Posted: Apr 11, 2007 12:13am ET
Since starting at Cigar Aficionado 10 years ago, I’ve played a game with myself that I call Seen Smoking. It doesn’t involve any equipment and the action is fairly simple: watch others smoking cigars. And it can be done anywhere: on my walk down Park Avenue to work, sitting in Madison Square, standing on the train platform, sunning on an island beach, even watching television in the den. It’s a form of solitaire for which you only need happenstance and powers of observation.
What makes it interesting is the scoring—which is totally subjective. I judge a sighting on two criteria: how interesting it is and how relatively positive or negative it is to the image of smoking. If you see someone smoking outside a building next to one of those ash cans that the nanny state provides for misplaced smokers as if they were back in high school at the designated smoking area, that’s a pretty bland sighting and has a base-level score of about a 3 on the 10-point scale. If he’s smoking an unusual cigar (either in brand or shape) add a couple points. If he’s a she, always add 5 points. An especially long ash can also earn an point or two. If the smoker is unkempt or offensive (blowing smoke in the faces of passersby, for instance) I subtract points as he’s running down our image. (Of course, you can make up your own scoring criteria, if you want to play at home.)
Sightings in unusual places get added points. Once I saw a construction worker use a lunch break to enjoy a perfecto high up on a steel girder while his colleagues munched on sandwiches yards away. That was an 8. Of course, if the location of the sighting is unusual because of its inappropriateness (an emergency room, for instance) you have to subtract points.
Unusual juxtapositions are also good for points. Someone of limited means who has decided to create an island of luxury in an otherwise drab life with a $10 cigar will always get a high score. I’m not sure why, but I don’t reward the well-heeled guy who’s smoking a machine-made cigars similarly. But it’s my game. I did, however, once spy a man in a three-piece suit discreetly tear the band off a Cohiba before he walked it through the park. He scored high for lack of pretension, although in retrospect I suppose he may have been trying to keep from being busted for trading with the enemy.
The media can be a rich source for sighting. I reward celebrities who are seen smoking more highly now than I did in the cigar-boom years. Back then a lot of them seemed like they were just trying to keep in fashion. Now it takes some courage to strike such a blow for freedom. I especially like to see a victory cigar after a meaningful sports contest—especially if the athlete is one that I rooted for or bet on.
Smoking scenes in movies and television are always great Seen Smoking fodder. While I always like to see Edward G. Robinson chomping on a smoke, I have to take a few points away because his portrayals usually make us all out to be gangsters. I recently watched Burgess Meredith in “Twilight Zone” episode (got to love TiVo) in which he plays the devil incarnated as a cigar-smoking typesetter come to cheat a failing newspaper publisher of his soul. It’s hard to think of a more deleterious image for cigars than to put one in the mouth of the devil, but somehow with his infectious grin, irrepressible eyebrows and a culebra as the cigar of choice, Meredith makes even the devil charming. The coil of tobacco snakes to the side of his cheeks, billowing lovely puffs smoke everywhere as he typesets. I gave it an 8.
One murderous smoking scene always rates a 10 with me despite its over-the-top carnage. It’s the one in “Miller’s Crossing” in which Albert Finney, as a gang boss, is in bed smoking a cigar and listening to “Danny Boy” on the Victrola when he realizes a gang of thugs has come to rub him out. He stubs out his cigar, puts it in his bathrobe pocket and climbs under the bed. When the heavies barge in, he shoots one in the leg, grabs his tommy gun and chases the other down with it. For good measure, he pumps about a hundred rounds into the getaway car as it tries to do just that. Satisfied that he’s averted disaster, he takes the cheroot from his pocket and relights it. Perfect!
Recently, I was watching a back episode of “House, MD”, which is my-current-all-time-favorite-at least-when-it’s-not-Entourage-season television show. Imagine my delight at seeing Dr. Gregory House, the Sherlock Holmes of medical diagnosticians, with a cigar in his mouth. The only thing that could make his weekly prescriptions of completely politically incorrect sarcasm better would be to know that he is a fellow cigar smoker. Anyway, House is sitting at a poker table in a tuxedo with a bandless cigar in his mouth. All good scores. Then I notice that the cigar isn’t lit. He’s not smoking it! He’s using it as prop. Not another poseur! But then I realize the scene is taking place at a casino-night benefit set in the lobby of the hospital. Of course, he’s not smoking, that would be inappropriate. Points start to come back. Then House is lured away from the table by a fascinating case, which he spends the rest of the night trying to diagnosis while making occasional cell phone calls back to the table to keep his hand in. Only when he inevitably saves the day with genius insight, does he return to the makeshift casino. With the party over, he finally lights up his victory cigar. Got to give that a 10.
If I were a meticulous log-keeping statistician type I would probably have more examples of Seen Smoking than the ones that come to mind right now. But then I would also probably be an accountant or a behavioral scientist, not somebody who writes a blog on the Cigar Aficionado web site. I’ll try to keep you posted.
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