Out of the Humidor
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93
(continued from page 3)
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Several years ago when my oldest boy had just passed his test for a black belt in tai kwon do karate, we found ourselves on the beach at Zuma, north of Malibu. This was apparently the custom with the master of the studio. The day after a big test, he would invite everyone to picnic in the beach to celebrate and join in the camaraderie. That day my family and I were joined by approximately 15 black belts, the master and their respective families and boyfriends and girlfriends. I sat in a beach chair and lit up a beautiful Churchill cigar from La Gloria Cubana. Everyone was in a wonderful mood. We must have appeared as a very loose group, if a group at all, since we were spread out and of a great variety of races and types, predominately Korean.
My heritage is Italian-American and my wife is English and Italian. Our children look very American. Not long before I had created a small corona of ash, a loud voice about 600 yards behind us shouted, "Hey you, put out that cigar; it stinks." I could not believe my ears. I turned to see four men in their 20s. I am in my 40s. The fellow who had addressed me acknowledged my look with, "Yeah, you, I'm talking to you, with the cigar." I smiled, turned my head back to the beach front and our friends and family and ignored them. No one could be serious about asking me to put out a cigar on the beach in the open air, or so I thought. But the voice came back to haunt me. "Hey asshole. You deaf. I said put out the cigar; it stinks." I turned again to see this macho youth standing and pointing at me. "Yeah, I'm talking to you, fatso." I rose out of my chair. He had aroused the boy from Brooklyn in me, the boy who was tristate champion in wrestling in South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. The boy, who, as a youth loaded steel for his father in a junkyard. The extra poundage I now carry often gives me the appearance of being overweight and, in fact I am, but I am not out of shape or speed or strength. My wife gave me a worried look. "What are you going to do?" she asked. "Don't start anything, hon, there are four of them, you know." I replied, "I've got eyes. Don't worry, I won't start anything, but I may have to finish it."
Now, I am not a man of violence. I believe in the Chinese philosophy, "when a man has run out of words, he has run out of options." The four lads approached. I stood my ground and puffed away. "Hey, you're killing us with that smell. Are you going to put that out or are we going to have to put it out for you?" "Have a nice funeral," I said. I stepped off the blanket as the four lads approached; they surrounded me in a semicircle and I got nose to nose with the voice of the group. "Well," he demanded. "Are you going to put that out or are we going to put it out or what?" I leaned in and spoke to him in a very calm and quiet voice. "Listen," I said, "if you should be so unfortunate as to start something with me and even more unfortunate to get a lucky punch in before I get all four of you jerks, I want you to take a good look at all the people around me. They are all black belts and my personal friends. They would not take it very kindly if you were to strike me." As he swallowed hard and his buddies' eyes opened wide in worry at the reality, I continued: "Now if I were you, I would take this hand (offering him my hand) and shake it, smile and apologize, and go crawl back into the hole you came out of." He smiled, took my hand and in a funny strained laugh, said, "We were only kidding." The master at this point turned to me and asked whether there was a problem. I looked at these four youths, now very changed in attitude, and I smiled at the master, "No, there's no problem at all."
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As I stood in line at U.S. Customs behind my brother-in-law on the return leg of a recent trip to Belgium, each of us with a fine box of Cuban cigars hidden beneath several boxes of chocolates, my brother-in-law turned to me and whispered, "If they ask me if I have any tobacco, I'm going to tell them about the cigars." "Fine," I quietly replied, "just let me go through first!"
Fort Lee, New Jersey
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