truth. It surely does sound scary, gee whiz! This is the Pyrimide,
our largest, finest quality cigar is the one I only smoke when
Father Johnson stops by. I know this is going to sound corny but,
well, that’s the way the truth is. The San Juan Cathedral,
the center piece of Old San Juan, is right down the hill from
59 Calle Del Cristo where the Don Collins Cigars Distribution
and Wholesale Office is located. This is the location from which
your requests for information, e-mails, internet orders and other
matters are handled as efficiently as our staff can. The San Juan
Cathedral is the second oldest Church in the western hemisphere.
But it was built after the “Porto Rico Tobaco Company”
(now Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation) was established. The San
Jose Cathedral is about the same distance up the hill on Calle
Del Cristo in the Plaza del San Jose at the intersection of Calle
San Sebastian where the Carnival of Puerto Rico (San
Sebastian Festival) takes place each January. The San Jose
Cathedral is presently closed and is under restoration by one
of the directors of the Puerto Rico Tobacco Corporation, Dr. A.
The truth is that
my attendance at most religious rituals like Confession has been
on the decline for sometime – ok, the real truth being is
that I have long since been just too old to sin. That seems to
be a young man’s game, and I just don’t have the energy
any more. But, one evening, Father Johnson comes into the office
to inquire about the cigars and we begin to trade life stories
in ordinary conversation.
Let me interject
that the truth about Confession is that nobody really likes the
idea of telling someone else, even a priest, what they did wrong
and really own up to it. Confession has this strange-but-true
relationship with a lot of things that humans feel a little uncomfortable
with. For instance, telling the truth and deceit (when not in
that order), hatred and other despicable emotions, our inability
to cope with our lives and the inherent problems that seem to
grow larger with every passing day, our human weaknesses, desires
promises broken and…well, only Shakespeare or some other
renowned writer could ever finish this thought properly. But,
you know what I mean.
After all is said
in done, Confession (in the Catholic sense) breaks down to a promise
to say a long series of Hail Mary’s and a couple of renditions
of the Lord’s Prayer. But if you have really done something
bad you will have to add on the Act of Contrition. The latter
is always a real cerebral workout.
Like many others,
as I have described myself above as ‘just too old to sin
anymore,’ the ritual has all but passed in usefulness…well,
that was until Father Johnson found me late one Thursday night
in my office.
This priestly man
with large, round, dark, smiling eyes, having been set into a
broad, strong looking dark face punctuated with bushy salt and
pepper eyebrows and a matching beard that even Santa would envy
stated his purpose keenly. He was looking for a very good cigar.
Bounding my way past
my desk and down into our display room I reached into the uppermost
left hand corner of our great cigar humidor and removed the Pyramide.
In fact, for whatever reason, my hand had come out with two of
them. Then, holding them before Father Johnson I proudly announced
I had just what he was looking for. I invited Father Johnson,
as I invite all who enter our business to try the cigar as a gift,
and noted to him that it would only be the first Pyramide I would
have smoked that year.
The truth: well,
I am only five foot six inches tall. Short if compared to the
average man. And I just look ridiculous (at least I think this
of myself) with an eight and a half inch cigar in my hand, and
with a fifty ring at that! At the very least I feel that people
look at me with one of these great big cigars and say to themselves,
“look at the little guy over there with the great big cigar”
and maybe even adding quietly and jokingly, “That cigar
is bigger than he is!” So I have to admit that I love to
smoke them, but do so privately at home or when I am off on the
I invited Father
Johnson to sit on one end of the couch and I perched myself down
on the other end where I could keep a sound eye on the front door.
I lit Father Johnson’s cigar, then mine. The flourish in
his eyes as he glanced up for a moment to assure me his cigar
was lit and I could lean back to my original position and make
myself comfortable caught me by surprise. There was some quiet
communication there I could not ever put into words. Then and
there I realized in that sudden moment that I was getting ready
to speak out loud to myself. Or, at least, at the very least I
was going to speak to a man who would turn out to show the same
personal intellectual signature I had always thought was unique
to me. There sat Father Johnson and I, on the couch barely drawing
on our Pyramide cigars with an intriguing smile that told me he
was virtually thinking the same thought about me.
We talked. For a
long time we swapped growing up stories, school stories, social
interests, history lessons, and generally do what people do and
said what people usually say when they first discover they are
both sharing so much common ground. As one word drew onto the
next we marveled that we had both grown up on Long Island. Father
Johnson had grown up in Brooklyn and I had grown up in Queens.
We both fought hard to earn a good education and our parents fought
harder to pay for our first opportunity in life. We both had the
same number of older and younger siblings who in fact had similar
effects on the both of us. So, there we were gently puffing away
at the Pyramides that even by this time appeared to be two freshly
lit cigars with very little ash to show.
The Pyramide is such
a special cigar. During my discourse with Father Johnson I described
the way in which the large cigar was hand made and gave him the
special details on the way the tapered end of the cigar had been
fashioned, the “trick”, so to speak. That tapering
end, which makes the 50 ring effortless to hold and draw through
once cut at the very tip is actually a series of very carefully
staggered leaves set down on the rolling station in such a precise
order that when the bundle is rolled the thickness at that end
naturally drifts into the tapered shape the cigar is so famous
for. A lot of folks think that the cigar is evenly rolled and
has the same circumference from end to end and then is crushed
into that shape in the wooden molding blocks under pressure. A
cigar made like that would not have any draw because there would
be no space between the leaves that were crushed into that tapered
end. So there is a precision art to making a big torpedo shaped
like that. And there are equal intricacies from picking the right
grades of tobacco leaf to start with, carefully handling the leaves
so that they don’t break, marrying the tobacco, booking
the stems, separating right handed from left handed leaves and
starting to forge a blend that takes up to three years to get
I took special care
to explain to Father Johnson how the cigar press, the wooden mold
I mentioned earlier, played an important role in allowing the
cigar to dry into a rigid tapered end in the bunched state. This
drying period creates the spirals down the length of the cigar
and those spirals spin all the different flavors of the different
leaves into one taste at the business end of the cigar. The flavorful
end. I explained that it also takes a lot of skill and experience
to put the Puerto Rican wrapper leaf on in just the right way
at just the right angle so that it also conforms without force
to the natural taper. There is only one wrapper leaf that can
be used for this purpose.
Father Johnson changed
the subject momentarily and told me a few things I suspect he
would have only mentioned to a taxi driver or a stranger in some
strange place. There is no doubt the words were coming from the
depths of his real sole.
I promptly changed
the conversation back to the Pyramide and the cause for its unnatural
mildness. I favored the old topic as I noted that Father Johnson’s
formerly brightly lit eyes had fallen to half mast and his eyes
were therefore partially obscured and decidedly thoughtful and
full of sadness.
The mildness, I explained
was due in large part to a few key things; the cigar was eight
and a half inches long and the further away the burning tobacco
the “cooler” or milder the smoke from it would be,
the length of the cigar also served to filter out the smoke and
mix in more air than would be the case in smaller, thinner cigars,
or for that matter a very much smaller cigar. I even afforded
him the information that the meticulous aficionado should only
want to know. Father Johnson heard me go on about the whiteness
of the ash and the ability of the burned ash to remain for a full
three and a half to four inches if not blown or tapped away beforehand.
Father Johnson in
turn enlightened me, with some new found emotional soundness that
he was studying Genealogy courses as his agenda was to obtain
a Ph. D. in the field of anthropology at the Institute of Advanced
Studies for the Caribbean, a renowned and admirable graduate school
directly across the street from our office. He told me of the
Taino Indians, the ancestors, largely of the Puerto Rican population
that exists today. He spoke of studies done by the biology department
of the University of Puerto Rico that found some eighty percent
of the people still living on the island today had Taino Indian
This prompted me
to show Father Johnson my corporate pride and glory: The United
States Taino Indian Tribal Affairs Register. This book contains
the signatures of the descendents of those Puerto Ricans who were
Taino Cacique (Chiefs) and all descendents of the families of
Taino Indians who are becoming aware of their important role in
the history of the new world altogether. I also showed Father
Johnson a file the company has maintained for quite sometime where
families send in to us their written history, places of origin,
anecdotes and stories. I offered him the use of the files at any
time that he wished if needed in conjunction with his studies.
Father Johnson bought
ten Pyramides. I had that unbearable lightness of being we all
get when we feel that somehow we have revealed more than we should
have about ourselves; our souls in particular. In short, I felt
as I had been to Confession. I gave Father Johnson the cigars
conceding that I would allow the one he had smoked with me as
a gift. He didn’t want to accept it that way, but he did
and he said he would return very soon and he did that too.
By the time Father
Johnson did return, eager for more Pyramides I will admit I was
more than eager to hear more of his stories, listen to the pain
and joy of his experiences, past and present, tales about the
old churches in the neighborhood as well as his well educated
views on social conditions relating to the island of Puerto Rico
and his vivid contrasts with social conditions as they existed
at that time in New York City.
On the fourth or
fifth visit I had to tell Father Johnson that in between his legends
of one kind or another and my ramblings about my times and life
that I had slipped in a Confession or two, in the ritualistic
religious sense of the act.
I was just a little,
I say, a little surprised when Father Johnson told me that he
also, since the beginning of our sometimes short, sometimes long
discussions about things in general had slipped in his own confessions
Imagine my astonishment.
How implausible could it be that a priest, a real priest had confided
his most personal self and soul to me, an ordinary person, not
nearly ordained in the religious sense and wholly incapable, in
my view, of offering any type of absolution whatsoever. I mean,
I have had some really heavy moments in my life, but nothing ever
quite like this.
Imagine a Priest
saying something like that to you. Smoking a cigar with you and
simply stating that you have just heard his confession! What do
you do? What do you say? What would you have done? What would
you have said?
Then Father Johnson
actually sheds a tear. A small one, albeit, but nonetheless a
tear! I can see through that little bit of moisture his motivation
flowing sincerely from his heart. I could hardly hold back the
wetness from my own face. I wasn’t feeling his pain, or
his grief, but I was feeling my own private but so similar pain.
We just sat there
for a very, very long bunch of minutes. We were both staring at
the wall opposite the sofa. It was very fortunately filled with
fabulous original art pieces, mostly very large, very original
and very old paintings of angels. Strangely, it was the first
time I noticed that all the angels in all the painting were holding
weapons of one sort or another. One held a rifle, one a pistol
and the largest a thin and very elegant sword. It had all seem
so natural beyond notice before.
This was not a silent
or awkward moment. It was a long, fruitful, thoughtful time of
mutual relief. We just sat there holding our cigars and looking
at that wall full of paintings, letting the minutes go by.
Then, just as suddenly
as we had gotten to be quiet we both began to speak, yes, at the
same time. We laughed at that. And in just as timely a fashion
we both moved to draw anew on our Pyramide cigars. We had to laugh.
We noticed each other’s cigars were both holding about four
inches of clean white ash. We hadn’t noticed it happening
because we were both just sitting silently for such a long while.
We laughed and laughed about that. It was one of those moments
that you share with someone and for whatever strange reason you
just will never forget it.
Like I said, I know
that it sounds corny, but this is the truth and the only time
I ever smoke a Pyramide, to this day is when Father Johnson stops
by. We smoke away a good time and we always enjoy a confession
~ Don Collins