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I am a police officer in Southern California. Approximately two years ago, I was forced to shoot and kill a mentally deranged woman who was attacking my partner with a knife. The incident, which lasted only a few minutes, finally concluded last month after a jury found that my actions were justified. The two years between the shooting and the civil trial (I was sued by the woman's son) were stress-filled, but were also filled with an outpouring of emotional support from my family, fellow officers and many citizens, most of whom were complete strangers.
One of the many things which made the past two years bearable was what I would like to call the "Brotherhood of the Cigar." Many a night on patrol found a lull in the action, which was then filled by myself and several of my fellow officers sharing cigars, usually La Unica 100s or Cuba Aliados robustos, with an occasional La Gloria Cubana (whenever we could find them). Those times allowed me to talk about the incident, which tremendously lessened the stress I felt. More often than not our impromptu "therapy" sessions were ended by an urgent call for service, usually a shooting or stabbing.
Another stress reliever was being able to attend several cigar dinners sponsored by one of the local tobacco shops. To be able to spend an evening in the company of others enjoying a fine dinner, fine wines and more than satisfactory cigars, conversing about simple pleasures, was "just what the doctor ordered." In fact, one of the jurors in my trial was dismissed by the other side because he had met me at one of the dinners.
Another benefit from those nights was the start of a great friendship with the proprietor of the sponsoring shop, a fellow former Marine named Odell "Smitty" Smith. Many a time I would go into his shop to purchase my weekly supply of cigars, only to spend an enjoyable hour just talking. His understanding, compassion and support was, and is, a priceless commodity.
It did not take the jury long to deliberate and conclude that I had no other option that spring night in protecting a fallen officer. Immediately after the verdict, I called my wife with the good news. The second thing I did was to go to a fast food drive through, buy lunch and go to Smitty's store. I gave Smitty the news, ate my lunch and then purchased a Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur No. 1. That was the best smoke I'd had in two years! There isn't a better celebration than a cigar smoked in the company of a good soul.
Darryl George Wood
Oceanside, California

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Dear Marvin,
I am a 24-year-old gay man who lives in New York City. I began smoking cigars when a professor of mine at New York University handed them out to celebrate the birth of his baby boy. I was 19 at the time, and my five-year cigar smoking journey has been one of the most exciting and rewarding adventures of my life.
Sadly, I have come across many people who make sweeping judgments about me both because I am gay and because I smoke cigars. It is ironic, Marvin, how similar these judgments are! In fact, many of your heterosexual readers have a very good idea how it feels to be gay in America because of the fact that they smoke cigars and receive the same type of persecution.
I have sat on a park bench smoking a fine cigar when someone who is walking by has turned to me and given me an angry sneer. How fragile these individuals must be if their afternoons are so quickly ruined by smelling cigar smoke for a split second as they pass me on a park bench! I still remember the day when a very large woman lectured me about how my health would suffer if I continued to smoke. I don't know about her, but I work out at the gym three times a week, swim three times a week, roller blade every day and eat a low-fat diet.
The hope for tolerance that all cigar smokers have is very similar to the hope that my gay brothers and sisters have. All we want is for people to realize that our private behavior neither affects nor concerns them in any way, shape or form, and that the United States of America was founded on the idea that every citizen may engage in his or her own personal pursuit of happiness unencumbered by others who may disagree with their ways.
The cigar and gay rights movements have a lot in common. In unison, we should all get together and tell the government to stay out of our smoking rooms and out of our bedrooms. It really is true that when we fight for the rights of one group, we are in turn fighting for the rights of all.
Christopher Lamparello
New York, New York

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Dear Marvin,
For quite some time now I have been enjoying the company of a good smoke after a long and stressful day at work. I enjoy smoking cigars as much as I do purchasing them, touching them, and smelling them. As a single male under the age of 30, I try to socialize as much as possible. My career and my future are very important to me. I also realize how unacceptable smoking is in today's world. I seem to be in a generation that is split down the center, creating two factions: the smoke haters and the smoke lovers.
In the past six weeks a friend of mine has decided to try the time-honored ritual of cigar smoking. She was very impressed with the taste and now looks forward to a cigar as much as I do. Lately my friend and I have been going to a secluded local restaurant/bar to sample different drinks and cigars during the week. I have always, and will always, smoke cigars where others are not bothered by the aroma. If I know that someone around me is bothered by my smoke, I don't enjoy my cigar as much as I should. I have always been a considerate cigar smoker.
This same friend of mine had a birthday last week, and I received an invitation for a formal dress party in her honor. As my gift to her I purchased several cigars that I felt she would enjoy. As she opened the gift around a crowd of people, she thanked me and appreciated the time I spent in selecting the cigars. Her sister immediately stood up and began to ridicule me in front of everybody for forcing a bad habit on someone else. As I glanced around the room, all private discussions had stopped and attentions were in my direction. As the uncontrolled sister spoke on, her voice became more intense. She was actually telling everyone in the room that I had forced someone to smoke cigars and my gift was proof.
As I drove home that evening I began to wonder about forcing beliefs on others. It was obvious that she felt it was my fault that her sister started smoking cigars. I was the "bad guy," because she knows that her sister can make her own decisions in life regardless of other opinions. There is one simple point to be made about this situation. She feels that I am forcing a belief on someone else, yet that is exactly what she was doing to me.
Sean P. Klunder
Lake Forest, Illinois

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Dear Marvin,
I am a 20-year-old college student and cigars are my life. Or, should I say, my livelihood.
Since the age of 14, I have been working for my uncle's tobacco distribution company, where he deals primarily with premium cigars and fine pipe tobaccos. I am, more or less, his right-hand man.
Given my surroundings, becoming a cigar smoker was inevitable and proved to be enjoyable. I have had the privilege of working with classy, interesting people who have supported my enthusiasm by giving me fantastic cigars to try. Needless to say, this is a great job for a young cigar smoker to have.
Being a middleman company, I don't get to see our cigar smoking public, though I know it is there, and multiplying; I'd have to be blind not to see the increase in demand over the past few years (due largely in part to Cigar Aficionado), as we get a shipment of cigars in and sell out within hours.
Last month, I had the opportunity to attend several cigar affairs held at fine retail establishments, and finally met some of the people who make this smoking chain all possible. Contrary to the demonization of cigar smokers through the media, I found those who attended to be articulate, successful folks who liked to enjoy good company and some of the finer things in a comfortable atmosphere. I have never really connected with my peers and could never understand the fun in excessive drinking and partying. I prefer the relaxed, refined style of cigar smokers. It is a good time without having to work yourself into a frenzy in order to have fun. And not one person imposed his good time on everyone else.
The people I have met through the cigar industry have only given me a greater sense of pride in what we do.
Roger Matthew Kunkle
Brisbane, California

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Dear Marvin,
Recently, I was invited to a wedding in Pasadena, California. Knowing how strict (ridiculous) smoking laws are in California, I was quite pleased to see that the reception was being held at Bistro 45; Bistro 45 is listed in your Guide to Cigar Friendly Restaurants as allowing cigars on the patio.
Shortly after my arrival, I smelled the aroma of a fine cigar and followed my nose to the patio where I found pastry chef David Berg enjoying a good cigar. After a brief discussion with him concerning the smoking laws of California, the pleasure of a great cigar, etc., we agreed to meet after the dinner to enjoy fine Macanudos together.
After a lovely reception and a wonderful dessert (thank you, David), I adjourned to the patio for my after-dinner smoke with chef Berg. We had barely begun to enjoy our cigars when the manager approached me and advised me that cigar smoking was not permitted. I reminded him that he was listed in the Cigar Aficionado guide as a cigar friendly establishment. The manager affirmed that they do permit cigars on the patio when the restaurant is "open," however, since the restaurant was "closed" for a private function (for which I was an attendee and had been given permission to smoke by the host), he would not permit cigars. Once again, the logic of Californians is beyond belief!
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