The wedding band had just finished their first set as I walked off the dance floor and spotted the hand-rolled cigar bar in the back. I hardly knew anyone there, but I was okay with that. There’s an art to being a plus-one at a wedding where you’ve never met the bride and groom, let alone the rest of the guests.
I looked down on the table where the labeled cigars were stacked. There appeared to be more cigars on the table than gentlemen at the wedding, so I’m sure they’re sitting in a humidor somewhere now.
“I’ll do one of the toros,” I said before she sealed it in a small ziplock bag and handed me a matchbook with the country club’s emblem on it. I thanked her and ensured she had cut it as I’m not one to bite my cigars, nor am I one to carry a cutter on me, well, ever.
Another plus-one, who I hardly knew, gestured for me to head outside with him to the porch overlooking the first and eighteenth holes.
“Good luck lighting that,” he remarked. “It’s windy as hell.”
Knowing I was going to fall on hard luck attempting to light my cigar with matches instead of a lighter with that type of wind, I walked down a small spiral staircase and huddled into the corner of what appeared to be the entrance to the caddy shack. I took out the first match and pinched it between the matchbook and my fingers. When I brought it to the tip of my cigar, it immediately blew out in the wind that came from over my shoulder. The second match flickered out in the same fashion as the first, so I decided to go around the corner of the clubhouse where the wind was blocked. When I finally achieved the success of lighting the cigar, I drew it into my mouth repeatedly ensuring it wouldn’t go out when I made my way back up to the reception’s porch.
I turned around and was startled to hear, “Can I help you?” from a man who appeared to be locking an unmarked door.
“Oh, no, sorry, I just had to get away from the wind to light this thing,” I responded hesitantly while showing him the cigar in my hands. I knew I wasn’t in danger considering the country club was harder to gain access to than anywhere else in the city, but being approached by a shadowy figure while it’s pitch black outside isn’t something you just get used to.
“Looks like quite the party up there,” he said back to me, zipping up his coat and putting his keys into a side pocket.
I drew the cigar in once more and exhaled before engaging with him. “Yeah, worse places to spend a Saturday night.”
“I reckon it ain’t cheap to have a wedding out here,” he said with his hands in his pockets, gesturing with his head up to the dining room. It was at that point I could see his face — weathered, probably in his sixties, relaxed. He was wearing a straw hat that he took off when he shook my hand.
I patted my tuxedo jacket pretending to check if I had another cigar despite knowing that I only took one from inside. My pretend-interest in giving him a cigar fell flat as he laughed and commented, “Oh, no, don’t worry about me. Had to give those up years ago.” His low, raspy voice signaled otherwise before inquiring, “You a golfer, yourself, young man?”
“I am, but I don’t get out as much as I’d like,” I responded.
“Ain’t that always the case,” he laughed in response.
Leaning my head out around the corner and up the stairs, I checked to see if anyone was still on the porch. I could hear the band begin to play again and my plus-one brother-in-arms must’ve made his way back in. I ashed the first of my cigar onto the ground before apologizing as if I’d done something wrong.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said, “If I worried about every cigar ash that touches the grounds here, I’d be in an asylum.”
At this point, I had leaned up against the side of the clubhouse. He stood in the same position five feet to my left, both of us peering out over the course. The darkness stopped us from seeing beyond the first tee and fairway, and the sprinkler system took away from what’s normally a beautiful silence.
“You ever play out here?” he asked after about a minute of us just listening to our surroundings.
I noted that I was just in town for the weekend and didn’t know any members, to which he responded, “That’s probably for the better. Ain’t what it used to be.” I couldn’t tell if he was referring to the course or the club’s members, but I could only assume it was the latter. Another minute of silence sat comfortably between us as my cigar began approaching the label with the groom’s initials on it.
“‘Lotta assholes out here these days,” he mentioned with a smile. I couldn’t help but laugh in response, accidentally inhaling cigar smoke causing me to cough incessantly for the better part of thirty seconds. My hands were on my knees as he patted my back while also laughing himself.
“Sorry, son, wasn’t tryna kill ya,” he apologized. I assured him that the fault wasn’t his before he continued. “All that’s behind me after tonight, though.”
“Why’s that?” I inquired.
“Hanging ’em up, finally retiring after forty years out here.”
I didn’t know what else to do other than turn towards him and firmly shake his hand. “Well, now I really wish I had a cigar for ya,” I replied, half-joking. He laughed.
Unsure if it was from my inhalation of the cigar smoke or the drinks I’d had at the reception, my head was feeling a lot lighter than minutes before. It was probably from the cigar, but admitting that to myself at the time felt weak. I took one last drag before asking him where I should put it out for good.
“Hell if I know, just put it out right there and toss it in that bucket of balls,” he said while gesturing towards a small bucket sitting outside the door. “Someone’ll get it in the morning.”
Without saying anything, we could both tell it was time to go — him to his home, and me back to the reception. We shook hands once more and gave one another some variation of “pleased to meet you” and “have a good night” before turning our backs and going about our nights. As I made my way a few steps up the spiral stairs attached to the clubhouse’s porch, he turned his head to say something.
“Get out there and enjoy some golf while you’re still young,” he expressed with a raised voice.
“Hey,” I said back with a smile, “You too.”
He waved his hand toward me in a motion similar to “get out of here,” which I did. After continuing my way up the stairs and re-entering the clubhouse, my date spotted me from the bar.
“Where’ve you been?” she excitedly inquired while I put my hand in my tux pocket and felt the matchbook between my index finger and thumb.
“Nowhere,” I said. “Just needed to step out for some fresh air.”