December 23rd, 2004.

Menthol cigars.

As I made my way to the Portland Coffee House for an afternoon of laptop work I decided to stop by a cigar shop not away. I don't frequent such establishments often, but this particular cigar shop doubles as a high brow magazine store full of publications that make you feel like you've joined a secret society.

You might be able to find a copy of Sports Illustrated here, but it would probably be hidden away behind the latest Malt Whisky Monthly or some french magazine with page after page of out of focus black and white pictures of lonely looking doorways and girls bottoms. (Yes, that was an actual magazine though I cannot remember its name. It was probably called 'Portes et Culs' or something.)

Behind the counter stood a man with a full head of rusty red hair and a bushy red beard to match. He was a young man but he wore clothes that gave him years that time had yet to afford him. A deliberate style choice no doubt, rebuffing what I imagine he would see as the insipid nature of today's pop culture.

As he polished the glass top of a cabinet in which a selection of wickedly expensive cigars lay bathed in bright white light, I was already thinking that the question I was about to ask was poorly placed in this exclusive little Portland store. However, the point of no return was behind me when he asked "And what can I help you with today sir?"

With only a limited knowledge of black and white photography and French girls' bottoms, I had no choice but to ask the question I had gone there to ask.

"Do you have any menthol cigars?" I asked at a volume significantly less than his initial inquiry.
The look I got was the same as those I used to get from snobby independent record store clerks in Liverpool as they would sneeringly read aloud the titles of whatever musical purchase I had just made as they placed it into the bag and passed it to me as if handling some kind of chemical waste.

"Menthol cigars?" he said in a superior way that forewarned me that I was about to be publicly ridiculed by cigar shop snobbery.

"Yes, I bought some in the summer and I liked them," I explained.

"You didn't buy them here though, did you now," he replied.

Truth be told I bought them at a gas station but I wasn't about to make any such admission.

"Well no, but.."

"See that's because we don't sell cigars for pussy's," he said laughing with his coworkers at my expense. It was all in good humor and I can take a joke, so I respond.

"Well, I don't really smoke but.."

"Oh, you don't smoke? So what, did you eat them?" he said, causing more laughter among his coworkers.

"No I smoked them, but I actually don't smoke." My words were adding to the cigar aficionados' enjoyment of the situation.

"Well, what the hell are you doing smoking pussy cigars then?" he asked as he leaned back on a large wood and glass cabinet filled boxes of cigars that looked nothing like those I saw in the gas station.

"It was nice," I said knowing that this answer would certainly draw another cutting response.

"It was a menthol cigar!" he exclaimed. "Would you drink a menthol beer?"

More coworker laughter.

"Well no, but sometimes I like to smoke a cigar, you know when there it's a cigar moment."

"Uh ha. A menthol cigar moment no less," he said nodding his head and scratching his beard that itself knew more about cigars than I did.

To be clear, this was a humorous exchange for all of us, and while I can't be entirely sure, I don't think the clerk would have taken as much pleasure in making fun of me if I hadn't been laughing along with them.

"Well, clearly you don't sell them, do you know anywhere that does?" I asked. Right then a voice from a back room shouts "Try a gay bar!"

The entire shop erupted in laughter. Even a customer who was looking at some magazines was laughing. I was too, it was funny. I nodded, said my thanks, and left the store, lesson learned.