Monday, 8 January 2018

Quai D’Orsay Corona

It is a beautiful day in Melbourne's south-east. Warm, some cloud cover, and only the lightest of breezes that barely penetrates the widening cracks in my derelict apartment. As usual I wake alone, sprawled face down on a bare mattress, and stagger foggy-headed to the bathroom. Such is my solitude lately that my toilet is largely decorative, with my waist-height sink long doubling as a place to rest my lewdly pissing dick while I study my face in the mirror. My skin is ashen. Cracks extend from the corners of my yellowing eyes, and greying hairs grow wildly down my sullen muzzle. I force a smile, and see only tarnished teeth amidst a pained scowl, shocking against my bleary countenance. I tuck my still dribbling penis into my trackpants, decide against killing myself for one more day, and head to my humidor. I select a Quai D'Orsay Corona, for its drab band if nothing else, and head off in search of a park.


I have always had a penchant for damaged women. Whether caused by misfortune, or deliberate exploitative effort, or perhaps a subconscious projection of my own deficiency, the women with whom I have been intimate have been magnificently, thoroughly, broken. My most broken, and most fondly remembered, was Jade. She was a gorgeous Singaporean princess with ivory skin, delicate features, and one eye iris that was situated constantly in the inner corner of her eye, giving her a slightly cross-eyed, kind of exciting, totally crazy appearance. Adding to this, during a Britney Spears meltdown, she had completely shaved her head, leaving her either bald, or wearing one of the many wigs she quickly acquired. She was a diplobrat who had settled in Melbourne to study, and had more cash than she could spend. This suited her, because she huffed nitrous-oxide canisters for every waking moment she was at home. By day she would scream at me to scour the city for increasingly suspicious kitchenware suppliers, where I would buy boxes of the canisters at a time. By night, I would try to sneakily dispose of the used canisters for her, but never succeeded in even denting the mountains of used nang tubes that littered her apartment. Dinner plans were postponed for hours (and usually, eventually, cancelled) while she huffed the gas, and I would find myself woken at all hours by the hiss of a canister. She took them as a supposedly non-addictive means of managing her fibromyalgia, but in the process had become hooked to the point of debilitation. And I, guided by my loins, was powerless but to do her bidding.

The Quai D'Orsay starts poorly, with harsh sulphuric smoke and and a sharp, ashy, aftertaste. I want to blame the burn on my ham-fisted method of lighting but, since my application of flame is pervasively clumsy, decide it must be the cigar's fault, and let it rest while I open a beer. I am pairing this smoke with a fruity session ale which, though purchased in an effort to not get too maggoted, is already making my head swim. I didn't bother changing out of what I slept in, and my piss-spattered trackies and grubby singlet ward off any park-goers that may seek to disturb my public impudence. I eventually notice the previously blackened foot of the Quai D'Orsay has mellowed into a pearly grey ash, and I chance another puff. Grassy notes, some old leather, with a slight buttery undertone flood my palate, and I remark to nobody in particular that there's hope for it yet. A desperate swig of fruity ale cleanses my palate of any lingering complexity, and I allow the cigar to mellow anew into the midpoint.


Once, while sleeping as usual at Jade's apartment (she was too suspicious to allow me to sleep at my house), I woke to a blood curdling cracking sound. I sat bolt upright and saw Jade on the floor, mouth agape, but no noise was coming out. Confused, I simply stared at her, until I realised what was wrong. In each hand she held a separate piece of the cream whipper she used to charge her nangs, and suddenly, like a toddler who had just realised its own audience,  started to scream. She had nanged until she blacked out, fallen off the bed, and in the process had broken what was surely her most prized possession. Never in my life have I experienced anybody, child or adult, so inconsolable. She screamed and wailed, in between cursing at me for not "looking out for her". It was 2am, so anywhere that sold the canisters would not be open for hours. I held her like a child while the wailing continued until, as if a switch had been thrown, she stopped. "Davidè", she said, each syllable sharpening under her Singaporean accent. "You need to fuck me. And you need to make it hurt".

At the midpoint my little corona is starting to come very good. There's no real complexity here, but the smooth mid-tobacco has developed a peppery spice, with none of the harshness evident when first lit. I live in an area of Melbourne that has been about 85% gentrified, and the park in which I am indulging is home mostly to young children strolling with their parents. In my self loathing I have consumed beer at an even faster rate than usual, and I loll and lurch on my bench while a voice, presumed to be mine, chatters about the worthlessness of my own being. I drag hard on my cigar, desperate to feel something, and choke the air into my benumbed lungs. I expire with an urgent hacking and, feeling my head spinning while stars dance about in my vision, steady myself against the bench. An older Jewish lady scowls at me, and I drain my beer can under her gaze. The corona, still buoyed from my puerile pull, glows in my excessive ashtray as it angrily fades to the final inches.


"Hurt me, Davidè", came Jade's almost detached voice, over and over in my ear. "Hurt me. Fuck me and hurt me, I need to feel something". Despite her madness she was a sweet kid and, though the sex could be fairly freaky, I didn't want to hurt her. The sudden 'thwack' sound, followed by a ringing in my ears, then the blinding pain in my jaw, told me things were going to escalate. "FUCKING HURT ME, YOU PIECE OF SHIT" came Jade's now frenzied screaming. "FUCK ME, you pussy. You coward", followed by a crazed clawing at my cock through my underwear. I again refused, and pushed gently at her face, to which she responded by grabbing my nuts in a vice grip. I grunted with the pain and threw my elbows, connecting one of them with her face, knocking her on her back. "Yessss, that's it boy. Now fuck me". I looked at her prone on the bed, balls throbbing under my inexplicably expanding cock. I yanked off her panties, turned her face down on the bed, and entered her dry. "Fuck me properly" came the muffled cries as I slammed into her, feeling the staccato dragging of her dry vagina on my cock. "Harder, make it hurt". I slammed into her as hard as I could. I slapped her, I punched into her cervix, I called her every degrading name I could rally, while Jade, still face down, admonished me. "You pussy, I said to make it hurt!" came her sarcastic, accented English. I saw only one outlet to her demands, and roughly grabbed the crown of her tiny head in my hand. While mashing her face into the mattress I roughly withdrew my cock and, ignoring the blood streaking its sides, aimed it at the tiny crinkle of her arsehole. The bulbous head of my cock wobbled back and forth above its target a few times then, with a thrust of my hips, started its penetration. Jade bucked and thrashed, eventually dislodging my weight from the back of her head and, with a swivel, kicked me in the face. We stared at each other silently, while l I felt my cock deflating slowly against my thigh. "You know I have fibro", uttered Jade tearfully. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

The peal of children's laughter cuts through my foggy ruminations, and I notice the blackened final inch of the Quai D'Orsay Corona snuffed out in my hand. A sloppy relight brings heavy tar, and I suck the nub until my fingers sear with the ever encroaching coal. It is close to midday, and the park is now busy with families, older couples strolling, and some fresh-faced youths kicking a football around in the sun. I shift my weight to take the final photograph and send empty beer cans tumbling to the trodden patch of dirt where, as far as I'm concerned, they can stay. I haul myself to my feet, spurn the contents of the giant ashtray to the gentle breeze and, in solitude, make my way home.


Monday, 1 January 2018

Season return - H. Upmann Regalias

How the seasons change. It feels like only eight months ago that I last laid bare my soul to the cigar world, regaling you with stories of war, shame, and isolation while reviewing stubby rubber-fires that passed for cigars. But there have been some changes around here during the freezing winter months. While I'm sure you have been curled in front of a fire, mulled wine in hand, drawing your true love closer while rain pelts the window, the team here at FFHQ has been working tirelessly in preparation for this coming season. The finest cigars have been sourced from the cheapest possible places. The servers have been bolstered, the salt'n'vinegar chips have been re-stocked, and the deep crimson blood that I hacked up every morning has diminished to a viscous brown catarrh. As you may have guessed, the time is nigh for new beginnings.

I extend a warm welcome to my dear friends, gentle aficionados, and Bulgarian referral-spammers, to Season 3 of Fitful Fires. We kick off with a review of the H. Upmann Regalias.

~

It is a fitting first coming together of two of my rare and regular smoking companions. Mr G, who has once again opened his grand courtyard to our depravity, sits reclined, gold chains shining resplendent through his thick chest hair, and barely acknowledges anyone. Dayu, who is visiting from Osaka, has joined us, and we make polite chit-chat about whatever depravity we last got up to in Japan. I will be smoking my first ever H. Upmann, a Regalias, and remark to my friends that I would like to set it ablaze. "Davidé", came the oily rebuke of Mr G. "Dayu has brought us some cheese. Show some  restraint". It was delivered so coolly and in such contrast to my own excitement that I could only shamefacedly busy myself in photographing the rich, brown, veiny Regalias while Dayu, embarrassed on my behalf, gently produced his cheese platter.


I was last in Japan in 2013, which was the best and worst year of my wretched life so far. I spent 28 days of every month in the outer suburbs of Adelaide, seeing out my last contracted year in the Army. The remaining few days were spent in Melbourne, basking in the light of a woman that, inexplicably, had consented to a long-distance relationship with your grubby author. And so my one-week trip to Osaka for the notorious Buckley's bastard interracial wedding was a time of confusion for me. A week away from my paramour didn't bother me so much. However, on a night out with Mr G, Dayu joined us with a Japanese Goddess on his arm; an event that would change my life forever. Enter Yuri: the most confusing thing that has ever happened to me in my entire, awful, existence.

The cheese platter now yellowing and sweating in the sun, and my shame slowly fading as I sip my mojito, I chance another request, hat in hand, to partake in the leaf. Mr G squints his beady eyes at me, purses his lips into a sharp point, then makes a fricative squeaking sound as he ingresses air through his slowly exposing fangs. I take this as consent, snip the cap of my cigar, and smartly set it  alight. The Regalias starts well, with mild tobacco over traces of damp wood. The construction so far is excellent, wrapper thick with veins, giving it a heft that belies its small size. I drain my mojito and fill my glass, replete with ice cubes, mint leaves, and a lime wedge, with a cheap German pilsner that has spent the summer warming in the boot of my car. I note that the draw of the Regalias is excellent, the burn razor sharp and, despite my wanton sucking, it surprises me with a hint of cream before the tobacco harshens slightly as it burns crisply to the midpoint.


To describe Yuri is almost impossible using the spoken word, because one just falls over oneself with adjectives and parallels and anguished groans while others in your midst who may have met her interrupt with their own clumsy descriptions. Basically, you take your stock-standard Japanese girl, imbue her with the bratty mannerisms of Sailor Moon, give her Angelina Jolie's proportions, surgically enhance her eyelids so her eyes become like deep, moonlit lakes, then dress her like Sophitia from Soul Calibur. I have re-written the preceding sentence twenty times and this description does not even come close to doing justice to her overall hotness. She's a sultry Bond girl and an anime wet dream and an overdone cam-girl all rolled into one. You get the point.

I was instantly smitten. She sat down opposite me in a restaurant and, obviously used to dealing with drooling men, cocked her head and smiled and applied eye drops to her gigantic eyes and imprinted in me a standard that no girl, no woman, no being in this earth has even come close to matching. She spoke limited English, and over the coming week would grab my arm, ply me with drinks, and scoff dismissively when I told her I had a girlfriend. I don't believe her interest in me was real, but instead serving to add to a network that might one day converge to keep her in riches for life. However, it felt real and, as I drank myself into a stupor with her every night, and nursed myself with more booze every morning, that wretched week in Japan fostered in me an obsession. I would lay on the Tatami in Mr G's suite and wax poetic about her. I would try to distract myself by sending unanswered emails to my indifferent girlfriend in Melbourne. I have an addicts wiring, and Yuri was the bitter poison that I thought I needed.

At the midpoint the Regalias impresses me still. Mid tobacco dominates, with an occasional cocoa bitterness, some coffee bean. The burn remains as if cut by laser, and despite my inattention no relights have been required. I am drinking my pilsners as fast as I pour them to mitigate their rapid warming in the summer sun, and I find myself slurring to my companions about what fleeting thought my boorish mind came across. I recline under the gaze of Mr G and suck deeply on my Regalias. The draw catches the back of my throat and I make a grotesque, open-mawed gag to rid the smoke from my windpipe, noting undertones of burnt vanilla against increasingly bitter bean, before I wash it away with a large swig of tepid beer. I turn to Dayu and ask the question he knows has been smarting the tip of my tongue since we sat down. Dayu smiles. "Yuri's good, man. She's still waiting for you". I grimace, and peel away the wrapper that is starting to fray at the foot of my cigar. That wasn't what I wanted to hear.


Unfortunately I'd been to Osaka before, so the museums and other sights were directly competing with the many tiny bars that litter the Sinshaibashi district in which I was staying. I boozed. I mourned my clearly dying relationship back home. And I steeled myself against the temptation presented by Yuri. Her every grab of my arm, her flirting in broken English, her eyes that widened and sucked in my very soul when something caught her interest, all bolstered my resolve. I knew it was all pretend. I knew there was no real interest on her part, and I was still madly longing for my relationship back in Melbourne to regain its spark. In a desperate effort to make her dislike me I showed her the tattoo adorning my back, which is a giant and accurate depiction of the Fat Man atomic bomb as it hurtles toward a tiny outline of the Japanese islands. She recoiled with a hurt look on her face then, realising I'd realised my mistake, smiled and cocked her head and pointed toward my drink. She rubbed my back as I drank deep from my umpteenth beer of the day, wretched and repentant and, under her tiny hand, absolved. I returned to Melbourne the next day, uncorrupted by the flesh, but with megatons weighting on my slumped shoulders.

It has been many months since I last smoked, and the nicotine is causing my temples to throb while the alcohol, having long since loosened my lips, makes me press Dayu for photos, text messages, anything that might let me relive the dream state that was my time with Yuri. I reflect now on the willpower I showed in not once pursing her, making a move on her, or succumbing to her seduction. But willpower is easy. We demonstrate willpower daily by not yelling at strangers, or pushing people onto train tracks, or punching our bosses. True strength of character is surely in being able to let go of what one cannot, should not, have. Years have passed and I'm still the obsessed creature I was, sucking down beer while sabotaging my own happiness, this time by fuelling my obsession, rather than quashing my interest. The H. Upmann Regalias has been a fine accompaniment to this jumble of feelings, this menagerie of emotions, this hodgepodge of homologues. I grasp the nub between my rat nippers and suck until the wrapper finally disintegrates, a scoundrel clinging to the only pleasures left in a feebly lived life.


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Hiatus

Once again, friends, the season has changed. The sweet morning dew has become a bitter, pervasive frost. The warm, still afternoons have harshened for the lay smoker, with gusts of wind lapping relentlessly at the coal, and rainfall forces us further toward the cruel indoors. Smoking has again turned tiresome, and the time has come for a brief hiatus.

I hope that you have enjoyed this second season of Fitful Fires.

I will return, of course, in the summer, when my limbs thaw, when those first desperate swigs of beer refresh instead of freeze, and when the leaf beckons me anew from the depths of my humidor. Until then, my friends, may all of your fires be fixed.

Regards,

Davidé.


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Cuaba Divinios

Mr G, my longtime associate and miserly employer, is hosting a party. I'm invited as a friend, for once, and have found myself on the outside of him and a familiar group of loud, balding, 30-something business types, each nursing an elaborate cocktail. They are trading stories, and the conversation ebbs and flows between long build-ups and raucous laughter as they try to outshock one another. My thoughts flick fitfully back and forth between my awful present, and my not-too-distant past; the shouts and jostling from the crowd putting me straight back in the war, and the lazy scotch and I've poured myself snapping me right back to my present with each smarting sip. I'm nursing a Cuaba Divinios, soon to be alight, when a sudden craving for the leaf washes over me. Scorning the balcony and backyard, I rip the cap from my Cuaba and set it ablaze, sending a waft of rich, grassy smoke over the guests. I've reviewed one of these before, and I'm hoping that it's the same punchy little smoke it was 12 months ago. Mr G stops talking and, ignoring my outrageously lit cigar, breaks into a vile grin. "I hear you have some war medals, Davidé", he bawls, silencing other groups of party goers until the whole room is looking at me. "What did you even do in the war?". I study my boots for what seems like an eternity, while rolling the rich tobacco and old leather taste of the smoke around my mouth. "That's what I thought", states Mr G, coolly, eliciting a collective snigger from the crowd. "Now take that fucking thing outside".


I drain my glass, fix Mr G with a wonky stare, and steal out of the lounge room, shouldering the doorjamb as I make my exit. I head not outside but to the kitchen, where the great central island is covered in every kind of liquor one could imagine. I suck my Divinios thoughtfully, tasting rich berry over still-heavy tobacco, with some spice on the back palate. This is a heavy little smoke that I don't care about drowning out, and it needs a red, red wine to go with it. I leave the Divinios burning on the bench-top while I rummage through the bottles, eventually sourcing a $6 cleanskin red. I crack the top and take a sniff, instantly recoiling at the sulfuric tang that assaults my nostrils. This wine is not to my distinguished palate, and certainly not deserving of even the little Cuaba’s accompaniment. I take a deep drag of my cigar, now fading toward the midpoint, marvel at the enduring berry tang, and head toward the cellar for the good stuff.


The cellar, which is more of a multi-purpose laundry/bathroom/storage area, is flush with wine. Dusty old bottles adorn the bottom and make way for newer, cheaper bottles on top. The different levels of dusty burgundy contrast like a geolic time scale, showing graduations and promotions and investments and every other occasion where a serious bottle of wine might be cellared. I ignore the ready-to-drink garbage on top, go straight past the more expensive ($10-$40) bottles, and finally hone in on my prize. A bottle of Penfolds Grange, vintage 1970, label cracked and yellowing like old news print, and adorned with imperial fluid measurements. I suck thoughtfully on the Divinios while considering my next move, and note with disappointment that the berry has given way to a bitter bean, with harshening tobacco and increasing tar. I tap my ash in the sink, grab the grange roughly by the neck, and walk casually back toward the kitchen. I pour myself a stiff splash of cleanskin, place the Cuaba on the bench, and get to work.


I wonder why the kitchen island, replete with its smorgasbord of drinks, has gone untouched, but the sickly body odour of marijuana that wafts in from the lounge room saves me further rumination. I puff thoughtfully on the Divinios and begin to hack and splutter; I am parched, and can't enjoy the increasingly harsh, tarry smoke without a drink. I fish a corkscrew from the drawer, rip the foil with my teeth, and aim the screw's spiral tip at the alarmingly crimson cork. The cork disintegrates as soon as the screw tries to bite, and the pressure I apply causes a great wedge of cork to break off inside the bottle's slender neck. This Grange has been stored badly, but a wave of laughter from the lounge room spurs my drive to deprive Mr G of his prized Penfolds. I push hard on the corkscrew, disintegrating the cork into the wine, and eventually send the mass crashing into the liquid beneath. I roughly splash a huge serving of Grange into the tumbler that until recently held my dirty cleanskin, and take a deep swig. It is completely corked, and the musty basement aroma makes me gag. Still, this is a $400 glass of red, and denying the greedy Mr G such a bottle makes up for its shortcomings. I puff thoughtfully on my cigar, and note happily that the Grange, corked as it is, is a wonderful companion to the harsh burn of the Cuaba.

Time passes as slowly as it usually does when one is alone at a party, and my little Divinios eventually turns into an unsmokable nub. I leave it to burn itself out on the wooden bench, give my Grange a swirl, and consider my next move. Suddenly Mr G appears, eyes red and wild, stoned out of his head and smiling maniacally. “Davidé, my friend!” he announces, taking my hand in his. He doesn't notice the Grange, and seems to not even notice the cigar smoke hanging in this air. “Come”, he says, oilily, while grabbing a bottle of Johhny Walker Gold. “The action's out here”. I shrug, content to follow, and trot behind him back to the party.


Sunday, 26 February 2017

Montecristo Double Edmundo

Loathe as I am to break the second dimension, this post is the second of a two-part installment. I strongly suggest you first read the story in the previous post.

It is still high summer in Melbourne, and I have decided that my week of online poker and Facebook trolling should be rewarded with a cigar. The cigar is a Montecristo Esplénditos which has been travelling sans-humidification with my adroit malaprop, Mr G, for many months. My choice of smoke is made purely by default, with Mr G first presenting a box full of handsome cigars to me and telling me to take my pick. I tentatively select a Partagas Salamones, which incites instant chastisement from my host. "You schlump!" says Mr G, thick eyebrows furrowing over his beady, rat eyes. "You know what this cost me? Pick again!". Over and over I select and discard different cigars under the admonishment of Mr G. "PUTZ! SCHMUCK! Are you trying to bankrupt me here?" Finally, brow-beaten and ashamed, I fish the Double Edmundo from the case. Mr G's nostrils flare as he moves to chastise me anew but, perhaps realising that this is the final option, catches himself. "Very well, Davidé", he quips. "Let us smoke".


I was standing on a practically deserted Army base, facing off against three armed Iraqi solders, over some water that had been accidentally splashed at me. I was technically outgunned but, at the short distance between us, my 9mm pistol was a serious force multiplier against their long-barrelled M4 rifles. As a mild escalation of force I wrapped my hand around the pistol's metal grip, and had what's commonly known as an 'oh fuck' moment. I could tell immediately by the stiffness of the safety catch that my holstered pistol was not at the action condition; it was fully loaded, of course, but the weapon state for Australian soldiers on base mandated that a round not be chambered. Basically, where I thought I could quickly drop all three Iraqis in a flurry of shots before they could unsling their assault rifles, I now had to first cock the 9mm, which would give at least one of them time to roll to cover and fire at me. My mind raced. How quickly could I draw my weapon, send a stubby round snapping into the breech by releasing the slide, aim, and fire? What if my sweating hands couldn't grasp the slide? What if I get shot in the balls? I noticed the shaking hands and quivering top lip of the guy in the middle, and realised they had no idea of my weapon state. All I needed was the illusion.

The Double Edmundo begins with earthy notes under a slight almond bitterness, all over mild tobacco. The draw is painfully loose, but I'm loathe to build up too large a head of smoke lest the nuances of this cigar be lost. We are pairing our smokes with a huge selection of beer from Germany, America, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia and, should we work our way through them this afternoon, will have consumed the equivalent of a bottle of scotch each. The grey ash of my cigar has only just enveloped the waxy tip, and I have somehow sucked down an entire bottle of Kozel Dark. I decide that eating might slow down my liquor consumption, and I burst open the packet of salt and vinegar chips I lifted from the bottle shop. Mr G's little eyes narrow, and I smile as I cram fistfuls of the tangy potato into my maw. Palate now destroyed, and craving another dimension to the chips, I build up a huge head of smoke from the cigar, letting it settle on my tongue before letting it seep slowly out of my mouth. I detect some tar, but notes of bitter cocoa has replaced the almond, which only complements the salty sharpness of the chips. I blow a chubby smoke ring under the tutelage of Mr G, snap a picture of my slightly peeling cigar, and wander downstairs in search of more beer.


"Gentlemen" I reported, my voice breaking through what seemed like endless silence, and heralded anew the whining drones and far-off rocket fire that raked the Iraqi air. "It seems we are at an impasse". It was a cunt of a phrase to use at non-English speakers, and the Iraqis looked at me dumbstruck. I took one step forward to further reduce their range and, grinning like a madman, drew my pistol. As soon as it was unholstered my left hand came across my body and drew back the slide, readying the little 9mm while making it clear who was in charge. I held the pistol in one hand, and had it aimed just to the right of the group. They had absolutely missed their chance to draw their weapons, but I didn't want any of the trio's more overzealous members rushing for my pistol while screaming some nonsense about Allah. The Iraqis seemed rooted to the spot, eyes wide and mouths hanging open, with all stares now fixed on the patchy black steel of my pistol. I quickly stood side-on, exposing my unarmoured flanks but presenting the smallest possible target, and lined the middle guy up through the iron sights of my pistol. My universe condensed and pulsed in a narrow vortex around the stunned Arab who was faltering fitfully in my sights. I felt my index finger initiating the first pressure point of my trigger, and I felt myself being lulled into a Godlike trance. I was Tiberius. I was Basil II. I was Enkvist and Churchill and Bundy and Bryant and every mad man and God you could ever imagine. I'd never felt surer about anything else in my life.

At the three-quarter mark the draw on the Double Edmundo tightens, and presents anew its bitter cocoa, albeit buried under heavy tobacco. The sour horse-blanket of my Chimay Blue pairs perfectly, with its flat barnyard notes washing down the cigar's bitterness while rounding off its more subtle elements. The wrapper is starting to flake, and the rough thumbnail-cut of the cap is soggy from my moist sucking, but the construction is fairly solid considering its rough storage, and my even rougher treatment. The salt and vinegar chips no longer appeal but, loathe as I am to re-taint my palate, I can't resist salted snacks. Mr G's lip curls as I upend the chip packet into my mouth, spilling salt and chip-chips over my singlet. I wash the chip crumbs down my gullet with a swig of sun-warmed Chimay, and announce to a bored looking Mr G that I desire a dark beer, before staring at him expectantly. Mr G indicates to his still half-full glass of Chimay, sneers, and points a stubby thumb in the direction of the fridge. Fuck this asshole.


Time seemed to hang above me in the air, just waiting for me to seal the fate of all present with the squeeze of the trigger, or puss out in order to puss out again another day. Suddenly the pistol grew heavy, and my arm grew heavy and my eyelids grew heavy, and my body armour was squeezing the life from me and I felt thirsty and sleepy. I decided to release the Iraqi from my pistol's sights, but realised that my arms were by my side, and my right hand was barely wrapped around the grip. The three Iraqi soldiers, who only moments before were all but dead, were shuffling past me while talking in hushed Arabic. I dropped to one knee and unloaded my pistol, being sure to replace the once-chambered round in the magazine, before securing the weapon, loaded, into my holster. I stood up, walked three paces, and vomited my meal of goat meat and coleslaw all over the path. I thought of the standoff, which had taken maybe 10 seconds, but had seemed to drag for hours, and heaved and wretched until nothing but bile and saliva were dribbling down my chin. My eyes smarted with tears as the last eight months of boredom and stress and shame bore down on me, all condensed into the fidelity of this one, raw moment. I couldn't even kill one fucking Iraqi.

The sun is starting to set, and I am heavily toasted and hoarse from smoke. Still, I maintain a three-fingered grasp of my cigar to keep the rapidly peeling wrapper intact around the waning Double Edmundo. Mr G has long since finished his cigar, and is regaling me with Zionist race theory, the glorious rise of the alt-right, and his threshold for when a woman's rejection should actually be taken seriously. I taste rich, luxurious tobacco that is only enhanced by the heavy tar that comes wafting through the frayed cap. I end by peeling layer upon layer of wrapper from the nub, sucking until it bursts into a cloud of hot ash all over my hand, absolutely spent. A fine smoke.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

El Rey Del Mundo Demi Tasse


My title
It’s a sweltering Melbourne night, and I’ve found myself in the city after an afternoon of unchecked drinking. Sweat has been careening down my back, arse, and thighs, and a splitting headache is quickly building behind my eyeballs. My t-shirt is streaked with barbeque sauce, and I can barely stay upright as I lurch drunkenly around the city. I am with my friend Connor, who proposes that a cigar might round the night off nicely, and I totter behind him into a dimly lit club. We weave through tables of suits and cocktail dresses and out to a courtyard bar. The prices are outrageous (a Romeo 2 is AUD$80, and is about mid-range), and we order the cheapest cigars available – the El Rey Del Mundo Demi Tasse. These are tiny, thin, Cuban entreactos, and the waitress, sensing no tips were coming her way, avoids eye contact as she plops them in front of us. I cut the tip, take a long swig of beer, apply flame, and am met with sweet, fresh earth over mild tobacco.




Iraq was high stress, but it beat the monotony of the Emirate airfield. I was sharing a room with eight soldiers, two of whom spent their nights alternately crying of homesickness, or wetly masturbating in their sleeping bags. In an environment where the occasional rocket or shell hit the base, meal times were an unlikely stress point; mainly because half of the forward base would descend on a small concrete mess hall at the same time to jostle over meager rations, doled out by angry Iraqi cooks. For this reason I deliberately forewent the edible food, and waited until just before the mess closed before presenting for whatever scraps were left. One evening it was just myself and a table of three sullen Iraqi soldiers in the mess, when a siren wailed over the base. It didn't signify any immediate threat, but it did mean we had to urgently RV with our units.

Connor and I are the only smokers in the courtyard, and within minutes a cloud of thick smoke combines with the humid air and hangs over the other patrons. Our cigars attract a group of very young men – possibly just turned 18 – and who had obviously never before seen anybody smoking in a Melbourne bar (the nanny banned indoor smoking over a decade ago). One of them, a pimple faced mongoloid in an oversized suit, sizes me up, and exclaims “what have we here, boys?” Connor and I shoot each other a glance, while another of the group excitedly blurts out that they were going to the brothel for the first time. A group of women at a nearby table laugh, and the kids retreat back to their table. I take a victory puff of my little Demi, which causes the ash to break off down my grubby t-shirt. I remark to Connor that it’s a nice little cigar – no off flavours, nothing outrageous, just clean, mid-tobacco. I stand up to shake off the ash which causes my still-aching head to pulsate with pain, while my little cigar, now fading to the midpoint, quietly goes out.




I cast aside my tray, and trudged out of the mess behind the Iraqis. On hitting the door, one of the Iraqis uncapped his canteen and splashed it behind him, hitting me in the face with his dirty Iraq sewer-water. "Watch that shit, you fucking Arab" came a voice, which I quickly realised had been mine. They turned to face me while I stood, hands on hips, sizing them up. They were small, dressed in Iraqi desert cam, and each had an American M4 rifle slung across their back. While technically allies, the tension between the Iraqi Army and other coalition forces had been building for weeks, with the Iraqis trying to reclaim some lost power (and lost face) from the Western armies. I was outgunned by these three but, unlike them with their slung rifles, I was carrying a holstered 9mm pistol. Not only did I have the close-quarters advantage of a short-barrelled weapon, but I could draw it in an instant. And, thanks to my four months on the range back in Al Khatim, I could unload a full clip in about two seconds, with deadly accuracy.

After the midpoint the Demi Tasse continues down its path of bland, mid-tobacco. My headache intensifies as the nicotine takes hold, and the sweltering humidity contrasts with the icy cold beer and somehow increases the slow, throbbing pain in my temple, while an incessant stinging pain drills into the back of my head. Any light sears my eyeballs, and I ask Connor to perform the regular relights needed to keep my little cigar active. Being able to detect only blinding light and assorted pain, I ask Connor what he thinks of the Demi Tasse, at which he shrugs, remarking "it's tobacco". Connor was a champion of cigarette smoking some years ago (the only person I know to smoke in the car without cracking a window), and I assume that the leaf, in any format, may serve him differently than connoisseurs like myself. The photos in this post are courtesy of a rough lighting system that Connor has rigged using the lighter and his phone, so the quality may suffer (still, it beats using a flash). At seeing the light a sudden wave of nausea washes over me, and I suppress the rising bile with another swig of beer as the semi tasse of the Demi Tasse lies dormant in the ashtray.




The standoff continued, and to bring my presence properly to bear, I unsnapped my sidearm by ripping the riveted flap off the canvas holster, and rested my hand on the butt of my 9mm. I kept reminding myself of my rights to escalate. If they reach for their weapons, I draw mine. if they bring their weapons to bear, or even touch the cocking handle, I fire into the center of each scene mass. I noticed the center man's water bottle shaking in his hands. He was clearly terrified, and was weighing up the same decision. Did I want to go down like this? Whether I lived or died, it was going to be over an accidental splash of water. But these idiots had no legal rights, and they were hardly human in my eyes. I felt no fear, but my heartbeat thumped in my ears while my cock hardened against my dirty fatigues.

To be continued...

A DJ, who has been setting up his table in the courtyard for some time now, suddenly spurs his system to life and blasts the patrons with both barrels; a thumping bass line, under a piercing electronic melody. A collective cry goes up, and after a few seconds the volume is adjusted to standard nightclub levels. Pain is now radiating from the base of my spine, up my neck, and ending with what feels like a clawed hand squeezing my skull from the outside. I can hardly open my eyes, and I find myself sitting hunched in my chair at the assault from the speakers. Connor ruffles my hair in a friendly dad way, which makes me cry out with pain as the ache rattles around my entire head. Connor scoffs, tells me to "stop being a little bitch", and waves my freshly relit cigar in my face. I take a tentative puff, and taste nothing but heavy tar. The smoke makes me cough, and my head pounds with every heaving hack. The Rey Del Mundo Demi Tasse is bland and inoffensive, and is my no means a bad smoke. I'm thankful that it wasn't more nuanced (or any bigger), as my spoiled palate and splitting headache would have ruined it anyway. I stub my cigar, call Connor a "motherfucker", and wander in search of a taxi.


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Partagas 8-9-8

It's an overcast February day in my employer's manor, and we are enjoying a lazy smoke in the waning afternoon light. I've done little in the way of work today and, though Mr G is aware of my idleness, I act exhausted and swig my beer with more than the usual urgency. We are each armed with a Partagas 8-9-8, and have an assortment of American pale-ales between us. The topic of conversation is Mr G's new watch: an Omega Seamaster that he picked up at auction, and he loudly lectures me on the nuances of luxury vintage timepieces. I occasionally interject by showing him the features on my digital Casio, at which he flares his large nostrils while further narrowing his dark, beady little eyes. Moving past our awful dynamic, the 8-9-8 is a beautiful thing. Long and thin, with a gentle taper from tip to cap, with construction that at least rivals the best cigars I've smoked. I take it to the flame, and am delighted as sweet clove caresses my palate, over smooth mid-tobacco.

"cigar review" cigar blog partagas 8-9-8 review

I eventually found myself on a four-month deployment to an air base in the Al Khatim desert, between the Dubai and Abu Dhabi emirates. My pre-deployment training passed in a blur, and before I knew it I was on a C17 bound for the U.A.E. The months dragged, and I spent the long days standing on a rifle range in 50 degree heat, trying to teach spoiled, fat, Emirate brats how to shoot. The nights were no better, and I would spend them alternating between drinking alcohol-free beer, and running security picquets around the vast air base. The only thing sustaining me was that I was soon flying out of that boring desert wasteland and into Iraq, where I might at least see some action. One hot, dry evening a siren blared across the range, comprising short honking sounds, interspersed with "stand to" in a robotic American accent. A dead soldier was inbound from Baghdad.

I recall purchasing these cigars as part of a bulk order from Switzerland, with the first order being sucked into the void of Australian customs. The seller was kind enough to re-package the same order in more discreet packaging, and eventually made it through customs and into Mr G's giant humidor. I'm thankful that these were saved from the old tupperware containers I use for cigar storage, as the complexity has shone from the start. The first inch of the 8-9-8 burns slowly and evenly, with the clove evolving into a sweet pine sap that mellows eventually into a gentle wood-fire. The draw is perfect, and I'm loathe to wash my smokey draws down with swigs of sickly American ale. However, I still do, and the caramel from the ale cloys on my palate and gives the 8-9-8 a tartness that I wash down with yet more beer. Mr G, who has hardly touched his first bottle, warns me that there will be no more beer when these are done. I bare my teeth, and sulkily suck on my cigar.


I ushered the whining Arabs off the range and made my way to the air strip. I arrived just in time to see a casket, clad in the Australian National Flag, be solemnly carried down the loading ramp of an idling C-130. The light was quickly fading, and any exposed steel from the casket flashed yellow in the gathering gloom. My radio crackled to life, and a muffled voice ordered me (or, rather, my callsign - Flounder) to the morgue. The morgue was simply a large, refrigerated shipping container with a bank of human freezer drawers, and was situated at the furthest point from the airfield (presumably to stop soldiers waiting combat insertion from seeing a functional morgue before deployment). I trod sadly to my duty, and arrived as the steel casket - now stripped of its flag - was being shunted roughly into its drawer. "Settle in, kid", said the accompanying sergeant-major, "you've got first watch".

I'm on my final beer, and am feeling panicked as I realise that I do not have enough to last me for the rest of this giant cigar. I look at my employer, who is sipping his second beer and eyeing me vindictively. "You can't control your drinking, Davidé" he says with a smirk. I tell him to mind his own fucking business, grab my keys, and make for the bottle shop over the road. Doing this means leaving the remaining half of my 8-9-8 to wallow in its own smoke for a few minutes, but I'm curious to see how it progresses anyway. I select a six-pack of the cheapest beer I can find, and steal back to the courtyard. I blow hard through the cigar, relight it, blow again, and am delighted. Mild tobacco, some bean, and a dominant floral tang flood my palate, which I wash down with the remaining half of my warm beer. This cigar is phenomenal, and I feel a burst of genuine happiness as I recline and twist the cap off a fresh, cold, beer. My beer, the consumption of which cannot be dictated by any other. I share the Partagas with a cool evening breeze as the 8-9-8 fades past the band.


Morgue duty is awful. Out of misplaced respect for the dead, there are no televisions, and the short notice meant I hadn't time to retrieve any books. So I sat, slumped at the desk with nothing to do but watch the clock until my next hourly check on the thermostats. The night was freezing cold, and the icy desert winds groaned and howled as they passed through the vast canvas hangars of the nearby airstrip. Freezing and impatient, I decided to check the thermostat early as an excuse to get my limbs moving. Just as I reached the shipping container's door I heard a muffled whisper of "don't go". I froze in place, one hand on the metal swing-arm, and the other poised to heave the heavy door open. "Don't go", came the voice again, clearer this time, and with an added urgency. Terrified, I wrenched the handle to ensure a quick escape and, turning around, saw an Australian soldier kneeling at the foot of the freezer. He was small, with a kind but sad face, and dressed in heavily soiled camouflage.  All I could think about was getting out the door to the thermostat and, as if reading my mind, the soldier shook his head. "Don't go" came his voice. He must have seen the understanding sweep across my face, for he appeared to fly back, as if hit with a bullet, and faded quickly into nothing.

Two days later I strapped myself into the same C130, bound for Baghdad.

--

In the final inch the Partagas 8-9-8 takes an interesting turn, with distinct maraschino cherry cutting through the heavy tobacco. The light is fading, and Mr G and I have turned to our respective devices for entertainment. I slip the band from the slowly depleting nub, and suck with increased fervour. Tar only now starts to develop, and the maraschino fades into the familiar bitterness of a premium cigar at the end of its life. I swig the last of my cheap beers, take the final photographs with my ageing phone, and bid my good employer adieu. It's a long trudge back to my apartment.