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 C17, 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.

Sunday 5 February 2017

A little history.

My wretched life has only been made worse by two things: abject poverty, and fleeting moments of intense joy. The poverty, I've found, is survivable. Character building, even. Joy, however, is a disgusting paradoxical state. Joy is best left in one's toddlerhood, along with wooden blocks, and the sad smile a mother gives before leaving you alone in a dark apartment for the final time. I wore my joylessness like a suit of armour; occasionally pierced by well-timed thrusts into the soft spots under the armpits, but ultimately keeping me safe from when true joy failed. Joy is like heroin. You can't just ride a continuing wave, but must keep getting yourself back to a rough baseline. Joy is not exponential, but sporadic. It fades quickly and returns fitfully, and in my case hollows out my husk even further with every coming.

Layne Staley once sung that he could feel the wheel, but could not steer, which was in context with his thoughts becoming his biggest fear. Staley was saying, not too cryptically, that although he knew what was happening with his drug use, and had a grip on his reality, he was in effect careening out of control to his death. This is how your sturdy host felt when his fleeting moments of joy were being overshadowed by a crushing darkness. Do you fold top-pair against a fiercely raising opponent, and a flush-draw on the flop? Mostly you should, unless you're an idiot. And I have always been an idiot. You take that fucking gamble. It has to come good 23% of the time. Except, to modify the analogy, if your top-pair turns to quads and you win the hand, you get to eat your chip stack while your opponent tells everyone else at the table how bad you are at poker.

Imagine being stuck in a bullshit Army barracks in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by slack-jawed morons and a boss that hates you. Imagine if your only solace was grueling gym sessions, solitary binge drinking, and the hope that one day things might improve. Now imagine if, amidst the gloom and the sad distractions, there were brief moments of joy. Imagine if a phone call, a Skype session, a little handwritten letter from someone that you worshipped, would cut through the darkness and let you bathe, fleetingly, in the light. Imagine the boost to your morale if, once every few weeks, a whole weekend would open itself up to envelop you in that same light, still fleeting, but with enough luster to postpone the impending darkness.

Imagine a shotgun blast to the head. Imagine injecting that massive speedball into your veins. Imagine, if time could slow in those instances, how you'd feel seeing the shot rattle up the barrel toward your face. Imagine feeling the heroin and cocaine coursing through your body, and feeling the envelopment of each opioid receptor as you sink slowly into the spot where you'll soon be found, bloated and purple and alone. Now imagine seeing every photon as they are absorbed finally into the physical realm, riding their respective wavelengths until they turn briefly to heat before disappearing forever. Imagine seeing your light disappear until the final quantum fizzles into blackness.