Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97
In 28 years of smoking cigars, I have had manygood times. I am proud to have followed the ups and downs of a great American industry. I have smoked cigars to commemorate the birth of new life and lament the death of a loved one, have shared a robust smoke with many a stranger, our only link being this hallowed tradition symbolizing fellowship.
Perhaps the most unique occurrence I have ever had involving cigars came some years back in Manhattan. My beloved wife, Elena, and I were walking back from a soiree given by my firm at Delmonico's, celebrating my retirement from many years as an attorney. We had enjoyed consummate food in the company of close, genial brethren. I had topped the evening off with a Cohiba and a glass of Krug. My firm had been kind enough to bestow on me two lovely gifts: a beautiful Patek Philippe watch as a token of its admiration and a vintage box of Romeo y Julietas. The night air was cool and crisp that evening, so Elena and I decided to take a stroll through Central Park, in lieu of a digestif.
I was walking along with my ravishing wife (26 years of marriage and she still has her figure, a figure I notice many other men admire), carrying the precious Cuban cargo under one arm and gazing at the pretty 23-jewel baby on my wrist, when suddenly I saw a dark figure looming before us.
"That looks like a pretty nice watch there, mister," said the voice from the darkness. It was a young tough trying to relieve us of our precious belongings and avail himself of a little easy cash. As I moved a little closer I could see the glint of a revolver in his hand. "Hand it over," he demanded.
"I will do no such thing," I replied firmly.
"Hand it over, if you want the dame to live," he asserted.
Now Marvin, I don't have to tell you, I treasured my Patek Philippe, but I cherished my wife even more. I complied with the young ruffian's demand.
"Now the wallet," he said.
Once again I had no choice but to hand over my brown Coach wallet and its contents to this scoundrel. Then, what I feared most transpired.
"What you got in the box, mister?" he said, gesturing to the cedar box under my arm.
"A man of your pedigree would hold no interest in the contents," I replied. He looked baffled, but angry at my response and pointed his revolver at my wife. I wanted to tell him something else, anything to save my proudest possession, but my mother didn't raise a liar.
"If you must know," I continued, "they are the finest cigars that God's green earth has to offer."
"Hand those over too, then," he said, his words echoing grimly in my ears.
I had withstood entirely enough from this uncouth highwayman. My watch and wallet were one thing, but my Romeo y Julietas were quite another! With speed that surprised even me, I attacked the hooligan with might and main. The young tough was dumb founded that a man of my age could move with such alacrity. I gave him a few sound thumps and the robber was on his way, with a bit more than he bargained for.
I picked up my Patek Philippe and wallet, returning them to their rightful places. The night air was bracing. Elena and I enjoyed the rest of our walk, thankful for our fortunate deliverance and the preservation of a good smoke.
I'd like to take a moment to respond to the comments made by Michael D. Washington of Rochester, N.Y., in his letter that appeared in "Out of the Humidor" in the Winter 1996/97 issue of Cigar Aficionado. As a fellow journalist, I ask that you print this letter in the game of objective and fair journalism. I realize that its less-than-favorable slant toward cigar smoking may ruffle some feathers among readers and, more importantly, advertisers, but I believe that Mr. Washington's insane viewpoint must be rebutted. Thank you for your consideration.
Mr. Washington, with all due respect, your scenario of individual freedoms being stripped away by people jealous of your "pursuit of happiness" borders on the insane. If you want to make an argument about individual freedoms being stripped away, then what gives you the opinion that your right to smoke a cigar in a public place (e.g., restaurant) outweighs the rights of others to breathe fresh, unpolluted air, free of carcinogenic smoke?
Let me give you a scenario, Mr. Washington. It appears that you believe that your right as a cigar smoker to adversely affect the health of nonsmokers is greater than their right to breathe fresh air. In other words, you should be allowed to follow your "pursuit of happiness," no matter how it affects others. Then I say, let's revoke all drunk driving laws. Maybe driving while intoxicated is the "pursuit of happiness" for some people. So a few innocent bystanders are killed once in a while, but at least people get to practice their "pursuit of happiness." After all, as you seem to believe, the right to follow a "pursuit of happiness" no matter what the pursuit or how it affects others, outweighs the rights of the rest of society.
Mr. Washington, a person's eating and dressing habits do not affect another person's health. If someone wishes to maintain a diet of fatty, high-cholesterol foods, that is their choice--a choice that does not impact the health and well-being of others. While certain dressing habits (e.g., the wearing of leather or fur) may anger or offend some, that also does not impact their health.
However, over the years studies have proven that without a doubt, inhaling second- hand smoke is detrimental to a person's health. Mr. Washington, I have nothing against people who smoke cigars or cigarettes. It is your business if you want to invite a lifetime of hacking coughs, yellow teeth, breathing difficulties and clothes that reek of the stench of smoke. If that is your idea of "having more fun than others," as you state in your letter, have as much fun as you want.
However, do not sit on your pedestal and try to pass off such a ridiculous scenario comparing the loss of other individual freedoms to the anti-smoking sentiment. And do not try to tell me that your right to enjoy a cigar outweighs my right to breathe fresh air free of carcinogenic smoke.
Joseph S. King
Bound Brook, New Jersey
Editor's response: Mr. King, no one disputes your right to breathe clean air. That's why smoking and non-smoking sections have been created, and in many cities around the country, they work, allowing those who want to enjoy a post-dinner smoke the privilege of doing so. But don't be so negative about cigar smokers. I've smoked cigars in moderation for years and I don't have a hacking cough or yellow teeth or breathing difficulties, and neither do most cigar smokers I know.
By way of a compliment to you, sir, I've enclosed a facsimile of a letter I recently sent to the editor of another magazine. Although it appears as though you have singlehandedly
pioneered the 1990s cigar renaissance, it is regrettable that many new smokers seem to be ignorant parvenus and pretentious lowlifes, whose social consciousness is elevated no more than a toilet seat, and whose moral restraint rarely exceeds the scum line.
Although I do not mean to imply that all cigar smokers who are of the nouveau riche are uncultured, ignorant and lacking morals, or that cigar connoisseurs who aren't wealthy are necessarily lowlifes or unsophisticated, it is an obstreperous phenomenon that there are suddenly so many loutish cigar smokers who seem to have the refinement and wits of a lotto winner.
Unfortunately, in recent years, many of this same class of feebleminded (and frequently journalistically illiterate) vulgarians, whether cigar smokers or not, have begun dabbling with publishing. Crass and shoddily edited magazines seem to proliferate. However, in a time when desktop publishing has made it possible for even literary imbeciles to get into publishing, you have maintained the highest standards for Cigar Aficionado in virtually every respect. First, you clearly do not depend solely upon computer software to check your spelling and grammar, as a number of magazines that have come out in recent times apparently do; you have "real live" copy editors who meticulously check every line of type for errors.
Second, while Cigar Aficionado is no Sunday school magazine, in my mind it does display a sense of social and moral responsibility. You regularly encourage your readers to exercise courtesy and self-restraint, and you encourage civic responsibility (e.g., your promotion of concern regarding prostate cancer). You certainly do not condone or encourage the socially irresponsible and injurious behaviors that so many new lifestyle magazines seem to do.
Third, while you may, on occasion, transgress the bounds of good taste, you clearly know what those bounds are and you strive to maintain them. And, when your readers let you know that you've erred, you do not impertinently rush out to offend them by excelling in poor judgment; you even publish their criticisms! In this respect, you evidently understand that, just as one does not want to hear the wait staff of a fine restaurant using obscene language and discussing their finer points of various sexual practices, sensible readers of a magazine that deals with a cachet item like cigars really don't care to read such things in their publication, either. Although, on rare occasions, plebeian speech has crept into your magazine, it's not habitual.
And fourth, you are what you are. Cigar Aficionado is a magazine for cigar smokers, which means it is primarily (even if not exclusively) for the upper middle class, the wealthy, and those who want to be wealthy. There are no pretensions of guilt or embarrassment, no pseudo-sophistications and no phony attempts to pretend your audience is anything other than what it is; nor does your audience make any pretense about itself (as indicated, in their letters to the editor, by all absence of sour grapes about what others might think of them). While you do not talk down to open-collar workers, like myself, neither do you seek to offend, distance or ignore us.
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