Up in smoke: the tale of the $50 cigar

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  • | 5:00 a.m. November 25, 2011
Mike Cavaliere spends a night in the lap of luxury, but gets a harsh reality check when the bill arrives.
Mike Cavaliere spends a night in the lap of luxury, but gets a harsh reality check when the bill arrives.
  • Palm Coast Observer
  • Opinion
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After it was over, I climbed the stairs to my apartment, smelling of cigar smoke and somewhere else.

It was Nov. 5, the final day of the Cigar, Spirit & Golf Expo at the Hammock Beach Resort. But my friends and I arrived too late. Between yesterday and today, there were supposed to be more than 1,000 retailers here, but now there were zero. The ghosts of their vendor booths lined the pale and stormy courtyard toward the lounge, white tablecloths dancing in gusts of wind coming in from over the golf greens and cobblestone.

We went inside, where we perused racks of smokes without price tags, deciding that we hadn’t come all this way for nothing. The three of us each got a Padron Serie 1926, a dark cigar with a nice but simple label. Matt Clay and I paired it with a Jameson and ginger ale.

The bartender was great. Decked out in a slick Hibachi chef-like getup, he cut our stogies, poured our drinks, even offered up a butane lighter.

The guy was a pro.

With streamers of smoke pouring from my lips, I was having a ball. The cigar was fantastic, taking me back to the first one I ever had, during a family reunion in Tennessee.

My brother and I, our uncle and grandfather “Ziggy” stared into the Smokies, enjoying Acid Blondies, small, extra-sweet cigars that leave the taste of vanilla on your lips even after you finish.

Ziggy took a sip from his patented Dewars on the rocks then exhaled.

“It don’t get much better than this,” he said, all New York drawl. “In the mountains, enjoying a cigah with my grandsons!”

From then on, I was a cigar guy. Five dollars here, $8 there — the smoke is good but you’re really paying for the time. Sitting. Talking. The essence of male bonding.

Back in the lounge, I opened a leather booklet to find my bill inside. Then I froze.

$49.44, it said. One drink. One cigar.

I looked at Matt Clay. At Joey. A deer in headlights.

“Bad?” Matt Clay asked quietly. “How much?”

I was paralyzed. In my head, I started calculating elaborate mathematics.

For that much, I could buy five CDs. I could eat 49 McDoubles. I could trade in the cash for 988 nickels.

“Twenty?” Joey mouths. And I could only shake my head.

Included in the 50, I noticed a pre-determined $8 tip.

For what? I wondered. The guy was a joke! He didn’t even throw a white rag over his shoulder or, even once, ask us about our problems.

$49.44. Journalists don’t make that kind of money. But right then, I was forced to pretend, forced to act like this was normal, like $50 for an hour and one cigar was no big deal, just another Saturday evening in the Hammock.

I was forced to pretend that I belonged there.

Removing my monocle, I blew hot air on the glass and cleaned it with a kerchief from my breast pocket. I surveyed the bill. “Great Scott!” I said, eyeing the measly $8 tip pre-factored in.

“My boy,” I motioned to the bartender, adjusting my cummerbund. “You did a fine job — fine, I say! $8? Nonsense! Nothing less than 10 shillings will suffice!”

(In my imagination, all rich people are British aristocrats. And they never stop yelling.)

“My boy!” I said, taking off my top hat and pulling something from my vest. “Do you see this pocket watch? Fourscore ago, my father, the chimneysweep, bequeathed it to me. Now, I want you to have it.”

“But, sir —” he said.

“Poppycock! I insist, my dear boy. You’ve earned it,” I told him, throwing down a handful of gold coins which I took earlier from a swimming pool of them I keep below my home study, where I backstroke in gold from time to time like Scrooge McDuck.

I dipped a quill feather in ink and signed my bill: “M.E. Cavaliere, esquire,” the loops and curls of my signature bold and relentless.

Life snaps back into place and I remember the $150 speeding ticket I got a couple nights back; the $250 prescription eyedrops I just bought (that’s a whole other column); and now this.

Then there’s the issue of my recent vacation.

Getting toward the butt of his cigar, Matt Clay dejectedly smirks at the ashtray. Combined, there’s probably about $112 worth of soot in there, he might be thinking.

“I’m going to let the rest of this dry out, then crumble it on my cereal,” he mumbles, determined to get his money’s worth.

Joey takes a puff. “Oh, man,” he says, pulling his hood over his head. He didn’t eat all day and now the smoke’s making him woozy. “ … Oh, God … ”

Finished, I’ve taken the time to get some good, quality sulking in. I take handfuls of the Asian-glazed snack mix in front of me, filling my mouth and pockets with it. Like Matt Clay, I intend to milk every cent possible out of this night.

I ask for a bowl of martini olives, a dish of maraschino cherries, some orange slices. If it’s free, I’m taking it.

“And barkeep,” I say, critiquing his ridiculous outfit, poor decorum and stupid face, “make it snappy.”

By the time we’re ready to leave, my mouth is covered with crumbs and my pockets are bulging with napkins and stirrers and toothpicks and straws. Joey’s in the last stool at the end, trying not ralph. I’m in the first, trying not to cry. And Matt Clay’s in between, quietly giggling.

We each look at each other and smile, shake our heads. We share a laugh inside the dimly lit cigar lounge, with its leather couches and dark wood and bottles of liquor locked inside glass cases (“$100 a shot,” someone says, pointing to a bottle). And just like that, I’m a little kid at the adult’s dinner table, chuckling about Nickelodeon while they all play grown-up and argue about politics.

“Thanks, Mike,” Joey says sarcastically. “So,” Matt Clay adds, “drinks are on you tomorrow, right?”

Here’s to you, Ziggy, I think, pushing the rest of my cigar into the ashtray. It really don’t get much better than this.

For more from Mike Cavaliere's blog, CLICK HERE.



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