I
read that Bismark calmed an angry crowd in Paris by producing a cigar and asking a Frenchman for a light. Mark Twain enjoyed smoking the most noxious cigars he could find out on his front porch. Churchill dipped his in cognac and smoked them so incessantly it’s a wonder he didn’t kill his political opponents with secondhand smoke.

My cigar stories are less literate, more mundane, and in line with the strange company I keep. A friend forced me to smoke my first real one at his Eagle Scout project site on a sultry summer night. I smoked a third, hated it. He called me a pussy, and he was right. I got my revenge a few years later when he lit a cigar, drunk, and placed it into his mouth burning-end first. Ever heard a cat yowl, really yowl?

I got into the cigar smoking game in search of sharp one liners, cool smoke rings and an emulation of the men I so wanted to be. Things have changed. Of course I still daydream myself a modern-day Twain as I waft clouds of silvery smoke and attempt to memorize aphorisms. Yet now I actually pay attention to the cigar more than the precedence behind the act. That a simple stick of rolled tobacco leaf can hold its own against the mythical class of men who’ve smoked it is an impressive feat. In fact, if not a single great man had smoked a cigar, if it wasn’t considered cool or masculine or related to literature, politics or the arts in any way, a cigar would still be wholly magnificent. Let’s explore one, off the pedestal.

I have made it a rule never to smoke more than one cigar at a time. – Mark Twain

Roll the cylinder between your fingers; feel the oiled sandpaper texture; snip the end and clench it between your teeth. It has the perfect amount of give, and I like to chew it slightly, slobber on it, mark my territory. You don’t share your cigar with others. I recently offended a group of sloppy bar-goers who demanded puffs before they’d even introduced themselves. They were persistent, but I was indignant. Sure, it caused a kerfuffle, but in truth that cigar saved me some exasperation. The buffoons left me alone and I enjoyed far better company, anyhow.

Light it with a match. You’ll battle the wind unless you find a good, calm spot. There’s no use burning down ten matches and the fuse of your temper before you even get the chance to draw in some smoke; that nook or cranny you discover out of necessity will become part of your story, maybe a big part. Find a shade-speckled bench. Better yet, find a dock, one with a few and boats trawling by and a curtain of waving reeds to separate you and your pleasures from the passing by riffraff.

Draw the rich smoke into your mouth. Pretend you’re using a straw. Remember that you can breathe in without bringing smoke into your lungs. You’ll learn. Don’t give up, even if you spend a half hour over the toilet after the first time with a ghostly pallor and a god-awful feeling. This is but a dip in a long and pleasant road, and far better than that nasty episode involving a half gallon of moonshine.

Hold the smoke in your mouth a moment. Don’t be pensive about it — just do it. What do you taste? Twain was right: it is noxious and harsh, in a way. So is bourbon. There’s a pleasant warmth beyond what you initially find difficult. Don’t let people tell you what you taste. Taste it yourself. If all you taste is asshole and ash then try again a few times. If this persists, you are honorably discharged. If you’re lucky, you’ll find something in the aromas and textures of the smoke. Now try it with some bourbon.

Ah, if only I had brought a cigar with me! This would have established my identity. – Charles Dickens

Smoke it slow lest you poison yourself and return to the toilet. Yes, there’s a type of buzz. No, don’t talk about it. Talk about other things. Have you talked about politics with your friends? Talk about politics — lazily. Don’t linger there, though. What haven’t you talked about lately? Remember that time? Unwind. You have until the big hunk of leaves burns down to enjoy whomever you’re smoking with. But for god’s sake don’t force anything. You won’t have to.

This is the magic of the cigar. Look at you: You are relaxed. You are in a nice spot. You are with friends. You have something to hold in your hand. There’s a pleasant flavor. There’s an excuse to sip something special. It all happened easily, and it brushes against that precedent — those great men and their huge wits and singular acts — that you are a part of. Yes, you are.

CHEERS, JEERS? We’d love to hear from you. Email the author at cwright [at] gearpatrol.com and let him know what you think. Just remember, you’re what makes us burn (in a good way). Thanks for reading.