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Out of the Humidor

CA Readers
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 1)

Lawrence A. O'Brien
Del Rio, Texas

* * *

Dear Marvin,

While cigars are gaining notoriety as trendy accessories to both the well-heeled and the individualistic, they are also, unfortunately, being used symbolically by those who do not necessarily appreciate their finer uses.

The best use for a cigar is to transport the smoker to a state of relaxation. Some, however, think they are best used to accentuate a marketing message based on the cachet associated with finer cigars.

I am the managing editor of a chain of weekly newspapers in western New York and as part of my job I recently took a trip to a suburb of Philadelphia to view a potential new pagination system from a vendor. The logo of the firm--Managing Editor Software--is of a man, apparently a managing editor, dressed in suspenders andbow tie, smoking a cigar. Ironically, as I type this I am clad in suspenders and bow tie, and I have clenched in my teeth an unlit Arturo Fuente (smoke-free news-room, an abomination).

At the software provider's offices, the cigar-smoking logo is set on the wall about five feet high. To break the ice with the potential software supplier, I quipped that I was glad to see a cigar in the picture and suggested that I might want to light up.

Not possible, I was informed, as the firm's office building was smoke-free. I was miffed that they would choose to ride on the coattails of the growing popularity of cigar smoking while not allowing it in their firm's offices.

And while my newspaper may operate out of smoke-free offices, at least we don't festoon our walls with images of smokers. A firm's logo should represent its mission, and in this case Managing Editor Software missed the mark.

Ray Ammerman
Buffalo, New York

* * *

Dear Marvin,

It is good to know that there is now a printed outlet for smokers, who are fast becoming social outcasts, suffering indignities and insults from self-righteous health fascists and other holier-than-thou types.

But let us not give in to these prohibitionistic patronizers and their killjoy mentalities. Let us not be misled into thinking that this is a health issue; it is not. It is about morality legislation, priggishness and puritanism. Tobacco is not the first substance or activity threatened by these prune-faced, purse-lipped destroyers of enjoyment and it will not be the last.

To those of us who are devotees of that other noble weed, persecution and unsubstantiated propaganda posing as scientific fact are not new--nor are they surprising. Three packs of Camels a day or an Arturo Fuente Hemingway a week: it makes no difference to these antismoking zealots. It's drug abuse that must be stopped, freedom and the Constitution be damned. To those of you who are experiencing these witch hunts for the first time, wake up and smell the stink. The prohibitionists have succeeded with marijuana, now they are working on tobacco and alcoholic beverages. What will be next? Coffee, meat, eggs; who can tell? The only thing certain is that these people will not stop with tobacco.

Please don't laugh. Is there anyone who, 20 years ago, could have foreseen the outrageous exaggerations and prohibitive legislation now visited upon tobacco products? Instead, remember these words 20 years from now when you're sipping herbal tea while waiting for the next coffee or cigar contraband shipment to arrive at your neighborhood drug dealer's house.

Because this will be the inevitable result if smokers do not speak up now--and loudly. Write your congressional representatives or senators, the president and your city council. And if your local paper is as biased as mine is, write the publisher or editor and cancel your subscription. But write, speak out--scream if you have to. I know it sounds radical and alarmist, but it's late. If we don't let our dismay and disgust be known, soon we'll all be buying our cigars after midnight in shady houses on skid row.

Yes, tobacco, like pot alcohol, coffee and even chocolate, can be abused. But we must not give in to the notion that all use is abuse and harmful to our health.

Johan Ericsson
Los Gatos, California

* * *

Dear Marvin,

After reading your publication for nearly two years, I feel as if I finally have a worthy cigar experience to share with you and my fellow readers.

I moved to Paris two years ago with my family and came back a few months ago after a year at college in the United States. After planning to study in Britain, I needed to find a job. I applied to a number of establishments. I thought a young American who could speak French would seem like a good investment to a restaurant or boutique. I was not prepared to be offered a job at the Ritz Hotel.

I accepted and soon found myself as a waiter in the Bar Vendôme, next to the Place Vendôme entrance. Working behind the scenes is a much different experience than living it. I saw so many businessmen and movers and shakers living it up in the Ritz. They all lived well and to the fullest. Our humidor rested next to the bar and was in constant demand.

Every day one of my co-workers would return from La Civette Tabac next to the Comedie Francaise with a cedar box of Cuban treasures. I remember tending bar with an employee one morning when we were confronted by a man on holiday, who strolled in asking: "You have a Cohiba for me, yes?" at 10:45 a.m.

We sold Cohiba, El Rey del Mundo, Rafael Gonzalez, Partagas, Montecristo, Dominican Davidoffs and tubed Romeo y Julieta Churchills. Prices were slightly higher than retail, but our clients didn't mind at all. I saw so many lunches end with men and women relaxing with an espresso and a Cuban. I emptied ashtrays with half-finished Cohibas and Montecristos too many times to count.

I saw many celebrities including Sylvester Stallone. He was a guest during the Versace fashion show in mid-July. He sat in our garden, surrounded by his entourage, puffing away on Cuban leaf. I saw so many people enjoying the good life. The warm scent of cured tobacco always wafted in the warm summer air at the Bar Vendôme, and I loved every minute of it.

I had to end my tenure at the Ritz, unfortunately. While I was there though, I had the time of my life being a working part of what some people can only dream of.

Todd Hagley
Paris, France

* * *

Dear Marvin,

I'd like to respond to the letter by Jonathan Schnipper (Autumn 1994) about being asked to leave Elaine's after a run-in with a rude, nonsmoking Frenchman.

First, I am appalled that Schnipper encountered a "rude" Frenchman at our bar or anywhere else for that matter. And I must say, his choice of projectile (18-year-old McCallan, I believe) showed flair and class. Still, although Elaine's code of behavior is, well, elastic to say the least, tossing a Scotch in someone's face is one of the few reasons we have for ejection. Had Schnipper not thrown the Scotch, the Frenchman would have been advised that Schnipper had the right to smoke his cigar at the bar as he pleased.

Elaine's is, as Schnipper mentioned, a cigar-friendly restaurant. We not only tolerate but encourage our customers to enjoy themselves to the fullest extent of the law. At the risk of sounding clichéd, some of our best customers are cigar smokers: Ben Gazzara, Gay Talese and Sid Zion--to name a few. Still, to date, Schnipper is the only cigar-smoking customer who has chosen to "defend" his right to smoke by dousing his adversary in old Scotch.

On the bright side, I imagine it might have been worse. He could have tossed a match after the Scotch.


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