “sell-out” song. It remains an underrated classic.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-07-22 02:13:46

That episode is ‘Did You See the Sunrise?’ and is one of the finest things ever broadcast on television.

That is a great quote, especially as the scene is basically a freeze frame with the sound of a gunshot, only really implying what Magnum did rather than showing it.

A feature length two parter the sadistic prison guard from ‘Nam who at one time held Magnum, TC and Rick as POWs turns up in Hawaii and accidentally kills Mac after rigging a bomb to the Ferrari.

It ends with a beautiful scene in the countryside somehere, and because Ivan had seen the sunrise Magnum shot him (I think the sunrise was a reference to someone saying how beautiful it was and how you should see it before you die.)

Higgins is the best character, a comic genius. I love the fourth season where he suddenly becomes increasingly involved in Magnum’s adventures, using his secret service skill, at one point, to rob an office or something.

Oh, the end of Season four is good too, set almost entirely at the club bar it turns out that the barman robbed the place or something. Then right at the end of the episode it is discovered that one of the patrons has been dead the whole time… they don’t make end of season cliffhangers that good any more!

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 02:49:25

I gotta get me the DVDs. Been awhile since I’ve seen the show.

Great theme song, too.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-07-22 03:02:05

The best thing is I’m only at season 5. One of the few great things about being young and finding something you love is having more to look forward and it being instantly available.

In fact it’s the summer holidays now, which is usually ‘Magnum Season.’ My brother and I get hold of the next box set and spend the summer watching it. We do the same at Christmas.

Weirdly it sort of links with ’savouring.’ There are a lot of shows that I devour in one go. Thanks to the internet I watched every episode of Seinfeld in a week. But although I love the show I always save it and only watch about two seasons a year at most.

The theme tune is my absolute favourite of all time. It is in fact my ringtone (no one ever phones me.)

I recently saw clip on YouTube where someone had made ‘Han Solo PI’ and made a shot for shot recreation of the opening credits with Han Solo Star Wars scenes.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 09:14:45

Have you watched “The Wire” yet? You must.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-07-22 09:41:52

My literature professor at college told me to never read another book until I’d watched The Wire.

BBC bought the rights to it, but for reasons unknown they broadcast it at strange times, every night of the week at varying times.

I’m sure if they showed it, say, once a week at 8/9/10 I’d watch it and get what all the fuss is about. Maybe I’ll buy the box sets when I move out in September…

My second favourite TV show of all time is on tonight. Midsommer Murders, a detective show set in the English countryside and famous for its slightly cheesey acting and stereotypes. Apparently Johnny Depp is also a huge fan…

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 10:56:08

I’m not sure about never reading another book, but “The Wire” is, essentially, a novel in TV form. Easily the best TV show ever.

Although “Mad Men” comes damned close. The finale from season one still gives me chills.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-07-22 12:15:51

That’s pretty much what he said, that it was like a novel.

He was also rather drunk at the time. He was pretty much the only professor I liked and one of my fondest memories of the place is the Literature department’s Christmas party where I was the only first year student to turn up. It twas he and I who discovered a hidden case of beer in the staff fridge, which we then dispensed to the poor bastards who’d been making do with box-wine and warm beer.

He was a pretty cool guy, most of his lectures began with ”I once got into a Guinnes fuelled argument over *insert classic American text here*”

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-07-22 00:27:27

I’m frankly getting sick of hearing myself tell so many people, time and again, how much I enjoyed or admired their posts. I did it an hour or so ago in a comment to Greg Boose about his interview with Stephen Elliott, and I did it last night in a comment to Ben Loory, and now I’m doing it with you, Greg, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m coming off as some kind of cheerleader or positivity Nazi or something. But the fact is, I fucking loved this piece. There’s something really distinctive about your voice here, even though I hate it when people talk about a writer’s “voice.” I wish I wasn’t so wiped out at the moment, so that I could state with originality and wit why mention of a writer’s voice lacks originality and wit. Still, there’s a persona suggested by this piece that I think is going to serve you very, very well as you go about establishing yourself in the months and (perhaps, one fears) years ahead. It’s in the photos too. I look at them and, coupled with your words, I think, “That guy is going to be famous.” There’s a poise and sophistication and something kind of old school, in the best possible way, that I think has been missing for a while in writers with high public profiles. I could list a few from the past who had the quality I grope to describe, but I’ll keep their names to myself, fearing misunderstanding or disapproval.

And now for a few specific points:

– The first photo not only strikes me as iconic; it makes me miss summers back east: leafy trees, etc. In the second photo, taken by Steph, you do indeed look like you’re getting high — defiantly so. The third — well, that’s clearly going to be your trademark photo, even twenty or more years into the future. (It might interest you to know that the author photo in Banned for Life was taken at the Custer battlefield in Montana minutes after I deliberately cut myself — an idiotic gesture meant to signify my unity with those slain in 1876, my blood mixing with theirs. What can I say? I was doing a lot of drugs.) (Oh, and speaking of drugs, I once–once!–smoked a Cuban cigar and the buzz was as delightful as it was unexpected, never having been tipped off that such a thing was possible.)

– There are numerous lines that would make me jealous if I didn’t know that jealousy is futile in matters of writing, as in all other matters: “when you think of countries known for producing premium cigars, number one on the list is, clearly, the Netherlands”; “when I die and go to heaven, there will be one of Adam’s Tom Collinses waiting for me (borne on a silver tray by Rita Hayworth and Bettie Page…but I digress)”; “Smoking a cigar is basically stuffing a rolled-up penis substitute in your mouth and lighting it on fire”; “Pleasant though the high may be, no amount of stonedness could hip me to hackeysack and Grateful Dead bootlegs.” And these are but a few.

– I appreciate the liberal use of exclamation points: one of my literary sins, as you know.

– ” […] writes Alex Svenson in the latest Cigar.com catalog (which I keep in the bathroom right next to the US Weekly)” — pornography?

– Some time ago, I posted something on TNB called “Forever Strangers,” though you may not have read it. The idea was to do a brief sketch of people with whom I’d barely interacted, if at all, and one them went as follows (apologies if you read it already):

A guy in his early twenties, a bit of a hipster, paused on the sidewalk on New York’s St. Mark’s Place, about to light a cigar. The pretty girl paused beside him is looking on in admiration. I understand. This is before cigars have become a rediscovered nationwide trend, and this kid is doing what I’ve never seen a guy my age do. It impresses me as the coolest thing ever, because it’s so old-school, so traditionally masculine in a way that all us arty young guys in NYC are discouraged from being. I soon become a cigar smoker, as do most of my friends, and when we light up at parties, other guys come up to us and say, “Wow, you’re smoking cigars! That’s the coolest thing ever!” So I jokingly take credit for the trend to come, though for me it dates to that cool-as-fuck kid on St. Mark’s Place, who reminds me, as he walks away in memory with his adoring date, of Robert Doisneau’s photograph of a kiss outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris.

And now, after reading this post, I may have to smoke a stogie, as I haven’t in a while. And by the time I’m done, you’ll probably still be reading this comment.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 01:37:39

Thanks so much for your kind words, Duke.

1. Your book has emancipated me from stinginess with exclamation points! I am using them again for effect! I see that it’s OK now…you are to the dude in St. Marks Place as cigars are to exclamation points. And I’m totally serious (sometimes I get concerned that when I write something nice it comes off sarcastic).

2. So glad you liked the piece. When I joined TNB, I wrote Brad and said my first piece would be about cigars. It’s taken awhile to actually write it, obviously. But the Dutch Masters joke has been in my head for months.

3. Thanks for the props on the pictures. While the jacket shot of me isn’t necessarily “the real me,” what I like about it is — as some kind soul commented when I showed the shoot to everyone a few months back — you can’t tell how old I am. I could be 25, I could be 45. And it could have been taken in 1950, or last week.

4. Famous? That would be nice; my many creditors would appreciate that. Fran Leibowitz has a good line about fame: you want to be “famous enough to get a table at a good restauarant, but not so famous that people bother you during dinner.”

5. I thought I’d read all your posts — that’s a great graf. I fucking love St. Mark’s Place. Even now, watered-down though it has become, there’s still a vibrancy to it unmatched anywhere else. In the book I’m working on now, I say something to the effect of that the center of NYC, for me, is a manhole cover on St Marks Place, and it all radiates from there.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-07-22 12:19:40

That Fran Leibowitz. She’s like the lesbian Oscar Wilde. She once said that her only beef with cigarettes was that they don’t come already lit. This exchange also comes to mind:

INTERVIEWER: What’s the name of your next book?

FL: It’s called Art. And if it’s no good, I’m going to call it Craft.

I was a fixture on St. Mark’s Place when I lived in NYC. If there’s a street where my ghost is one day likely to be found, that might be the one.

Also, I’d meant to mention previously that Che Guevara refused to stop smoking cigars, even though they badly exacerbated his asthma. But, of course, he had access to the best cigars in the world.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 14:03:21

“Smoking, to me, is the entire point of being an adult.” — FL

Good line about Lesbian Oscar Wilde.

What I love about St Marks is that it’s impossible to dress wrong. You can wear anything and it’s fine. There are no rules. None at all.

If I were a revolutionary, I’d smoke cigars, too, and fuck all that.

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2009-07-22 02:01:54

I was asked once what it was I enjoyed about smoking (a terrible habit that comes and goes from my life, and the answer I gave, after some thought, was that it smoking alone was a brief period of communing with the universe. It’s doing something, and doing nothing, at the same time.

And, of course, it stimulates the receptors in my brain that fire up at the taste of nicotine.

Damn it, 17 year old Simon. I’d like to slap you silly. And then give you some money to invest.

Moving on.

The companionable element of cigars is also a great one. Poker, cigars, the stereotypical whole nine yards.

I’m with Duke (again!) on feeling like a cheerleader, but I loved this, Greg. Hopefully we’ll get to fire up a couple of stogies some day soon.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 02:51:23

Thanks, Simon. I always liked the idea of smoking, but I never liked cigarettes (my dad smoked for years, and in our case it skipped a generation), so the cigar is a happy medium.

We should have a TNB convention somewhere. Anywhere. But next year, after we all have more money, courtesy of your time-travel investment adventures with 17-year-old Simon.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-22 02:32:27

Greg,
Lenore gave up cigarettes in high school and taunted her dad that SHE was able to stop and HE wasn’t. So he said that he could too! She said prove it! So now there is a contract, signed by both and witnessed by me. He gave up smoking his beloved cigars, but he gets to smoke them again when he’s 80. It’s in print. He’s counting off the days.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 02:52:50

My daughter doesn’t smoke, but she doesn’t turn three for another month, so I expect it’s only a matter of time. I’ll be asking for a copy of said contract for sure…

And I’ve heard people say, “I didn’t quit smoking…I’m just on a long hiatus.” Makes it easier psychologically or something.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-23 09:47:26

When Lenore was in High School, she swore she didn’t smoke. (She didn’t only swear about that. She swore about everything. Real pottymouth.) Anyway. She would sit on her windowsill and smoke and throw the butts out the window. There was a mountain of cigarette butts straight down from her window on the grass. Nowhere else. She swore that they were not hers. A neighbor must be smoking there. Wasn’t her. Oh, no.
(Who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes?)

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-23 14:36:41

But I know that neighbor. He just liked to smoke in front of teenage girls’ windows. And he smoked whatever brands they smoked.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-24 10:05:05

An amazing coincidence!

Comment by Smibst |Edit This
2009-07-22 05:40:24

Greg- Great post.
Love the insider Pink Floyd & Phish jokes. (Although, Junta rocks, braaaa.)

I “discovered” cigars about three years ago. I like that they take over an hour to smoke- you really have to find the time to sit and relax. Block it out.

Although I’ve found it’s also enjoyable to go on a nice slow walk with a cigar, too.

Mostly I smoke maduro style of cigars (the darker kind.)

I like mine really thick and black. (I know that sounds gay.)

enjoy your smoke…

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 08:01:40

Thanks, man.

For the record, I like Phish a lot, but I think you need to be a bit stoned to really dig on some of the tracks on the second disc of Junta. And I always dug Floyd, although the shift to iPod has hurt them, at least in my listening experience. One of these days, I’ll write a whole post about “Another Brick in the Wall Part II.”

Maduro = agree totally.

Comment by Irwin |Edit This
2009-07-22 08:09:50

Was ‘one of these days’ a pun?

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 08:27:32

Ha! Not intentional, but I was just grooving to Floyd in the car (I bought a best-of CD at a yard sale for a buck that has great edits of “Echoes” and other stuff).

Comment by lieu ste. jean |Edit This
2009-07-22 08:44:44

i took up the cheap convenience store cigars you mention in your “piece” (not sure what to call it — column?) after i felt i was safely removed from my nicotine addiciton (quit date 5/1/97). i liked the vanilla flavored “backwoods” brand that came (still do, i imagine) in a foil pouch. dems were cheap and good. like you, i enjoyed relaxing outside with a cigar, but i also enjoyed lighting ‘em up in bars (before chicago’s own piggy-backing smoking ban) even when i realized they smelled much better to me than to those around me. that was all part of the fun.
chewing tobacco is entirely different. i tried it twice and both times it was out of my mouth within 30 seconds or so, followed by excessive mouth-rinsing and tongue-raking. terrible stuff. i lived in a boarding house in a college town with several chewers who would leave big gulp cups full of tobacco spit precariously balanced on the carpet (the kind with a raised pattern). the cups would spill on occasion and it would make me wretch to even watch someone else clean it up. how did we ever manage to find women willing to spend the night at such a place? well, alcohol, of course. my (future) wife being one.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 09:16:10

Next visit, Lieu, we must smoke us some see-gars.

Comment by Brad Listi |Edit This
2009-07-22 09:04:41

I used to always joke, back when I was a regular cigarette smoker, than smoking cigarettes was like meditating—with 4,000 toxic chemicals involved. There’s something glorious about a smoke break. You stop. You breathe. You kill yourself. It’s magic.

I should mention, too, the popular myth that those Romeo y Julietas are rolled beween the thighs of Cuban women. (Virgins!) I’m not kidding, either. That’s the line down in Cuba. Thigh sweat seals the wrap. So maybe you were smelling sex.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 09:17:57

Wow, I never heard that! My nose was on to something…

Ah, so you were in Havana, Brad. I wondered about that.

Comment by Brad Listi |Edit This
2009-07-22 13:40:14

And got myself sick drinking warm rum and smoking Cohibas and Romeo y Julietas.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 14:04:32

Well, when in Havana, dot dot dot.

Comment by Don Mitchell |Edit This
2009-07-22 10:18:38

Greg, did you ever try those little dry Dutch cigars, Schimmelpennincks? Back when I was a smoker, I liked them the best. Have to admit that I inhaled them, too.

If you haven’t ever smoked what in the Pacific (and maybe elsewhere) is called “trade tobacco,” you’ve missed out. Google “Emu Twist,” which was a favorite brand. These are molasses-cured single leaves, twisted into a stick. In order to smoke, you have to unroll the twist, dry out part of the leaf over a fire (otherwise it won’t burn well), and then you can crumble it and smoke it in a pipe or roll it in newspaper.

In my village, rank order was:

NY Times, bad
Rolling Stone, not too bad
IF Stone’s Weekly, OK
Papua New Guinea Post-Courier, excellent

Not exactly hand-rolled Cuban cigars, virgin secretions or not.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 10:54:46

Wow — now THAT’S some arcane knowledge right there. All the news that’s fit to print is not fit to burn….who knew?

Schimmelpennicks, I’m in. Thanks for the rec!

Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-07-22 11:00:49

I’ve never felt any particular desire to smoke. I find the cigarette industry completely loathesome, and like you generally encounter that particular starched-shirt prick breed of cigar smoker. And while I’m in favor of legalizing marijuana, I don’t particularly enjoy being around heavy stoners—mostly because, at a certain point, they get so high about the only thing they can do is sit around and talk about how high they are. Hanging around with them is about as entertaining as watching golf.

But man, do I love the smells inside an old-fashioned tobacco or cigar shop. There’s something about the scent of actual tobacco that makes me wish it wasn’t so unhealthy, because I suspect I would love to sit out on my balcony at dusk every now and then and puff away on a pipe.

Great read, by the way.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 14:07:48

Thanks, Matt.

See, I felt exactly the same way you do until last summer. I mean, I did a complete 180 on this. My wife and my friend Sue took pictures at the time, because me with cigar was like a jackelope sighting. And here it will be on the book.

Just goes to show, you never know.

Comment by John |Edit This
2009-07-22 11:17:07

Wonderful writing! I loved it. I used to manage an awesome smoke shop (premium tobacco, not paraphenalia) in Albuquerque, and this has made me really miss my job. I loved my clientele, mostly for its odd diversity. On any given day on our leather couches I would see a well-heeled divorce lawyer talking to a low-level construction worker, or any other number of strange conversationalists. I used to have the same perception of cigar smokers, but working there made me re-evaluate my position.
And the cigars are really quite awesome.
Rocky Patel Vintage is one of my favorites. Dark, delicious, wonderful.
CAO Cameroon is a spectacular mid-range smoke. I highly recommend the torpedo. They do it well. Creamy and spectacular, somewhat like smoking a loaf of bread in the best possible way.
Avo Uvezian rolls close to perfect cigars. Try them. They draw perfectly, and I’ve never had a bad one (which happens with almost every brand at least once in a while.)
Drew Estate also makes the Naturals line, which I enjoy quite a bit more than the Acid. The one that comes in a glass tube (for the life of me, I can’t remember its name) is the perfect “dessert cigar”.

Also, if you don’t have a humidor, you should get one. You can get an inexpensive one that holds 10-20 cigars for about $25. If you ever run across another Cuban, do yourself a favor and let it sit in your humidor for a few weeks. There is a law in Cuba that they are not allowed to age their tobaccor for more than a couple months, because the economy so heavily relies on the fast turnover. If you let a Cuban sit for a while, keeping it well-humidified, it will turn into the most delicious thing one person ever made for another.

Sorry for the cigar ranting. It’s been building up. I really miss the tobacco business. It was much more entertaining than the military business.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 14:09:54

Thanks, John — the shop sounded awesome indeed.

I didn’t know what to expect from the comments on this one, and it’s been an unexpected treat to get so many recommendations, especially with the gift certificate to J&R my brother gave me for Fathers Day burning a hole in my pocket.

And I have the humidor…thanks for the tip re: the Cuban. i didn’t know that, but it makes sense.

2009-07-22 12:21:15

You make cigar smoking sound magical, but I for sure am not a fan. My ex and his dad used to sit out by the pool in summer and smoke cigars and I hated the smell. I could never get used to it. I do so love your author photos though. The cigar really brings it all together. :-)

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 14:11:19

Thanks, Becca. The smell can be off-putting, especially if you’re not smoking…my wife doesn’t love it, either.

Glad you like the photos — like the rug in Lebowski, they really tie the room together.

Comment by JB |Edit This
2009-07-22 15:22:08

I enjoyed the hell outta this piece. Goddamn, I got a hankering for a smoke now, too!

I will never forget when I was a kid, driving around with my dad while he smoked his cigar. He looked tough and mysterious and fucking divine. It’s a lasting image, his face wrapped in smoke. So, dads, if you want your kid to think you’re the cat’s pajamas, make sure they see you smoking a cigar.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-22 16:50:20

Thanks, man.

I make it a rule not to smoke when the kids are around. This might change when they get older, or I might grow out of the phase. But they’re still so little the already think I’m the cats pajamas. They have not yet learned the truth: I’m the dog’s pajamas.

2009-07-22 16:30:42

This is one of those posts where it’s totally clear for whom the piece was written.

It’s bringing all the guys out onto the dance floor! :)

Comment by Matt |Edit This
2009-07-22 19:42:05

We’re all identifying with the pseudo-phallic imagery.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-23 00:27:24

Well said, Matt.

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Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-22 20:36:09

Padron. Best cigars avaliable. All the best Cuban cigar makers fled in the 90’s and 00’s, and they’re in Nicaragua and shit now using those legendary Cuban strains in virgin soil. Padron. That’s the stuff. I’ll send you an anniversary since you’ve been so understanding about laying off the Kardashian family in your posts. Click the name and hit me with the address. These things will set your mind on fire.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-23 00:31:04

Thanks, Phat!

I’d heard that, too, about the Cubans being overrated these days. When there was talk of easing the embargo, they interviewed the guy who owns Uptown Cigars about the effect it would have on his business, and he said, in effect, none, because the best cigars don’t come from Cuba anymore.

It’s more about the cachet, I think, the fact that they are more difficult to obtain.

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-07-22 22:45:23

Who wouldn’t buy a book from the guy in that photo? Give that fine young author a cigar!

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-23 00:31:58

Thanks, Marni. On behalf of my kids and my many creditors, I hope you’re right!

Comment by Tawni |Edit This
2009-07-24 02:53:44

I have a cigar-smoking stepdad and he has let me try them a few times, but it has never clicked. I like the smell, though. Nostalgic. His love of cigars has always made gift buying much easier, so I appreciate them for that as well.

Great write. I loved reading this, even though it kind of made me want to get drunk and attempt to smoke cigarettes like I used to, pre-child. :)

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-25 09:39:17

Tawni: Don’t let the kids stop you from getting drunk and smoking once in a blue moon. That’s why God invented babysitters.

2009-07-25 05:16:59

I’ve never smoked except for once trying a cigar. It was tingly. I didn’t inhale. So I failed.

I love this piece. The woods, the smell of the cigar, the imagined sounds from the trees and sound of gravely road as you walk. I am going to feature this piece on Face News tomorrow or Monday. I just love the imagery.

And I have to say of all the writer photos I have seen EVER in my life, except for one or two pics of Kerouac, it’s your cigar-smoking pic I am most fond of and jealous of. I don’t really have a writer look. But you do. And it’s cool. And I have your book here waiting to be read. That’s my cigar. Yeah.

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-25 09:42:58

Wow. Thanks, Nick, on all those counts. I am now completely confident that we made the right choice, photo-wise.

Speaking of, I like your new Gravatar. You look kinda bad-ass.

Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-07-26 21:32:21

Oh, now, come on! You’re making smoking look totally awesome and I’ve made it 35 years without so much as one drag! How am I supposed to live with myself?!!

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-29 01:33:39

Skydiving is more totally awesome than cigarsmoking. You’ve got it covered.

Comment by fejus |Edit This
2009-07-29 05:46:13

“Marijuana is another example. Pleasant though the high may be, no amount of stonedness could hip me to hackeysack and Grateful Dead bootlegs. ”

Please dont lump all “marijuana smokers” into the Dead heads and foot bag payers… not everyone is what you think they may be ;)

btw try an Ashton Cabinet or a Romeo y Juletta <3 those

Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-29 07:37:42

Done and done. The lesson of the golfers and potheads is, of course, that appearances are deceiving.

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GREG OLEAR is the Los Angeles Times bestselling author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker and founding editor of The Weeklings.

5 responses to “Just a Cigar”

  1. brett j says:

    Oh after I Stumbled Upon your post and read the first paragraph or so, I was all ready and geared to answer. I had visions of the rant I would leave here in the comment section of your post! I would mention how so many other things disgust me and that stereotyping is so overrated in this country…then I kept reading and much to my delight you came full circle as many do in this culture. This is a hobby that envelops ones soul and it takes over your thoughts when dreaming of relaxation. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel and just cannot write!

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks for reading all the way through, Brett, and for commenting. I really appreciate the kind words….so much so that I think I shall light up a cigar this very moment!

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