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October 19, 2017

My London Celebration

Sometimes you just need to gloat a little. For me, time came this past summer when I was in London. I had wanted to go abroad, and for various reasons, I had to wait till this past summer to make it happen.

I was looking for a way to celebrate my arrival in London this past July. About a week into my trip, I saw my chance: a shop that sold fine Cuban cigars. It was the perfect opportunity.

My friend Tom and I periodically go out to find cigars at the University of Massachusetts. There is a place in Hadley that sells some. But in the United States, the quintessential Cuban cigar is illegal.

I hurried into the store and bought two Cubans for myself with the intent to enjoy my first one that evening before everyone went out. My housemates and I were greatly anticipating the upcoming night; London was still new and exciting to all of us. We were ready to take full advantage of the city.

My plan was to sit in the park and enjoy my first Cuban, relaxing on a bench watching the sunset, just thinking of how lucky I was to be in another country and how much Tom would be jealous.

Before I left for the park, I sent Tom a note shamelessly gloating of my success. I had every intention of throwing this in his face.

“I now own Cuban cigars,” I wrote to him. “Thought you might be curious, and yes, a little jealous. So think of me, young sir, when you light up your next mediocre stogy. While you do, I will be sitting here in London smoking a Cuban, hand-rolled, perfectly crafted cigar.”

I was on cloud nine. With an obnoxiously wide smile on my face, I sat down, lit up and began to enjoy. One thing was true: Cubans live up to their hype. With full flavor and the seeming inability to die out, this was everything I expected and more. I sat there, looking forward to my upcoming night out, completely calm, celebrating life. The nicotine began hitting me, lifting my head even further into the heavens.

The cigar lasted for at least the hour that the store clerk had promised, and toward the end, I became a little lazy. I began inhaling too much smoke, too deep, not paying much attention to basic mechanics that, if not followed, could lead to bad results. The possibility of a bad ending did not cross my mind.

It was almost dark out when I began heading back. My head was swimming in nicotine. I had to concentrate to walk a straight line back to my nearby flat.

To my surprise, the light-headedness kept getting worse, my steps became a concentrated affair and I began to think something just might be wrong after all. When I finally arrived at my place, I knew my situation was dire. My stomach was now turning over as if I was at an amusement park, and I knew I was not going to make it much longer.

I poked my head into the common room to quickly say hi, attempting to mask my health. My housemate Sean remarked that I “had some color.” I headed up to the fourth floor, into the bathroom – two floors away from everyone else – and leaned over the toilet.

Have you ever tried to puke quietly? I had just met these people, and we were becoming friends. I didn’t want them to hear that I was now becoming violently ill.

God it hurt. I was experiencing the horrors of full-on nicotine poisoning. After an especially gruesome sixth round, I stumbled across the hall to my bedroom and tried to fall asleep.

Unlike drinking too much where throwing up can remove some of the alcohol from your system and make you feel better, nicotine poisoning does not offer relief even after spending a solid chunk of an hour over the toilet. The poison is in your blood. Only time will heal what I think is a far worse feeling than what can be handed down from alcohol.

I woke up an hour later, still feeling slightly off. I promised myself I was never going to give Tom the satisfaction of knowing how my evening went. My head still hurt; I still felt like I had a hangover, and I knew I was going to have to act like nothing was wrong that night.

Luckily I learned my lesson, I only had one bad night like this my entire time in London. A few important points about this story:

Firstly to Tom, now you know. Congratulations. My gloating doesn’t quite hurt so badly now huh? I doubt I’ll live this down.

More importantly however, to everyone who is now a college freshman looking to celebrate their freedom from parental guidance with a bang: be careful.

Get some good stories out of college. But often times, when you don’t really know what you are getting yourself into – as I didn’t with my hour-long cigar – you can get yourself into trouble.

Michael Phyllis is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at

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