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.
Over all, Cigar Aficionado is and has been a superior magazine. While I wouldn't know how to rate Cigar Aficionado by number, I do know it would be keyed to the word "Classic" on the Cigar Aficionado 100 point scale. Keep up the fantastic work!
Ian A. Paul
This past Christmas I was so moved and excited at what happened that I had to write this letter. I come from a loving family who happen to despise smoking, be it a cigar or anything of the sort. I, on the other hand, have become very fond of the "art" of cigar smoking. However, of all the members of my family who dislike the act, my grandmother had a very interesting attitude toward my newfound passion.
At first, she frowned at my smoking and judged this as just a nasty habit. She even went as far as clipping out a newspaper article that simply did not paint a rosy picture about cigar lovers, and mailed it to my office. However, the more she noticed my love for a good cigar, the more she began to inquire about them. She had an interest in the variety of sizes, the unique shades, but most of all, she noticed the bands that would come off the cigar when I would light up, and wondered how I would dispose of them. This past Christmas morning, I finally found out why she was so curious about the cigar bands on my beloved cigars. The final gift under the tree was a rectangular box that I hadn't noticed until my grandmother placed it on my lap. She said, "This is a special gift, a family heirloom if you will. Go ahead, open it." So I did.
What was inside might not mean very much to some people, but to me it was a treasure. I opened the box to find a notebook, a very old, dusty, faded notebook. As I looked closer, engraved on the outer front cover was the name of my grandfather, whom I happened to be very close with before he passed away four years ago in March. When I opened the notebook, I was overwhelmed to see my grandfather's 74-year-old cigar band collection that he compiled as a young boy. This notebook contains thousands of cigar bands, all in order by brand, all labeled in his boyhood handwriting. My grandmother was so full of emotion as she began to explain how my grandfather would rummage below grandstands as a child, looking for the cigar bands that would be left behind following an election or a celebration, to add to his favorite pastime.
I thanked my grandmother with all my heart for this wonderful gift. She may or may not understand how much it meant to me, since the feeling that came over me was indescribable, although, once again I felt close to my grandfather.
Walnut Creek, California
I was looking forward to enjoying some fine cigars on a recent trip to Chicago. Considering the city's past history, I assumed it to be a cigar friendly town. In fact, I was very pleased with the well-stocked humidors at several outstanding cigar shops and their knowledgeable and friendly staff who supplied me with a wonderful array of Dominicans and Hondurans. With my travel humidor in hand, I set out to enjoy a nice long smoke at a local hotel.
I called the Four Seasons Hotel and was told that my cigars and I would be welcomed.
My actual experience could not have been further from the truth. The hotel set aside a small room with a bar for the "smokers." Unfortunately, this evening the room was closed for a "private party." I was relocated to the main lounge and was told by the maître d' that, 'yes,' it was OK to enjoy my Montecristo Churchill and a single malt Scotch. No sooner did I remove the cigar from my burlwood travel case than a waiter rushed to tell me that my cigar could not be smoked in the hotel lounge. An inquiry to the maître d' revealed that a couple sitting on the other side of the lounge had complained (I hadn't even lit the cigar!) and the hotel's "policy" was that if any patrons object, you cannot smoke a cigar. It was offered that I sit in the lobby until some others had finished tea and it would be OK to smoke there. Not wanting to light up my favorite cigar only to have to put it out, I left feeling bewildered, betrayed and misled.
Imagine my anticipation, shortly after this experience, in looking forward to a skiing trip to Park City, Utah, with my trusty travel humidor in my ski bag. With the thought of nothing better than a great smoke in the great outdoors, I was dismayed to find that Utah's Clean Air Act "prohibits smoking in any public building or place." The only place you can smoke a cigar, it seems, is if the cigarette smokers allow you in a private club!
But I found what it takes to enjoy the warmth and comfort of a lit cigar in hand (or glove)--peace and quiet on skis at 10,000 feet atop the summit!
Robert M. Kershner, M.D.
Editor's note: In the March/April 1997 issue of Cigar Aficionado, Rich Andresen of Dallas wrote to complain of the treatment of cigar smokers at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado. Here is The Broadmoor president Stephen Bartolin Jr.'s reply.
To: Rich Andresen
I really appreciate your taking the time from what I know is a very busy schedule to share your thoughts and comments concerning your recent stay. I am glad that, overall, you had a pleasant time and enjoyed The Broadmoor and I am grateful for your candid comments concerning our cigar smoking policy.
Honestly, when I read your letter, I was embarrassed. I couldn't agree more with you. I think it is very outdated. In fact, we are designing a room right now, just the way you suggested, as a special bar lounge dining area for cigar lovers, specializing in fine after-dinner drinks.
We will get this straight-ened out, Mr. Andresen. I appreciate your, bringing it to my attention.
Stephen Bartolin, Jr.
President, The Broadmoor
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Recently, I came down with a head cold that progressively worsened. Tired and run down, I refrained from my favorite pastime, you guessed it, cigars. I thought, why ruin a perfectly good cigar when feeling so bad. Being reduced to napping, sneezing, resting and medicating, I felt I couldn't possibly enjoy it. On the second evening of my ordeal, I said to myself, why not have one. If it makes me feel worse, I'll just put it down.
To my amazement, immediately after lighting, I started feeling better. Not only did my nose clear up, my body aches went away. Now I don't claim to have been cured, but I started feeling better instantly. After smoking my cigar, the symptoms never quite returned to their previous severity. I bounced back immediately, getting off the couch and helping my wife with the dinner dishes and even the laundry. Could I have stumbled onto a cure for the common cold? Maybe not, but I'm convinced that it may be the next best thing to it.
It wouldn't be fair to reveal the name of this "miracle" stogie for fear others won't have the same results or may refrain from using accepted medical practices. If this information were to leak out, I fear I'd never be able to get them again from my favorite tobacconist. Some drug company might even try to slap a patent on it, too! Oh, I can see it all now--the doctor says, "Take two cigars and call me in the morning."
With all this in mind, you can bet that the next time, I'm not going to wait so long to start feeling better.
David A. McLaughlin
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