Monday, March 23, 2009

You could've been a great anything, son.

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.


Arkonbey said...

wonderful stories. They made me smile very much. I even made that sucking sound through my teeth when I got to the part about your hand.

Though I smoke only when on fire, I feel the same way about pipe smoke and my grandfather. With my dad, it's the smell of a more illicit sort of smoke ;)

Fantastic Forrest said...

Lovely, just lovely.

I hate cigarette smoke, but, oddly, don't mind cigar or pipe smoke.

Lockwood said...

Nice. I'm a cigarette smoker, and never got into cigars or pipes, but I can realate to this feeling.

Overdroid said...

You forgot the best part of the hand story! You called for help from me and for some reason I thought that the nail had fallen from above into your hand (I wasn't good conceptualizing physics back then). I PULLED on the nail, essentially pulling it farther into your hand and you yelled "Get DAD! Go get DAD!"

Also Robert Burns came in a cardboard case - not plastic.

Forgetting all these details makes me think you've been smoking more than Seegars.

Great memories though, I miss him every day.

Dean Wormer said...


With my dad, it's the smell of a more illicit sort of smoke ;)

Heh heh.


Welcome! That is strange. Usually non-smokers find cigar smoke to be a little more harsh. Hmmm.


Yeah, it's that sensory memory at work.


I'd forgotten that part! Sorry. That is pretty funny.

I have some OLD Robert Burns boxes with dad's stuff that are clear plastic. I guess they took crap for it in the 70s and went to cardboard.

Great memories though, I miss him every day.

Me too. Glad I still got you, bro. Love ya!

Mauigirl said...

Nice stories, it's true that certain smells bring us right back to the past.

My grandfather smoked White Owls. He used to let me wear the paper ring on my finger.

Don Snabulus said...

I had a house full of smoke all the time and now I have weak lungs that get bronchitis or rarely pneumonia at the drop of a hat when cold season comes.

Since you are a good writer, I can put myself into your story and feel the safety and goodness. I think the way you do it is best for yourself and your kids. Outside and occasionally...

Randal Graves said...

I, like most, loathe the smell of cigars, but very cool story, but but ouch!

Do we have to start worshiping you now?

lisahgolden said...

I have different memories connected to different types of smoke.

Pipes - my grandpa
Cigars - my step grandpa
Cigarettes - driving around with my sister as a young teen, sneaking smokes and France. I smoked my head off in France.
Clove cigarettes - more recent smoking, over now, though. Dang it.

MathMan must read this post. His dad had the ubiquitous cigar.

Unknown said...

I have such similar memories of cigars because dad smoked cigars, too. He was a high school band director and in those days - he often smoked at school. At night he worked repairing clocks - more cigars. And Man of LaMancha, that my memory is mine,too. I onced played in the pit band for a production.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, good times. I remember we'd grab some of those cigars and head to Wilshire Park...I sure miss your dad.

Dr. Zaius said...

My dad used to smoke a pipe. I always liked the odor, but I turned green when I tried to smoke it.

Dean Wormer said...


That's cute about the ring.


Sorry if I hit a sore spot. I wasn't trying to exhort people to smoke, just trying to explain why I like to do so occasionally.


Do we have to start worshiping you now?

If you'd like but don't sacrifice any goats. I'm tired of burying them.


Everybody smokes in France and yet they're so healthy.


Can you still hear "to dream the impossible dream?" I hope you enjoyed it because I love that musical.


I'd forgotten about that. We were such bad boys.


That happened to Pinnochio as well. But he was smoking cigars if I recall.

Don Snabulus said...


Nah, I was just stating a fact. Actually, I have a lot of similar memory smells, but mostly the smimages (get it?) revolve around stored spices, a musty utility room, or foods cooking.

Swinebread said...

what wonderful memories of Cigar Smoke and your Dad

I have none like the ones you've posted here...

can I borrow them?