Saturday, January 7, 2012

Once We Were Herftones

In the manuscript for Postcards From Ireland, I talk a bit about cigars because, as the opening line points out, Ultimately, it was all because of the cigars.  Without cigars, I would not have gone to Ireland, I would not have met the woman who would become my wife and I would not have moved to England.
Writing that story was an exercise in nostalgia, but not simply due to reliving how I found love among the leprechauns, it was also due to recalling those days when I was involved in the cigar culture.  Cigars are still apart of my life but, back then, they were a huge part; this blog (or, to be exact, the web log it grew out of) was originally a chronicle of my cigar-related adventures.  It was, believe it or not, a magical time.
I don’t go into that era very deeply in the book, because I didn’t think it would be of great interest to the average person, but it was nothing short of astounding.  My then girlfriend, who I now refer to as She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, used to dabble in cigars.  She and her college buddies used to go to a cabin in the Adirondacks and spend the weekend smoking cigars around the fire, so we revived the tradition and found it very satisfying.
After a time, we discovered a few people at work who were also cigar smokers, and then we started haunting newsgroups (for you youngsters, that was the precursor of Facebook and Twitter) and invited some of the local members to meet up with us.  We all got along like a house on fire (and judging by the smoke we produced, you would think the house really was on fire), so we began having regular meetings.
Incredibly, this same thing was happening simultaneously in other cities throughout the US and even in other countries.  Eventually, these individual groups began hosting cigar exchanges, where members of other cigar groups would come to the host city for a weekend of organized cigar-related events, including cigar dinners, visits to regional landmarks, raffles and tours of local cigar shops.
It was an enchanting time, the sort of thing that happens so spontaneously and so perfectly that you know you are involved in something special.  I don’t recall ever wishing it would go on forever, or worrying if it would end, we were just all caught up in the moment.
Our cigar group called itself The Herftones—being a combination of the music group The Nowtones and “herf” which is the cigar-world term for smoking cigars.  Our annual cigar event was called ASHCAN—Albany, Saratoga Herf Crawl and Nosh—and we even had a Long Island chapter where we went every summer for ASCHANOLI, or ASHCAN on Long Island.  The other city’s cigar crawls had equally tortured acronyms, such as HITS, the Buffalo chapter’s Herf In The Snow, and SALT, Syracuse’s herf event that I can’t recall the translation of.

At a Herf Event in Boston. Don't let the size of the group fool you; this is merely a fraction of the people who attended. Also, though this photo is 100% male, we had a surprising number of women in our ranks. The small suitcases many of us are carrying are called Herfdors, and they are filled with cigars.
This went on for years.  But the important thing (or the thing that is relevant to my new book) is that this activity was directly responsible for my going to Ireland (you’ll have to read the book to find out how), and going to Ireland was directly responsible for me moving to England.  No cigars, no England, and no Postcards From Across the Pond.
I left the US while the Herftones were still going strong, and in a way I am glad I did.  Shortly after I left, the no smoking regulations came into force, which made organizing cigar crawls much more difficult.  Eventually, they stopped, and then even the local get-togethers faded away.
Now, those of my herfing buddies who still continue to smoke cigars, are pretty much like me—solitary herfers who continue to enjoy a solitary cigar (“Thought in the early morning, comfort in time of woes, peace in the hush of twilight, balm ere my eyelids close”—this is what a cigar provides, as Kipling points out in his epic ode to cigars, The Betrothed) but rarely, if ever, do we meet up with other cigar aficionados for a proper herf.
But solitary as our herfing now is (what, I wonder, is the sound of one man herfing) we can, as we muse on the soft blue veil of the vapor, know that for one, brief, shining moment, we were Herftones.

We even had shirts made; the oval logo on the left breast reads, "Herftones"

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:15 AM

    We few, we merry few, we band of herfers we. For he that smokes his stogie with me, from this day forward shall be my HerfTone Brother...

    Herfy V, Act 6, Scene 3

    Shakespeare, as quoted by The HerfDog