You Do What With That Cigar?

Cigars & Ashtray

Can't Help it. Love the Aroma!

I have a confession to make. I am (nearly) a life-long smoker. I smoked my first cigarette when I was five years old. My best friend “borrowed” two Camels from a pack his father left laying carelessly in the living room. I still remember that first taste of tobacco. It was rich, sweet, and powerful as all get out. Sometime later – I’m not sure how long but it couldn’t have been much – he managed to get hold of some rolling papers and we decided to try rolling our own.

This was in the Summer of 1952. Life was very different back them. Kids roamed around pretty much at will. I wandered from home once when I was even younger and the Police had to take me home, but they never considered arresting my parents for child abuse. It was a different time . . . and we really didn’t lock our front doors.

Our parents didn’t know we did this and I know they would not have approved had they found out, but we were determined to get some tobacco and, for some reason I have no recollection of nearly sixty years later, we had to “liberate” that tobacco from the Thrifty Drug Store in our local shopping center. We somehow managed to find ourselves a can of Prince Albert and were able to make it out of the store undetected. I guess they weren’t thinking too much about a couple of kids “kyping” tobacco.

We made our way to the East end of the parking lot, where there were bushes thick enough to provide cover for our cigarette rolling and smoking. We were excited. We got into the bushes, all a tingly, pleased with our success at shoplifting and looking forward to doing something truly manly, which was every five-year-old boy’s aspiration back then. It wasn’t long before our excitement turned to bitter disappointment; our plans for manliness dashed against the rock-like reality that the manual dexterity of a five-year-old just wasn’t quite good enough to roll a cigarette worth smoking. We didn’t have a pack of papers to experiment with, either. After a couple of failed attempts it was over. Of course this didn’t mean we stopped smoking. It just meant we went back to lifting them from our dads.

My friend’s dad smoked Camels, my dad Pall Malls . . . either of which was just fine with us. I used to wait until my father’s pack was just about empty, then take it. I don’t know what he must have thought. I assumed he would just figure he misplaced it. Probably not; at least not after I did it a few times, but kids are the purest of optimists. Back then the neighborhood boys would climb on the fences between our homes and walk on them to get to each others’ house. It was far more fun, and way more direct, than walking around the block on the sidewalk. However, the workmanship on those fences wasn’t exactly world-class and there was always a capstone or two that came loose. One of them became a hiding place for my tobacco treasure.

Unfortunately, luck was not my friend and my father somehow found that pack of cigarettes. What he did to me would likely qualify as child abuse today, but beating a kid back then was pretty much what discipline was all about. Even strangers could admonish, if not spank, a child who had clearly overstepped the bounds of respectable behavior in public. Needless to say, I got quite a beating over that one.

Now, despite my essentially life-long love/hate relationship with tobacco, I have gone for long periods of time without actually smoking. In fact, I once went for 14 years without smoking tobacco. In the last decade or so I have periodically smoked cigars – not cigarettes. However, I’m one of those people who doesn’t see the point in smoking if you don’t inhale and I get no joy from a cigar if I don’t inhale. Each time I started smoking I fairly shortly reached a point where I didn’t want to continue. It might have taken anywhere from a week to a couple of months before I would be able to stop, but stop I did . . . cold turkey. I have never suffered from withdrawal symptoms either, but I do have to contend with the constant habitual reminders of wanting a smoke. After meals, when getting in my car, during a commercial. There were lots of them.

Regardless, I’ve been able to do it. Stop, that is. The problem I have is, after I’ve gone for a couple of months without smoking I feel like I can have a cigar and generally do. This has always proven to be a mistake, the one cigar almost always turning into dozens more before I can yank myself away from what has by then become mostly a disgusting, unfulfilling habit. This is why I’ve never said I “quit” smoking. I always say I’ve “stopped”.

Glass o'Scotch

Mmmm. Mellow and Peaty!

I’m only bringing this up because I finally stopped again. When I woke up last Saturday, March 24, 2012 (this will be the very first time I’ve actually recorded the day on which I’ve begun a bout of “stopping”) my desire to stop coughing and feeling kind of lousy – all at the mercy of those damn cigars – finally exceeded my desire to pump cigar smoke into my by now suffering lungs. Today is my fourth day and I feel great. I can already take a deep breath without coughing. I’ve suffered those disorienting moments when I would have previously reached for a cigar, but I’ve been able to redirect my desires quickly and it feels tremendous to be in control . . . very consciously in control.

It remains to be seen how long it will be before I seriously consider tempting fate and smoking another cigar. The end of the Summer is the most likely contender, as that’s when I will be spending a weekend at Pismo Beach with a sizable group of friends, one of whom always brings fresh, very tasty, Cuban cigars to share. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I’ve got to get over to Trader Joe’s and grab a fresh bottle of Scotch for later. Can’t stop every little vice now . . . can we?

Cigar photo by X it

Glass o’Scotch photo by chipgriffin

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

5 responses to “You Do What With That Cigar?

  • jen

    That is remarkable you remember tasting the cigarette at 5 years old. Great story. However, have you ever thought of quitting?


    • Rick Ladd

      I have “stopped” numerous times in my life; once for over 14 years. I have no problem with cigarettes. It’s cigars that concern me a little. I am not smoking now and haven’t been for months. I have only smoked cigars (and an occasional cigarette) intermittently over the past 10 or 20 years.

      This past weekend I was with my brother and sister, and our families, for Mother’s Day. My brother brought a fresh, hand-rolled cigar for each of us. He asked me if I wanted to smoke and I suggested I didn’t think it was a good idea (though I wanted to smoke it . . . a bit). That was the end of it. I’m being strong . . . for now 🙂


  • Mystic Tourist

    Addiction is an interesting topic. I smoked three packs a day for years, like you I enjoyed Pall Malls. I gave them up and three days later, it just was not an issue. Getting to the point of quitting was a pain in the butt. I guess you could say behavior is addicting but I consider that an insult to people who actually are addicts. Behavior is habit forming and habits, good or bad, are hard to break.

    My brother struggled with alcoholism all his life. He died of complete organ failure at 52. I have had a couple of friends who died from alcohol withdraws. They were stubborn enough to just quit. Me, I can drink like a fish and I certainly have. Everyday for years. It never interfered with my life and I can simply walk away from it without any apparent negative consequence. To old to drink like that now and old enough to know better. Life is a funny business with funny people living it. Enjoy.


    • Rick Ladd

      Thanks for the comment, Oh Mystic Tourist. I understand where you’re coming from when you suggest that seeing behavior as addicting is somewhat dismissive of people who are truly addicted to a substance. OTOH, there are lots of known addictive behaviors; some of which are every bit as compelling and destructive as drugs or alcohol. I find my behaviors related to tobacco longer-lasting than my physical desire for nicotine, which generally disappears within a day or two. Not so with the knee-jerk desire to smoke after a meal or while talking on the telephone or first thing in the morning, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

      I’m nearly 65 and am still a rather expensive drunk. I have this unfortunate ability to ingest large quantities of alcohol with little effect . . . or affect. I’ve been doing it for over forty years and, although not quite as frequently as when I was even five years younger, I’m still going pretty strong . . . with little deleterious effect.

      Again, thanks so much for chiming in. Much appreciated.


  • awebster

    Yum, scotch. Luckily for me, I’ve never seen the appeal of cigars and even less of cigarettes. And I believe Bill Clinton because I did the same thing – though I was about 10 years younger than he was and decided that was silly and just passed things on around the circle by the time I was about 16. Grew up camping and breathing in smoke intentionally just never made one lick of sense to me.


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