Alex Kozinski

Day Five  
Thursday, July 25, 1996
It starts tugging at my mind shortly after lunch. By mid-afternoon, I am casting longing glances at the humidor. I try to peck at my typewriter (for those under 30, that’s a mechanical device used in ancient times to create carbon images of words on paper), but the ideas won’t flow. My brain keeps multitasking, darting furtive thoughts at the Punch Chateau “L” lying there waiting to be enjoyed. But it’s still too early.

Finally, 5 p.m. rolls around and I begin the ritual. First, I fetch it from the humidor and rub it between my fingers. Yes, it’s moist and soft. Brittle cigars crack and burn the throat. For good measure, I run it under my nose and imbibe the aroma. A pungent scent, but not so strong that it affronts the nostrils. Excellent.

Time to decide: Do I remove the ring or leave it on? For reasons that are unclear, this is a hotly debated topic among cigar smokers. To me, it’s a question of aesthetics: A cigar with a ring on it doesn’t look like it’s quite ready to be enjoyed–sort of like an oyster that’s still attached to its shell. So off comes the ring.

John, my law clerk, offers me a cutter, but I turn it down: Attacking a fine cigar with a metallic guillotine seems barbaric. Instead, I gently moisten the tip with my lips and, when it’s nice and soft, I bite it off. I do a nice clean job of it too, the mark of experience.

Finally, John offers me a light. Ah, the draw is first-rate. I take a few minutes to enjoy the smoke. It has plenty of body, but it’s not heavy. It fills my mouth with smoky flavor, yet it’s cool and oddly refreshing–sort of like a well-aged single malt Islay Whiskey.

One mark of a good cigar is the color of the ashes, and how long they take to fall off. This one is first-rate. Yes, the writing is going much better now.

So, Pierre Salinger tells this tale out of school: One day JFK orders him to collect as many H. Upman Petites as he can overnight. “Were you thinking of a box or two, Mr. President?” Salinger asked. “No, more like a thousand,” JFK replied. The following morning, the president impatiently asked Salinger how he had done, to which the press secretary replied proudly that he had gathered 1200 of these fine Cuban cigars. “Good,” said JFK, “Now where are those embargo papers?”

For more of Kozinski’s connoisseurship, read his essay on building your own home computer.