Out of the Humidor

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Dear Marvin,
Years ago, the Army used to have a monthly event called Dining In. All the officers of a command, usually a battalion, would assemble in their blue uniforms for a formal dinner and cigars afterward. All topics of conversation relating to duty were forbidden. It was an opportunity for the commanding officer to observe his subordinates in a social setting and note their social skills. After years of attending these monthly events, it was an old colonel who confided to me that the cigars were not for smoking but for judgments.
The colonel explained that the way a man smoked or did not smoke his cigar spoke volumes about his personality. If he declined the cigar, it showed he was afraid to speak up. If he made a big fuss over it, he was deemed to be an ass kisser. If he let the ashes spill all over the place, unmindful and careless. If he chewed it, he was giving notice he wanted to be seen as tough. If he sat and enjoyed it without comment, he was content to sit back when things were going well; if he gestured with it, theatrical. If he let it go out, it showed he couldn't sustain. Holding it unlighted showed he wanted to be part of the group but not in all aspects. Blowing smoke rings occasionally meant he had a sense of humor. All of this observed behavior was melded to what was already observed, and it could determine whether the officer would be mentored for greater responsibility.
Was it of value? In any old-boy network, there are rules. You can make it to lieutenant colonel on your own merit and excellent work. But to make it to full bull and beyond, you need friends. Friends who invariably smoke cigars.
Col. R. Sherman (retired)
Baltimore, Maryland

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Dear Marvin,
I used to be one of the rabid antismoking Nazis. I thought it was OK to trample on the rights of others to keep me in a smoke-free life. But I know now that tolerance is the way to true happiness for everyone. The technology exists to remove smoke from closed areas such as restaurants, and I love working in a smoke-free building, but I don't think that I have the right to tell anyone else they can't smoke. I do have the right to ask them to move their cigarette so that the smoke doesn't come in my face. And, yes, I really do have allergies and problems breathing.
My husband is a cigar smoker. One of my women friends made nasty comments about "how could I stand to let him smoke." I told her: "He doesn't gamble, chase women, drink to excess. He is a fabulous husband, a wonderful father, has a great sense of humor, helps around the house and buys me jewelry." He does smoke outside (we are enclosing a porch for him) and in his car. I know Raul Julia's wife allowed him to smoke in bed, but I can't go that far. I did present him with a box of Punch cigars for the holiday season, which has pleased him tremendously. I have told him that he can teach our daughter to smoke cigars, so she will never smoke anything else.
I see how much pleasure my husband receives from smoking cigars. Life is hard and we need all the pleasure that is harmless. Thank you for reminding me that tolerance is the foundation of the American way of life.
Adele G. Pauley
Decatur, Georgia

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Dear Marvin,
I have a receipt for five Cohiba Coronas Especiales that were confiscated by United States Customs in Cincinnati.
They were being brought back from Grand Cayman by a friend and business associate of mine. While he does not smoke, he does appreciate my affinity for a good cigar and had promised to bring the best he could find back for me, if at all possible.
He purchased the Cohibas on day one of his trip, put the sealed package in a zipped pocket inside of his suitcase and forgot about them. Forgot about them until a golden retriever, presumably trained and engaged by U.S. Customs, sniffed and nudged his suitcase as he reentered the country a week later.
My friend was ordered to pick up his suitcase and was taken down a hallway into an inspection room. Once there, three armed customs agents proceeded to spread him against the wall, frisk him quite thoroughly, empty his wallet and search his suitcase.
"Am I being arrested?" my friend asked.
"You're being searched first!" came the reply.
The agents seemed, according to my friend, frustrated that they could find no contraband upon his person or in his belongings. It wasn't until one of the agents was rearranging the contents of the suitcase that the distinctive Cohiba package was noticed.
My friend related the conversation that followed:
"Hey, those are Cuban ci-gars!" one agent said.
"Are they?" asked the searcher. "Are you sure?"
"Sure, look, it says Havana right on the package."
"Uh oh, buddy," the agent continued, addressing my friend. "You're in trouble. Those things are illegal to bring into the country."
My friend did not plead ignorance. But I think it is safe to say that he was unaware of the extent of the treatment afforded tourists impertinent, bold and lawless enough to smuggle this variety of contraband into the good old United States of America.
The agents recorded his name into their computer, asked him who he was, what he did and how often he brought Cuban cigars into the country. He told me he did not mention that he was bringing them in for me, figuring that wouldn't help his situation and could only cause problems for me. In total, he was harassed for more than 30 minutes.
Then they confiscated the cigars and sent him on his way.
My friend related all this to me just two days ago. I appreciate the way he handled the situation--although I must admit that I might have suspected a fast one, if my friend were a smoker. All told, though, his story rings true. I just wonder how much extra it cost the government to train the dog not only to sniff out narcotics, but fine Cuban smokes as well. And I thought they usually used bloodhounds or German shepherds.
I did, of course, pay my friend for the cigars. So I guess the story in a nutshell is that my friend visited Grand Cayman, and all I got was this lousy receipt.
S. P.
Address withheld
upon request

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Dear Marvin,
I am not a woman who believes in destroying or infiltrating the last bastion of male bonding. I think it's fine if men wish to have their own private clubs and schools. But please, sirs, don't deny me the luxury of a glorious Davidoff after a fine Morton's dinner. It may be true that sometimes (as Jim Belushi noted in your magazine) a cigar represents a tradition among gentlemen, thus symbolically belonging to the masculine realm; but I'll ask you to remember Freud's statement that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And I do love a good cigar.
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