MAN ABOUT TOWN

Cigars: Disgusting and wonderful midsummer pleasure

Chris Erskine puffs away at the midsummer joy of a good $9 cigar. "Like poker or saddling a horse, smoking a cigar is an excellent life skill."

Cigar cave

Ed Richmond, left, and Eddie Antonini hang out, smoke cigars and have drinks in Richmond's outdoor "cigar cave." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Cigars are filthy and disgusting, but that's not the only reason I like them. They lend a conviviality and camaraderie to every occasion. A moveable feast. A portable campfire. That's a cigar.

Want to know the proper way to enjoy a good summer? Read some Cheever. Hit the surf. Buy a decent $9 cigar. Where men once carried torches and lances, they now carry cigars. Sure, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but not usually. They are a tiny, egalitarian triumph in increasingly pleasure-barren lives.

A pipe has always been a Christmas affectation, if you see one at all anymore. These days they seem almost Medieval. Yet a cigar is a midsummer pleasure. Fishing. Golfing. Whacking away at an old dead oak. All these activities are enhanced by the company of a good cigar — one cigar, smoked all the way to the nub, the way cranky war correspondents once did.

Like punting a football or tossing a horseshoe, cigars are best handled outdoors. I will not smoke one inside the house, lest the AQMD comes after me, or worse, my wife. To some, a cigar has a repulsive stench, the aroma of slaughterhouses and cruddy casinos. The only thing they want a cigar to do is explode.

But with a cigar, beauty is in the schnoz of the beholder. To me, a cigar has the same perfume as a good leather shop or a freshly mowed fairway — woodsy, autumnal, organic. It is the very last place we can still enjoy the scent of burning leaves.

My buddy Ed has this crazy-great outdoor room out back by the pool, a Camelot with a mini-fridge and a double-wide TV. Without walls, this "cigar cave" is where he goes to smoke on summer evenings. The other night we gathered there, a few of us, just to smoke, not to kibitz, not to socialize, but to disappear in the cinematic gauze of mid-priced tobacco.

The bushes buzzed and the sprinklers hissed, and Vin Scully's voice played in the background like a fine cello. For a few moments, summer stood still — as summer evenings sometimes should.

I feared at some point cigars might disappear — like backgammon or Oldsmobiles — but they seem to outlast life's ups and downs. They mark beginnings (births, solstices); they mark endings (graduations, weddings). They mark mitzvahs and draft nights and holes-in-one. They mark Triple Crowns and mergers and giant marlin. They mark survival at the end of a long, excruciating work shift.

A candle has a certain Episcopalian sadness about it; not a cigar. You don't poke at imaginary foes with a candle, you don't punctuate a debate over the best center fielder or argue stimulus-based economics. Me, I pray you never have to argue stimulus-based economics. At least not without a good cigar.

Like a baseball or a well-made pen, a cigar seems perfectly suited to the human hand — in fact, holding one helps distance us from the apes. And as a cigar burns, so burns the male brain — fiercely, then not at all.

Indeed, I like when funny subversives smoke them — Groucho, Hawkeye Pierce, Alan King. I like when women smoke them even more. Our friend Liz can blow smoke rings around most of the men.

These days, a lot of people buy their cigars online. For me, that has all the appeal of mail-order cheese. I prefer a cigar shop. One friend swears by 2nd Street Cigar Lounge by The Times. Another friend likes Leon, in Koreatown, where an old Cuban used to roll the cigars by hand but no more. I like Cigar Empire, a little shop in Montrose.

A long safari is not necessary. There's even a pretty good humidor at our local Chevron station.

Meanwhile, at a casual summer party the other night — all kegs and cotton dresses — the recent college grads started puffing on cigars, ensuring at least another generation of our foulest, most-beloved pastime.

Like poker or saddling a horse, smoking a cigar is an excellent life skill. Not essential. Not mandatory by any means.

Just a sign of an ample, well-rounded life. And an ample, well-rounded summer.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

 

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