I came to the "interview" well armed, I thought.
But neither my Harvard degree, nor my ability to recite Larry Bird's latest stats, not even the pecan pie I made from scratch because I heard it was a favorite--none of this made much of an impression. No, on a first introduction to a future father-in-law, such things don't matter if you are the reason an only son just announced he is moving 6,000 miles away. Yet 15 years later, I am one of the family, almost as at home in my in-laws' Los Angeles house as I am in my own. In the end, it wasn't my Ivy League diploma, love of the Celtics or culinary talent that won over Joel Klane. Another credential persuaded him that perhaps I wasn't all bad: the one in my well-stocked humidor.
Of course, Mr. Klane didn't realize at that first meeting that I was a cigar smoker, secretly loving nothing better on a Sunday morning than café au lait, The New York Times and a smooth Churchill. I didn't often share this fact--those were the days before a woman could readily admit that she didn't inhale and didn't apologize. And Mr. Klane was pretty sure that, besides a love for his son, Larry, we had little in common.
We were different, no doubt about that.
He came from an orthodox Jewish family who had called a bustling neighborhood in Boston home. A leather goods salesman with a broad laugh and ready handshake, he built a million-dollar business from nothing and traveled dozens of times a year to exotic locales in Asia and Europe. I was a red-haired, freckle-faced "shiksa," grown up in a tiny farm town in the "salad bowl" of California, who liked books better than parties and had never flown on an airplane before heading east for college.
As we sat down for that introductory dinner in a ritzy New York City restaurant, the crust of disapproval was heavy.
"Why England?" he asked, not waiting for idle chitchat. I tried to explain that you didn't turn down a Rhodes scholarship, but he interrupted. "And what's wrong with our last name? I hear you want to keep your own." I picked at the salmon mousse, watching this important beginning quickly go from bad to worse.
It wasn't until the chocolate soufflé had been served and cleared away that I discovered a chink in his armor. Not until the moment he pulled a slender corona from his suit pocket, not until I recognized the unmistakable rich scent of an unlit Partagas did I realize there was hope.
He patted his pocket, then his wallet. "Damn," he muttered. "I left it in the hotel room."
I saw my opening. Although I had been known to chomp off the end of a cigar when a Cuban called and a cutter could not be found, I understood instinctively that wouldn't be his style.
Excusing myself to go to the ladies' room, I rushed instead outside into the brisk night air, scanning the crowded Manhattan street. First stop, a small newsstand. A magazine in every language, but not what I was looking for. Around the corner to a tiny shop in a classy hotel. No luck. Who says you can buy anything at any hour in New York City? One last try: an all-night drugstore. There, in between the LifeSavers and Lotrimin, I finally found what I needed.
At $1.59, it is one of the best investments I've ever made.
Breathless, I sat back down at the table, clutching the plain paper bag. Mr. Klane raised his eyebrows at my flushed appearance--even Larry and his mother exchanged a quizzical look. "May I?" I asked, reaching for the discarded cigar resting by his coffee cup. With a delicate motion, I clipped the end, then pulled a Macanudo robusto from my purse and asked, "You don't mind?"
More than a decade later, my sister-in-law took a photo of us. We are wrapped in the sweet, dark haze of two smooth Cohibas. He brought them as a gift from a recent trip to Hong Kong. We still argue about politics and religion--and he still worries that I may steal his son, this time, even farther away than England. But we do agree that little in life is better than a good draw on a fine cigar.
I have made many friends through my love of cigars. But that smoldering Macanudo on that first meeting fired the friendship I cherish most. A Macanudo once it was properly clipped, that is. He kept the cutter as a memento of our early days, and sometimes we still use it, sitting outside after dinner, sharing an Upmann, perhaps, and a glass of Talisker, glowing embers taunting the fireflies.
Of course, I still haven't convinced him that we should hyphenate his first grandson's last name. But I've got a few months--and a spectacular Davidoff--to assist in persuading him.
Brenda L. Buttner is a reporter with CNBC and a columnist for thestreet.com.