Salt Water

Tonight I met a wonderful old Merchant Marine. He was a crusty old guy with salt water in his veins and the weathered, ruddy skin of a waterman. Out of his well worn wallet he shared pictures of the things he prized most. His kids, his wife and the fifteen foot, nine hundred and fifty-seven pound shark he caught in North Carolina.

We swapped stories of time spent on the water and laughed at each others corny jokes. Truthfully, he did not remind me directly of my father, but he did make me think of him by being of a similar breed. Jovial, Southern and raised on salt water. There is redneck, there is Southern and there is waterman. They all collide somewhere but they are all different. I am happy to have a bit of each in my blood but the waterman seems to run the deepest.

My first cigar.

My recent fascination with cigars actually has it’s roots deep in my past. My first cigar was purchased when I was about 17 years old. A friend and I took a trip to New York City. This was my first significant trip without my family. It was my first trip on an airplane and the first time I went to NYC.

We thought we were very grown-up and mature. My friend and I roamed around the city and took in a few sites. We ended up at the Dunhill store on Madison Avenue. I’m not sure you can get further away from Lynchburg, Virginia. In we strode, two teenage boys from “down south” trying to look sophisticated enough to be where we were. I am sure that, try as we might, we stood out like the bumpkin tourist kids we were.

I remember not having much money but desperately wanting to seem like I did. I had learned earlier in another swank store that asking how much something costs was a sure way to blow our cover. “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it!”, my slightly older and more worldly friend had hissed as he jabbed me in the ribs. With that knowledge I was a bit disheartened to find that there were no visible price tags in the glass display case that I had wandered up to.

The case was full of various tobacco products and paraphernalia. I lusted over a couple of solid gold lighters as I fondled my own (t)rusty zippo. I knew better than to even dream of asking to see one of those. I am sure the sticker shock would have sent me running into the street. I was soon approached by a very distinguished older gentleman. He was only a bit aloof and his perfectly groomed handlebar mustache was completely intimidating if a bit amusing. However, he was patient enough to assist me and soon guided me towards a small tin of Macanudo Ascot cigars. I don’t recall the price but the tin was very luxurious in my eyes. Gold and white with medals surely touting what a fine purchase I was making. The package was such a sharp contrast to the packs of Marlboro’s and pouches of chewing tobacco that were so very prevalent amongst my peers back home. With rumpled bills I paid the man who bid me “Good day sir.” as I collected a pitifully small amount of change. My friend and I were on our way.

Back on the sidewalk I was anxious to smoke one of these treasures. Of course no one had taught me how to go about doing it. After pulling one from the tin I bit one end off and lit the other with little ceremony. A couple of puffs and of course I inhaled just as I would one of those plebeian Marlboro’s. Needless to say as mild and smooth a cigar as those Macanudos probably were, I learned the hard way that inhaling was not the way to go. Once the spasmodic coughing had ceased I proceeded to smoke the rest of the little cigar much more cautiously while trying to recover my dignity.

I can’t say that I was hooked on cigars at that point. I don’t think that I ever finished that tin. Our trip was over and we made the journey back home the following day. There really is no place for a teenager desperately trying to fit in with his classmates to smoke cigars. Anything other than good old American tobacco, whether smoked or chewed, would do back home south of the Mason-Dixon line. However, the experience of walking into that store, the elegance of everything involved in that process planted a seed. That purchase, and that trip, were some of my first experience as an adult.

Now, years later, I have learned so much more about luxury. I have developed a palate and acquired a taste for finer things from art to wine and spirits and yes, cigars. I have learned that it isn’t about consuming the product or making the purchase. Although there can be reward there as well, it is typically fleeting. Luxury is about savoring the experience. Whether you enjoy a good cigar or not I hope that you can appreciate all that goes into creating these masterpieces. There is culture, politics, art, hard labor and family all rolled into them. The story of each brand and even each blend can be a rich tapestry. “What is so special about cigars?”, you may ask. If you don’t ask, they won’t afford it.