Monthly Archives: May 2017

Romancing the Cigar.

Quad cap

Look at that cigar cap above.  Go ahead.  Imagine the care, love and artistic skill this torcedor took as he or she cloaked the pressed and shaped Medio-Tempo binder and fermented Nicaraguan leaves with a perfectly aged Ecuadorian Connecticut DesFlorada (deflowered) leaf to produce not only a cigar but a truly original work of sensual art.  I was able to closely examine this artisanal extension of passion.  Believe me, it is as near to perfect as one can get.  I’ll leave you two alone for a bit.  Don’t be ashamed, you can stare with vicarious lust.  When you’re finished, come on back and I’ll get to my point. Go ahead – take your time.

*****

My point.  This cigar is being made at a small boutique factory.  It is not created at one that churns out thousands of cigars a day.  It is a sanctuary of sensuality.  An emotional empire that allows such beauty to be produced day after day for the sheer visual excitation of cigar lovers everywhere.  You have seen the evidence.  This is what a cigar connoisseur expects.

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The cigar industry’s doppelgänger?

cranston cover(I was driving to Iowa and listening to this recording.  And all I could think of was the cigar business.  What do you think?  Excerpt from “A Life In Parts” by Bryan Cranston Published by Scribner an imprint of Simon and Schuster Copyright © 2016 Ribit Productions, Inc.)

*******

“Many more TV pilots are shot than aired. And even those shows that make it to air stand a high likelihood of getting cancelled (sic) early.  I believe around 65 percent are axed. It’s as speculative a business as opening a restaurant (or manufacturing a cigar).  Maybe more so.  If you get a job on a new show, you hope the show catches fire, but you can never bank on it.

In the nineties, I got a job on the Louie Show with Louie Anderson, Paul Feig, and Laura Innes.  We got half a dozen shows done before CGS canceled us.”

He goes on to write how the show just didn’t take off because Louie was troubled.  And then he expounds further. 

“Another show was shooting next to us on the same studio lot; their star dressing room was next to Louie’s.  Tradition had it that while the audience filed in, the cast would assemble in the star’s dressing room and quickly run lines to stay sharp and energized for the show.  The other show was on the same schedule as us, so when we were doing our ‘speed through,’ so were they.  We were halting and tentative with our material – all the while we’d hear their uproarious laughter.  We wondered what was so freakin’ funny.  We were so upset about our own situation that we took to jealously putting the other down.  ‘Who’s going to want to see a show about aliens coming to earth?’  The answer turned out to be: a whole lot of people.  3rd Rock from the Sun went on to become a big fat hit.

Cranston then goes on to explain the vagaries of the efficacy of pilots.

“That;s how it was for a long time.  I’d shoot a pilot, and maybe if I was lucky, do a couple of episodes, and then the show would fizzle.  Or I’d audition and come so close I could feel it.  And I’d lose the part to some other actor.  The process of auditioning for TV pilots is a petri dish for self-doubt.  When you test for a pilot at a network, you wait and you wait for them to call your name.  When they finally do, it’s common to walk into a room and find twenty people in really nice business attire staring blankly at you.  A few hellos, and it’s showtime.  Act your ass off on command.  Typically, they consider a minimum of three actors for each role, but it can be up to eight.  It’s nerve-racking (sic), and it’s over before you know it.  Out you go to wait for the next guy to step to the plate, then the next. When everyone has been in once, you’re usually asked again for round two of the same scene or scenes, but only after sitting in the waiting room, dissecting your audition, thinking about all the things you’d change if you had the chance to do it again.  Or maybe you’re pleased with the work.  But your competition is there, too.  By the water fountain. And he seems pleased with his work!  You sit, trying not to seem nervous.  You even smile at your competitors as if to wish them good luck.  What you’re really hoping is that they break down and confess: I screwed up.  I was awful.

”But no one says a thing.  We’re actors.  Looking confident under pressure is our stock-in-trade.  You look unbothered.  Cool, even.  Inside you’re wondering:  Am I any good? You’re staring at the door.  They’re discussing your fate behind that door.  It could be five minutes, it could be half and hour before the door swings open and the casting director appears and offers a boilerplate: Thank you.  Everyone was very good.  “You’re all free to go.

“And just like that, it’s done.

“You collect your things and go home, your mind racing.  Did they find their guy?  Did they think we were all terrible?  Will they have to cast a wider net to find the actor they want?

“Ah, fuck it.  You may never know.

“That’s the life.  That’s why talent alone doesn’t cut it.  If you want to be a successful actor, mental toughness is essential.  Lay your whole self-worth on getting the role, on the illusion of validation, before long you’re left angry, resentful, and jealous.  You’re doomed.”

“You can sugarcoat it. You can use a euphemism if you wish.  But the bottom line is that sometimes they are simply not going to want you.  And if they do want you they may fire you.”

******

Cigars, their manufacturers, the brand owners are all wanting to get the part.  Some have qualities that attract, others have a proclivity to repel.  Love and enjoy the experience it when your cigar makes it.  Own up to your defeat when yours doesn’t.  Cranston never quit.  He kept his head down and worked.

“But about twenty years ago something changed.  I’d gotten to a place where I didn’t feel any of that negativity.  I made a switch in the way I approached the process.  The switch seemed simple enough once I understood it, but it took me years to achieve that understanding.”

Years.

 

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Today’s Tobacco Trinity.

 

trio of cigars

Three cigars in one day are too much for me.  The first was this afternoon when I took Flo out for her Sunday walk.  The second was as I was exercising.  I speed walk and it feels great.  The final cigar was the one I am smoking right now under the night’s sky trying desperately to see what I’m writing next to the solar light on the side table next to my bench in the Patio Cigar Lounge (Open 24/7).  (There’s no door, just walk in.)

Number one had a magnificent draw and the flavor was as luscious as crème brûlée when you crack open the caramelized top and your spoon softly enters the custard and when you put the blancmange into your mouth the explosion of warm vanilla and crème épaisse (heavy cream) causes a taste sensation that tantalizes your desire for more.  It’s a tickle that demands to be itched.  It made me stop and look at the cigar with Willie Wonka wonder as to how tobacco can have such a transformative effect.

The second one was the same as the first, but unfortunately the draw was poor and I ended up so disappointed that I became a bit testy, again looking at the  cigar and in total exasperation talked to this inanimate man-made “thing” questioning it as if I expected an answer, “What the hell happened to you?”  Of course, my query was met with utter silence and so I just concentrated on my quickened steps one, two, three, four, and how I wish I had some more – of the first one.  Grrrr.

My final cigar was smoldering under the night’s sky.  I sat at the lounge lapping up every last swirl of smoke I could because this is one that I never can get enough of – ever. Though it, too, has an occasional draw problem, I have given it eternal dispensation for being arrogantly inconsistent.  I love the flavors, essences, and tastes it provides, despite this flaw.

Here, the smooth, raisin purée and molasses mix tinged with freshly ground nutmeg and powdered coffee with just a whoosh of dried cocoa are injected into my palate that I have no choice but to savor each draw.  As the smoke escapes into the air I breathe in just a thin strand of dissipating smoke into my nose to complement one of the most pleasing and addictive aromas ever produced from burning dried leaves.

Three very different experiences.  Not a single primary flavor in any one, but a schmear of tingles and tangs regardless of the inconsistent draw.  When Mother Nature grew these leaves and man took them and almost as if by gossamer magic created such sensory dilators is a miracle that is certainly blessed and touched by the gods.

The third cigar is about to go out.  I wish it wouldn’t.  But I’m forcing its demise by drawing on the nub with the same intensity as one would breathe in the last breath of life.  The sounds around me are beginning to take over the finalé of this day with my trinity of tobaccos.  The distant sounds of cars’ tires on the main drag’s worn asphalt. The ever so gentle rustle of some small creature next to me hidden in the hostas.  The occasional accent from the sounds of a couple’s voices on the sidewalk in front of the Lounge.  Indeed, I am quietly being blended back into the nocturnal atmosphere sans cigar to the inevitable end of my day.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU-QiGDZJns  

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The Patio Cigar Lounge (Open 24/7).

It being so close to Memorial Day, with such perfect weather, I figured I would set the season in motion with a celebratory cigar after a hard day’s work and relax at the World’s Famous Patio Cigar Lounge (Open 24/7). Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

patio 7

patio 4

patio missing

 

patio 5

patio 6

patio 2

patio 10

Come on.  Sit back.  Relax.  Enjoy the music and know in your heart that Life is Good!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFi_CKNJjwE

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Just lit up a cigar. Name withheld.

just lit up a cigar

Just lit up a cigar.  Name withheld.  I also just threw one out – literally.  I was walking Flo and looking forward to this one, but I have to tell you, I smoked about a wee bit more than half and it turned out to be one of the most disappointing cigars I’ve tried in ages. And the odd part about it is that I had the cigar before and it was excellent – creamy, smooth, a staunch tobacco flair with hints of coffee, tabasco, and toffee topped off with a Windy City draw coupled with excellent construction.  So where’d all that go?  South? Yeah.  

I’m puffing away on this remedial cigar and I can’t tell you the difference in flavor on my palate.  How can one that was so good before morph into one that is so bad?  In fact, I reviewed it and gave it full marks.  Had I had the one I smoked while walking Flo, I wouldn’t have even bothered to put ink to paper.  Or fingers to the keyboard or whatever.  Hmm.  This second one is still smoothing out the dingy taste in my mouth.

I’m by happenstance watching some of the highlights of Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece “Django” on my phone and enjoying it.  That was one of his best.  Jamie Foxx was superb as Django as was Christopher Waltz, who played Dr. King the Dentist cum Bounty Hunter.  I’m still not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan, but just like anything, it takes time.  And “Revenant” didn’t do the trick for me so I’ve a long way to go.  But I digress.

By now the charred effects of bad tobacco have left my palate and I’m enjoying its replacement.  But why should I have had to go through this attack on my taste buds from a cigar that at one time I praised?  In fact, I could tell I was a bit testy about the whole matter.  All I can do to rectify this is to try another one out of the box and see if I get the same disastrous results.  If I do, then as they once said, “We got a problem.”  Actually, the brand owner has the problem.  Not me.  

But I will bet you that if I even politely bring up the disparity in satisfaction, I’m going to get the same old lines I always get, “Gee, I never heard that before from anyone who’s tried it.”  May I add my two cents?  1¢.  2¢.  (Read bu*****t)  Add some Donald Duck spittle and it’s perfect!  Even with just this one derelict cigar out of the box, the brand has a problem.  The question is how to solve it?

Answer?  As the head of a very famous cosmetics company once did upon discovering that the red hue to a nail polish was not up to snuff – every bottle was destroyed!  And that’s what ought to be done to this batch should the problem be discovered as endemic. It’s more than foolish to try and talk it out, it’s dimwitted.  Start over!  Maybe the tobacco didn’t cure properly.  Maybe the fermentation process took a left turn.  Maybe the aging drew too much of the oils out.  Who knows.  But to let the cigar go out to the market with even the slightest chance of what happened to me, happen to another cigar smoker, is considered moronic.  Fix it!

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The Grand Slam of Cigar Change!

dennys pancakes

My son and I went to Denny’s, a 24/7 restaurant chain, and had breakfast this morning. The menu is now packed with all sorts of dishes that would take up too much room to limn here.  But I wasn’t really interested in any of the many dishes offered to satiate my appetite.  I was only there for the traditional Grand Slam Breakfast!  

Now for the uninitiated, The Grand Slam Breakfast, introduced in 1977, is what put Denny’s on the map, (aside from the racial thing we won’t get into).  It consists of two fluffy pancakes of good size, two eggs any way you want them, and your choice of two pieces of sausage or bacon.  Coffee is included, but I asked for apple juice, (I wanted a McDonald’s Mocha Frappe but . . . ).

I have not had a Grand Slam in ages, years in fact and so I didn’t know what to expect. This place was crowded and we positioned ourselves in a comfy two top.  Our order was quick to come to the table, and to my glee and surprise, the sausages were fresh and hot, the eggs sunny-side up (I had asked for them down), and the pancakes were hot and fluffy with scrumptious, greasy blobs of whipped butter cascading down the sides.  I added the syrup.  It and I were ready to go.

“Damn this is good,” I said between bites and double dribbles of “maple” syrup that was trying its damnedest to coat my beard.  We just sat there from that point on, eating. Enjoying what turned out to be a pretty good choice.

“Hey, there’s a cigar story here,” I told my son, Miles.  He looked at me chewing his choices.

“What?” he got out.

“This is just like when a guy goes to a cigar shop and tries something he hasn’t had for years, and doesn’t know what to expect, but says, “What the hell.”  So off he goes to the other shelves, away from the hype and hip cigars of today.  Wait.  I’ll run downstairs meself and try to find an antique.  Hold on.  I’m back.  Nothing particularly piqued my interest.  In fact, there are too many to go through.  So here’s what I picked out:

dennys cigar

The Freyja Valhalla toro.  Blended by Emma Viktorsson and the production manager at Tabacalera Palma, Geraldito Perez.  The wrapper is a Dominican Criollo ‘98 miracle leaf, with a Mexican San Andrés binder, and finalized with Dominican Criollo ‘98 Dominican Piloto Cubana and Nicaraguan tobaccos grown in Esteli.  The smoke is creamy, delightful, satisfying and addictive.  The flavor is heavenly.

I haven’t had a Freyja for months, ever since Emma left the country to concentrate on the “European” market.  But like the Grand Slam, I haven’t had one of them for years!  And was totally surprised at how good it tasted.  Too, I didn’t realize how refined this cigar is and will get better with age.  It’s one of those cigar anomalies that really do become more sultry with time.

It’s good to stay away from some things, forget about them – consciously or not.  I hadn’t eaten a Grand Slam because it wasn’t on my mind.  I just thought it would be a good idea to have one this morning because I hadn’t had breakfast, and am bored with hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with Himalayan coarse-ground salt, and a donut.  Habit.  Convenience. Laziness.  Who knows.  But reintroducing the Denny diner’s breakfast made that two egg, sausage, pancake trinity a delectable change.

Change.  A word charged with emotion with different meanings both positive and negative.  Urban scrawl would brag “Been there. Done that.”  Yeah, I suppose.  But burrowing down the rabbit hole to sinuous boredom can make Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece a dull read.

Ruts.  Wagon trains.  The search for gold in the Sierra Madre.  Bogie.  That glistening vein we all pursue.  The relentless journey of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.  We miss something but forget what it is that is absent from our lives.  It’s there.  Right underneath our noses.  But with pride sky high, and listless dreams dominating our daily lives, we neglect to look up, to try, to go backward, to see the pinhole of light that grows wider and brighter as the clay saucer from the center of the earth is forced skyward by hot, sizzling lava out of the volcano’s vent.  We hold on for fear of falling, grasping the ancient edges with our dear lives terrified that we will perish should we be thrown and throttled into the endless waters of change.

Boutique cigar manufacturers are multitudinous.  The belief is that the new dissolves the old when in fact it is the solidified foundational traditions that allow the new, tender branches to appear each year giving us what we seek, should we make the averted attempt to look and try it again.

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Casualty Avoided.

honda interior.jpg

It’s an odd sensation that I have had before.  But today the clarity of the psychological commotion was too real for me to ignore.  

I was in my car in the driveway.  I had turned the key and the engine was running.  My bag of cigar samples was in the usual spot in the back seat.  My briefcase was at the ready behind me.  I knew exactly where I was headed.  I didn’t need the GPS for this stop. But I didn’t move.  I stopped.

It was as if I had been shot with an arrow dipped in curare, “the deadly poison that blocks nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on the postsynaptic membrane of the neuromuscular junction that acts as a muscle relaxant that can paralyze the respiratory system.” (toxic warfare)

The temperature outside hadn’t changed.  It’s been windy and on the cool side.  But I stopped cold.  I was staring out the windshield.  The engine was still running.  Two other things were also running, my mind and my heart.  And, I would venture to say that the heart and mind beat out the crankshaft’s speed.

I still just sat there.  I figured it was for a few minutes since the sun hadn’t gone down and my beard wasn’t any longer.  This wasn’t a Time Machine scenario.  But I felt as if I had traveled a great distance.  I was tired.  Contemplative.  Almost numb.

I continued to sit there.  Eventually, I reached for the ignition key and turned the engine off.  The car immediately became still.  Silent.  The only sound was of a lawn mower in the distance.  But I couldn’t turn off my thoughts.  And Lord knows I didn’t want the heart to stop.

ruby 1502I could tell my racing thoughts were on the cigars I represent.  I could see the brands silently running around in my head like the neon signs used around the buildings in Times Square.  It was later in the day.  I had been out since morning visiting shops.  I made this pit stop at home to pick up a 1502 Ruby Lancero.  While I sat there, the cigar poked out from my shirt pocket warmed by my Columbia jacket.  I was ready to go.  But I was still immobile.  So many thoughts were competing for first place in my mind.  Some positive.  Some negative.  

These seemingly random ideas were so intertwined with each other I didn’t even try to sort them out.  Yet, these words came into focus – “Don’t go.  Not today.”  I read it as, “Call it a day.”  Tomorrow is going to be a long one.  I may be going out of state.

culvers cup

I felt surrounded by the letters like a tornado.  With all this in motion, I went for the handle and opened the car door.  I felt myself push my body up out of the seat.  The first thing I did was grab what was left in my Culver’s cup that contained Mountain Dew and Root beer – a great combination I have been told to stay away from.  As I lifted the cup, tiny droplets of moisture produced by condensation on the outside of the plastic spattered on my trousers creating dark spots that I knew would eventually dry.

I took the cup and walked to the end of the driveway and gently placed it on the asphalt.  I went back to the car and opened the rear door and grabbed the blue bag of samples and my briefcase, which has been impregnated with binders.  I walked slowly.  

I passed the drink and headed for the back door, put both loads down and fumbled for my key.  I pushed it into the lock, turned it, opened the door and walked up the small flight of steps that leads to the outer kitchen.  I plunked them down, not really caring where.

I then went inside and tossed around papers on my desk and found a clipboard and some blank paper and headed back outside.  

I’ve been running around a lot lately.  New cigar acquisitions.  New demands.  New personalities.  New blends to learn.  With all this still spinning in my head, I went toward the Patio Cigar Lounge (Open 24/7).  I pulled the cigar, a 1502 Ruby Lancero, out of my pocket, and slipped the cellophane off.  I grappled for my cutter and clipped the cap, and dug deep into my pocket and retrieved the lighter.  I put flame to the foot.  Took a few drags and plunked into the chair.

no cigar casualty

It’s a good cigar, the 1502 Ruby.  And then two words crossed my mind with disdain – road warrior.

Any rep worth his or her salt knows that’s fictional crap. It’s a couple of words made up by some numb nut sales manager to motivate his crew.  

I sat there and drew some of the sweet smoke from the 1502.  Excellent.  Ok.  So shoot me.  I don’t fit into that ersatz sales mold.  

So I began to write the words you’re reading now.  They flowed like honey.  I listened to myself this afternoon.  I felt grounded – well balanced and sensible.  Grounded on solid earth.  Not six feet deep in it.   

 

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