This weekend I had the occasion to break out a cigar. I rarely do so- maybe four times a year (if that.) Usually it's when my brother is taking a break from starring in kids shows on Nickelodeon and makes it up here to Oregon from LA.
While I sat out on the deck listening to Sinatra, drinking a bottle of my homemade blackberry wine and savoring the fine hand-rolled Dominican one of my kids asked me a pretty pertinent question: "why do you like cigars?"
It really is a good question. As annoying as smoking cigarettes are, cigars are 10x as bad in terms of odor and harsh second-hand smoke. I get that they're pretty gross to most of the populous.
Besides the fact I genuinely enjoy a good cigar once in a while there is a psychological aspect to it for me. Put simply: the smell of cigar smoke takes me to my happy place.
I'm eight-years old and standing in my parent's one car garage at their beautiful little pink house in Northeast Portland.
Most of the garage is taken up by my dad's disassembled classic Cord car. It's white frame is missing an engine, wheel wells, trunk, etc. My dad fell in love with Cords back when he was in college. He'd driven this car for years until one fateful winter he had failed to drain the engine all the way the engine froze and the block cracked. It had been in this half-assembled condition every since while he "restored" it.
Besides the car and parts the garage is almost entirely covered with electronics equipment. Dad was an electrical engineer by profession and a tinkerer by hobby. There are tubes, wires and broken radios everywhere.
Pop is bent over the counter chewing on a cheap Robert Burns cigar (he smoked those only because they came in a plastic case that he could later store stuff in.) The only rule - strictly enforced by my mother - was that he smoke these cigars outside.
Dad is just finishing up what was going to be our Halloween costume that year. My brother and I were going as dragons. At this stage they were elaborate dragonesque constructions of chickenwire that had yet to have the green cloth applied to them as skin.
It was mom who had actually designed and had done most of the building on these costumes, but dad who decided they needed something extra. He was adding elaborate eyes that lit up and glowed to each of our dragons. This increased the level of cool factor by levels of 1000 in my adolescent mind.
As I watched the old man "invent" something just to make his boys' costumes just a little bit scarier I didn't think I could ever love somebody more in my life.
It's maybe a year after that Halloween. My mom has gone back to college to study drama. She's in a production of "Man from La Mancha" and is already at the theater getting ready for her debut.
My brother and I are mountain climbers. We've thrown an old rope we found in the backyard over the top of the garage and tied it to the neighbor's chained link fence on the other side. We are using the rope to scale the garage - Batman style - walking up the wall until we get to the roof.
At some point when I'm going up the rope breaks and I fall straight backwards, hitting the ground pretty hard. It's only a few seconds after I've fallen that I realize I've fallen into a pile of old boards and there is a nail from one of those boards sticking straight through the palm of my hand.
I panic and scream. This is the most serious thing to ever happen to me and I'm terrified. I can't bring myself to pull my hand loose. I don't know what to do.
It goes through my mind that it only took a couple more nails to kill Jesus. I never even walked on water.
My father ambles out of the garage and asseses the situation. "How'd you do that?" he asks. Then gently pulls my hand off the nail and gives me a hug until I calm down. I can smell his cheap cologne and the cigar he was puffing on a moment before. He makes me feel safe, like this isn't that big a deal.
I like the occasional cigar for a lot of reasons but one of those is certainly not that I can feel "grown up." I smoke them so I can remember what it was like to be a kid.