By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Everybody knows that cigar smoking can kill you, but very few people know why. Here’s the reason: Whenever a man wants to smoke, which he can do almost nowhere these days but in his own home, his wife makes him go outside. And there, depending on the season, he either freezes to death or dies of sunstroke.
As the Bible says, ashes to ashes.
Still, I like a good cigar once in a while. And I have had none better than the one I smoked recently. That’s because I rolled it myself.
I got a lesson in the fine art of cigar rolling from Julio Polanco, who runs a cigar company called, oddly enough, Polanco Cigars.
The first thing I found out when I went to his shop in Port Jefferson, N.Y., was that Polanco and I have a lot in common. Like me, he has a wife and two grown daughters.
"Does your wife let you smoke in the house?" I asked.
"No," Polanco said. "She makes me go outside."
"My wife doesn’t let me smoke in the house, either," I said. "If I get a hankering for a cigar and the weather is lousy, I go in the garage."
"You’re lucky you have a garage," Polanco said. "I live in an apartment, so I have to park on the street."
"I guess you can’t smoke in the car, either," I said.
"No," Polanco replied, "but I solved the problem by opening a cigar shop. Now I smoke here."
The shop, which is small but nice, has two couches and a large-screen TV.
"A lot of my customers come in to watch soccer," Polanco said. "One guy always wants me to put on Dominican music so he can dance."
"Has anyone ever wanted you to show him how to roll a cigar?" I asked.
"Yes," Polanco said.
"How did he do?" I inquired.
"Not so good," Polanco said. "But at least he didn’t cut off any of his fingers. I bet you’ll do better."
As I sat at a table behind the counter, Polanco said I could choose one of three kinds of wrappers: Brazil, Sumatra or Connecticut.
"I’m originally from Connecticut," I said. "Can I get frequent flier miles if I choose either Brazil or Sumatra?"
"I don’t think so," Polanco said.
"In that case," I replied, "I’ll take Connecticut."
The tobacco used for Connecticut wrappers is mild, explained Polanco, who is from the Dominican Republic, where his father, Pablo, founded the company, which fills orders from around the world on its Web site: polancocigars.net.
"The filler for our cigars comes from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, which gives them a better taste," said Polanco, who gave me a wrapper and said the veins should go on the inside.
"My veins are on the inside, too," I said as I laid the wrapper on the table and tried pathetically to wrap it, not too loose and not too tight, around the filler. My fingers fairly fumbled as Polanco looked on in amusement.
"You have to put the wrapper at the right angle," he said as he showed me how it’s done.
I got the hang of it, sort of, until it came time to use a brush to apply a naturally grown glue (made with tree powder and water) to the edge of the wrapper. I got more glue on my fingers than on the wrapper. Then I had to use a rounded knife to cut the excess wrapper and the tip of the cigar without, somehow, giving myself an extreme manicure.
"You did it!" exclaimed Polanco, who added that it would take me a while (perhaps years) to become a master roller but that I wasn’t as bad as that other customer.
I took my cigar home and, a couple of days later, on an unseasonably mild afternoon, went outside for a sensational smoke.
Would my wife have let me smoke my very own creation inside? Close, but no cigar.
Copyright 2009 by Jerry Zezima