Out of the Humidor

| By The Editors | From John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

Dear Marvin,

Mary is blonde, beautiful, and the most vivacious woman I've ever known. She's also my fiancée. Like me, she's not a cigarette smoker, so I didn't know how she'd take it when I finally admitted I like to enjoy an occasional premium cigar.

Surprisingly, she took it very well. After just a week or two of hearing me rave about Cigar Aficionado and the many delights of cigars, she said she wanted to try one with me!

We decided a Friday night would be the best time to share the experience, so we began planning early in the week. To my delight, Mary got more excited as the days passed. She asked numerous questions about cigars, leafed through back issues of Cigar Aficionado (noting the photos of women cigar smokers in the Moments to Remember section), sent me e-mails regarding our big night, and even went with me to help select the cigars we'd share. (We decided on a tin of Montecruz Chicos, a Fuente Fuente OpusX and a Partagas No. 1.)

Friday finally arrived. An almost electric feeling of anticipation filled the air as we sat on the floor in my living room sipping drinks and listening to Haydn's Paris Symphonies Nos. 82-87. After a while, I lit one of the little cigars (because Mary wanted to start small) and handed it to her. She took it without hesitation, puffed on it and offered her comments on its taste. We shared it until we let it go out. Within minutes, she asked, "So, which one is next?"

The OpusX was next. Mary noticed a difference in its taste (compared to the Chicos) and said she liked it better. I agreed, but thought it was a little too tightly rolled. Its draw was more difficult than it should have been.

As good as the OpusX was, however, the big hit of the evening was the Partagas No. 1, which Mary helped cut and light (she was really getting into it by that time). With the very first puff, Mary declared the Partagas best of all. We spent the next 20 to 30 minutes sharing the No. 1, talking about cigars, sipping our drinks and watching a Queen concert video.

What a magical night! The sight of this gorgeous blonde woman sharing a cigar with me is an experience I'll never forget. We're already planning our next cigar night. . .with a Partagas or two on hand, of course.

William R. Murphy
Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

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Dear Marvin,

Thank you for your delightful July/August 1998 issue featuring Chuck Norris on your cover. I have never been a smoker, never been a martial artist, never been in law enforcement, nor have I ever envisioned myself in any of those capacities. I am, however, a somewhat sensitive, mature female who was irresistibly drawn to your magazine cover featuring the star of "Walker, Texas Ranger" when I was in Waldenbooks today. That cover now sits framed to my right, while "Walker" looks thoughtfully out at me, holding his cigar. In addition to all his other achievements brought out in your article, he appears to be a master of restrained sexuality.

Widowed two years ago, I find the attitude personified in "Walker" by Norris to be very similar to that of my late husband. I tell my children that I enjoy watching "Walker" because he reminds me of their father. Herb Jones was not in law enforcement but he did have a strong sense of right and wrong. When "Walker" needs to set the bad guys straight, it's because he feels so strongly about righting what he sees as being wrong. How so like Herb Jones.

When our four children were small, one look from Herb could hold them in check. I could look all day, and they would hardly notice. Now, I enjoy watching Norris keep the really bad guys in check every evening of the week on USA and on Saturday evening on CBS. In many ways he takes me back to my earlier married years, to a similarly strong, yet gentle, man.

Whether portraying the character Walker or someone else, Chuck Norris always seems to come across in his films as a man who feels strongly about seeing right triumph. Your writer, Alysse Minkoff, described him as being very much like the same type of multi-faceted man he portrays in his films. The accompanying photos you included by Stephen Wayda are incredible, also. Thanks.

Your restrained, sympathetic approach to your Chuck Norris article does you credit. Some current writers and magazines might be tempted to create a phony audience by treating a similar endeavor sensationally. They might even feature him on the front cover of their magazine but hardly mention him on the inside. How refreshing to see a magazine that can succeed by taking the almost-unheard-of journalistic high road. By telling of his early beginnings and how he and his family had to work hard for their achievements, you give your readers much insight. We learn that he is a complex person who has taken his love and enthusiasm for, and success in, martial arts and filmmaking and used them for the benefit of others.

Many thanks to Chuck Norris for being a great role model for our youngsters (and for those of us who are no longer youngsters). Children who have goals in life, as Norris seems to be encouraging them to have, are much more likely to be successful and happy in their lives. People who do that for children are fantastic in my book. As you can see, he didn't have to "beat my opinion out of me." Much success to you all.

Patricia C. Jones
Columbus, Georgia

Editor's Note: The following letter describes a situation of which all cigars smokers should be made aware.

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Dear Marvin,

I hope that this letter finds you well. I am writing to you not as a member of the cigar industry, but as a private citizen who is very concerned about his individual freedom of choice.

For the last 10 months, I have been in negotiations with Nashville's new National Hockey League franchise, the Nashville Predators. The Predators organization had planned on placing a beautiful cigar lounge in the Nashville Arena as an amenity for its luxury suite and club-level suite season ticket holders. C.A.O. was to be the title sponsor for this project in the same manner as Holt's in the Core States Arena [in Philadelphia] and J.C. Newman in [Tampa's] Tropicana Fields. I became extremely impassioned with this project and was eager to bring a top-caliber cigar lounge to the Predators organization, and to the Nashville community as well.

My dreams were crushed, however, when on August 18, the Nashville Metro City Council rejected the bill that would allow this designated smoking area in the arena. On August 3, the council passed this bill on the second reading by a vote of 21 to 13. On the third and final reading, however, the bill was rejected by a vote of 20 to 17 in favor (we needed 21 votes for a majority to win). I had the displeasure of watching this vote on public television. The antismoking zealots were not only uninformed regarding cigar smoking but chose to remain uninformed as well. At one point during the vote, it was proposed that an individual who was present would be able to further explain the state-of-the-art ventilation system that would be placed in the cigar lounge. The council chose not to hear this testimony.

Councilman David Kleinfelter argued that cigar smoking was the wrong message to send to our youth. He stated that when Michael Jordan was seen smoking a victory cigar after the Bulls's recent championship win, "one of the cigar companies undoubtedly gave this cigar to Mr. Jordan in hopes of gaining free advertisement." Why do people refuse to accept the fact that perhaps Mr. Jordan enjoys the occasional cigar and that this was not an attempt by a cigar company for free advertising? Some months ago, Councilman Kleinfelter was quoted in The Tennessean as stating that "designating a cigar-smoking area in the Nashville Arena gives the wrong message; to have a room set aside where people can sit around and kill themselves is irresponsible on our part." While I understand that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, I believe that this statement was uncalled for, unrealistic and completely irresponsible.

Marvin, my disappointment in the smoking bill's being rejected is surpassed only by my fear that a small group of misinformed individuals is making decisions for my family and me as to what is good for our own well-being. Will coffee soon be prohibited because it contains caffeine, a known addictive substance? Does this send the wrong message to our youth? Where is our freedom of choice going? Prohibition failed years ago; however, I see a certain faction of our society that is determined to dictate what we can and cannot do.

I would strongly urge anyone who is concerned about freedom of choice and individual rights to stand up and be heard. We need to fight for our rights as hard as the antismoking faction is fighting to remove our right to make decisions for ourselves. I thank you for your consideration and continued support of the cigar-smoking public.

Jon A. Huber

Director of Promotions and Public Relations

C.A.O. International Inc.
Nashville, Tennessee

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Dear Marvin,

I was spending a week with several friends in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the week was coming to a close. On this particular day everyone had decided to go snowmobiling, discouraged from skiing because of harsh weather conditions earlier that week. I decided to stay behind, and was rewarded by some great powder skiing through the Jackson Hole trees and slopes as a result of a surprise inch-an-hour snowfall.

When I got back to the cabin after a fantastic day on the slopes, I made the wonderful discovery that I had brought a cigar along for the trip (an Ashton). I was overjoyed because I had been unable to find any hand-rolled cigars in the little ski town and had forgotten that I had brought one from home.

After an hour in the sauna and a long shower, I pulled on my robe and got out the Ashton. The setting to enjoy my smoke could not have been better; the cabin was beautifully decorated. It had a vaulted ceiling over the sitting room, which was equipped with a two-story stone fireplace adorned with a lovely mounted elk head. I lit a fire, then turned the TV and phone off. I poured a glass of good Bourbon and got settled in a chair between the fireplace and the big picture window, which looked out on the mountains and valleys of Wyoming at sunset. I lit the cigar and took a puff, had some Bourbon, and enjoyed the tranquillity and beauty of the landscape and colors of the sky with a good cigar.

Thomas Moore
Charlotte, North Carolina

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Dear Marvin,

I think I know how subjects felt at the Inquisition. To find out, just try going through the border crossing at the U.S./Canada border.

On my return to the United States during a recent car trip to Montreal, I was, upon first sight, grilled like a salmon filet. After answering the INS officer's arrow-tipped questions, I was asked to pull into a garage for inspection. When they went through my belongings, they eyed my Ziplock bag full of cigars, which had not been concealed but tossed on the top of my travel bag. Now, to be honest, some were Cubans that I purchased in Montreal, but many were Dominicans that I had brought with me from the United States. In any case, none of the cigars had a band on them. I suppose, foolishly, I was under the impression that if they had no bands on them that I could safely bring my cigars into the United States.

However, the innocent until proven guilty method on which our country's system of justice is founded did not play here. They confiscated ALL my cigars. I dug a Fuente band out of the ashtray as evidence of the cigars' origin, but the uneducated INS inspector wouldn't know a Dominican cigar from his you-know-what. Even though it did not read Habana, it did not make a difference to him. "That dark one, I know, is a Cuban," he said, "because I saw one just like it the other day." I was taught never to argue with an armed man. I left feeling lucky that I wasn't fined, or worse--tied to a torture rack in some immigration office dungeon.

Now I'm out a small fortune and have no cigars to show for it. The question remains, was I treated fairly? Or, more importantly, was it legal?

Alan Kleinfeld
Somerville, Massachusetts

Editor's reply: We sympathize with your plight, but it proves once again that U.S. Customs is playing hardball when it comes to Cuban cigars. Removing bands from legal cigars outside the United States is a mistake; it plays into Customs' hands by making you unable to prove your cigars are not Cuban. Was it legal? You can fight it, but you damaged your own case by mixing in Cubans. Was it fair? We never said confiscating someone's personal smokes was fair.

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Dear Marvin,

I love my wife, and feel she is the kindest, most understanding and generous person I've ever met. She is always unselfish, and takes into account other peoples' needs. I could go on and on about my better half, but I'm sure you get the point. I am one lucky man to spend my remaining years with her.

I am a police officer and have been on shift work for many years. My wife and I have also opened a restaurant, which we started from the ground up. If that's not enough to keep us busy, we also have four children. Two of them are toddlers, just getting out of diapers. Our lives are full, and are duties occupy the entire day.

To make the most of our quiet times, we really kick back and relax when time affords it. Life is full of simple pleasures and momentary pauses of tranquillity. In a busy lifestyle like ours, we make the most of these moments.

Last year a friend of mine returned from a vacation in Cuba. He brought back five Cuban Montecristos for me to try. I had tried a few cigars in my life, but never the real thing! I waited for a special occasion, sat down, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I was about to say "this is better than sex," when I caught my wife's eye and refrained. The cigar has to take a back seat to some things in life.

My wife shared in the joy and pleasure I received from that fine cigar. Since that time, she makes it a point to spoil me with world-class cigars. Tina also purchased a Cigar Aficionado for me, which I now pick up faithfully.

I have really thrown myself into the realm of cigar tasting, and feel consumed by it. I believe you must continue trying various brands until you find the right one. We have our own palates, and taste and opinions will differ. My own experiences have ranged from excellent to disappointing (judging from previous ratings). I have found the Cuban Partagas to be the most satisfying, from start to finish. I don't want to put this one down, and hope the moment will last just a little longer.

A great cigar is like a song that stands the test of time and rekindles fond memories for you. When I hear certain songs, it takes me back to a happy point in time and puts a grin on my face. The cigar, like a song, brings back those memories with passion and vivid recollection.

For Father's Day this year, my wife gave me a beautiful humidor lined with cedar. We now have a special antique table for it that acts as a centerpiece in our home. This serves notice of the new love in my life, supplied by the true love of my wife.

Tina feels my happiness should be number one and has found a tremendous way to say it. She sees the joy and pleasure that it brings me, and this also makes her smile. Each cigar she treats me to is a token and expression of something we share from the heart.

I thank my wife for being who she is and for introducing me to the passion of a fine cigar.

Randy Hooker
Carman, Manitoba

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Dear Marvin,

It's June 24, 1998, just before midnight. I am resting in my room at the Alojamiento Pinocho in Montero, Bolivia. I am a member of a volunteer medical mission supported by Andean Rural Health Care. We bring supplies and equipment, but most importantly ourselves, our experience and our willingness to help to this fine town so that we may make a difference in the lives of people in need of medical care. Many of us work together in Fayetteville, North Carolina, so our work here is aided by our friendship and our confidence in each other.

Today was a good day of work. We did five surgical procedures and all the patients did well. It was not an unusually long day, but we made good progress. After all, we have to break language, education and economic barriers to accomplish our mission.

Since we finished early and have an even busier day scheduled for tomorrow, several of us went into Santa Cruz for the evening. Our prime directive was to procure Cuban cigars. This being the second or third trip for some of us, we knew just where to go. We accomplished our mission in no time.

With goods in hand, we proceeded on an evening stroll through town. It was too windy to enjoy our cigars in the plaza, but we found a wonderful restaurant where we could relax. An open-pit grill provided some warmth, and the appetizers the chef prepared provided a great change from our usual diet.

The stage was now set for optimal cigar enjoyment. Our choice for the evening was Romeo y Julieta No. 2s. (The Punch No. 1s are being saved for another night.) We got a fine cut from a single-blade guillotine the vendor contributed with the purchase, and a nice even light from the lighter he contributed, too. Oh, what smoke! Even the person who had never smoked a cigar before enjoyed it. I think our tips on cigar etiquette helped.

What more could we have asked for? At that moment, we had it all--the satisfaction of a good day's work, fine food, cold Ducal with lime, good service, great company and fine Cuban cigars. We lingered at the table and savored everything. I would like to thank Paul DeSessa, Keith Roller, Carmen Villalobos and Christine Booth for a fine day at work and a great evening.

And thank you, Cigar Aficionado, for the Counterfeit Gallery on your Web site. I accessed the site a few weeks before the trip, reviewed the information before purchasing, and am confident we all got what we paid for.

Christa Faour, RN
Fayetteville, North Carolina

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Dear Marvin,

Two years ago, my friend Dennis and I made our joint discovery of the pleasure of premium cigars. What started as curiosity progressed to interest, and finally blossomed into a passion--a passion lovingly tolerated and then encouraged by our wives through Christmas, anniversary and birthday gifts. Two years after that first tentative puff, we have developed at least a solid basic knowledge of cigars and we definitely know what we do and do not like. A solitary hour spent with an H. Upmann or A. Fuente is bliss; that same hour spent with a good friend who appreciates the smoking experience is better than bliss. Woven around our chitchat is the binder of "cigar talk" as we discuss the look, shape, feel, aroma and taste of our mutually beloved cigars. Like lazy smoke, friendship, camaraderie and conversation fill the time.

This year marked my 20th wedding anniversary and, to celebrate it, my lovely wife, Sharon, and I decided to go to Cuba. It was a natural choice given my love of cigars and her love of sun, sand and the adventure of going somewhere "different." It seemed equally natural that my cigar buddy and his charming wife, Barbara, should accompany us.

This was our first visit to Cuba, and it will most certainly not be our last. We found the Cuban people to be as warm and welcoming as their climate, and were delighted to be surrounded by wonderful Cuban music wherever we went. While struggling with the economic woes generated by both the embargo and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the people whom we met showed a zest for life that we found refreshing.

Armed with sound advice from Cigar Aficionado publications, we studiously avoided offers of black-market cigars (which were everywhere). We even called the bluff of one purveyor of "genuine Cohiba Lanceros, only $80 a box!" by asking for and receiving a sample which, we decided, may have seen the digestive tract of a donkey before being rolled; the similarity to the smell of burning compost was most convincing. Eschewing all but the single sticks sold at our resort hotel and those purchased at a lovely approved outlet run by a friendly and knowledgeable staff, we marked each of our eight days with a parade of the finest cigars on earth. Bolivar, Cohiba, Partagas, Montecristo and other famous brands were savored, discussed and logged into my "cigar journal," which would be used to guide our final purchase of boxes of cigars to take home to Canada, all at prices from one-third to one-seventh what they cost at home! We thrived on a daily diet of cigars that had previously been reserved only for birthday and Christmas celebrations.

Our last day was the most wonderful as we purchased boxes of our favorites: creamy Partagas Lusitanias, silky Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas, Romeo y Julieta Petit Coronas and incredible Bolivar Royal Coronas. Now, Dennis and I survey our collection of cigar treasures, agree on which we shall smoke and discuss, carefully cut and light, and lean back and share dreams of our next trip--to Cuba, of course!

Dr. David Carter
Kelowna, British Columbia

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Dear Marvin,

As an avid reader of and subscriber to your publication, I am dismayed by what I perceive to be an effort (conscious or otherwise) to simultaneously downgrade the reputation of Havana cigars and upgrade that of non-Havanas.

This perception is based on my reading of various relevant articles as well as the cigar ratings that have appeared in the last few editions of Cigar Aficionado. My perception is further grounded on the knowledge that Americans refuse to settle for second best.

Having been a cigar aficionado for 25 years, and having had the opportunity (and privilege) to consistently enjoy Havanas for 20 of those years, it is my considered opinion that all this talk concerning the dwindling quality of Cuban cigars is absolute nonsense, or even worse. My personal experience is that, if anything, the opposite is true: Cuban cigars are better than ever, from every point of view. The Cuban brands I regularly smoke include Cohiba Esplendidos and Robustos, Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas and Epicure No. 2s, Partagas Lusitanias and Serie D No. 4s, Bolivar Belicosos Finos and Royal Coronas, Punch Churchills and Punch Punches, and Romeo y Julieta Churchills and Montecristo No. 2s.

On the other hand, I have recently had an opportunity to sample a wide variety of non-Cuban smokes during a two-week visit to New York. I deliberately made the more prestigious and higher rated brands my focus for the sampling. I was surprised and disappointed to discover that, to my taste, only the Fuente Fuente OpusX Robusto approached the Havana standard; the others were barely mediocre.

I can truly appreciate the dilemma you Americans face in that you demand only the very best, which unfortunately happens to be largely inaccessible to you. But instead of dealing with the situation practically, namely, by pressuring your obtuse government to put an end to its ridiculous embargo on Cuban goods, you have chosen to badmouth Cuban cigars while making a virtual cult out of smoking certain "prestigious" non-Cubans (I refer to the outrageous and unjustifiable prices asked for these truly undistinguished smokes).

However, if you want truly solid evidence of the cigar fantasy you are creating, you need look no further than the October 1997 issue of Cigar Aficionado. In the Online feature, nearly 50 percent of your Internet readers claimed that Cuban cigars were overrated, yet almost 70 percent claimed that they would smoke Havanas "if price and availability were no issue."

Never have I seen a more blatant example of the sour grapes syndrome! Americans, to use your own words: get real.

Reuven Zasler
Karmiel, Israel

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Dear Marvin,

For the past 15 years, I have been enjoying Havana's finest (especially Romeo y Julieta Churchill Tubos) in spite of the pesky embargo problem. Midway through a recent Churchill, I began to contemplate the impact of the inevitable end of the embargo and decided that I, and all other U.S. Habanos aficionados, would be adversely affected by the opening of the market to imported Cuban cigars.

It is a simple matter of supply and demand. Premium Cubans are already in the $30 to $40 range. With demands for production at an all-time high, quality standards are being strained and occasionally compromised to unacceptable limits. How could costs and quality possibly be maintained if the market was suddenly opened to the largest cigar-consuming nation on earth?

I can tolerate the inconvenience of buying my beloved Romeo y Julietas across the border. I do not look forward to the day when I am asked to pay $60 for that same cigar, rated 81 by Cigar Aficionado, at my local tobacconist.

Tim McEwen
Novi, Michigan

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Dear Marvin,

I recently returned from Cuba and can't resist making a few observations, not only about that country, but the cigar industry in general.

Despite all the hype coming from Cigar Aficionado and the media, I have felt for several years now that the cigar industry is mired in deep ka ka. The reason stems from my conviction that I haven't had a truly fine cigar in over two years--not one, and I can get anything I want, including authentic first-rate Cuban cigars. Where are the heavy, oily, perfect long-ashed cigars laced with tasty hints of chocolate, roasted nuts, coffee, cocoa, and nutmeg spices that we all used to smoke? It is my experience that these cigars have become distant memories.

For the last 30 years, I have experimented with smoking different cigars in the same way I am always seeking out new wines. Then, four years ago, I discovered Avo and became convinced that I would never smoke anything but Avo unless it were Cuban. Now, about every three months, I buy one more Avo just to check in, smoke maybe one inch, and then throw it out. Avo has gone from being one of the best cigars in the world to being harsh, bitter, astringent, and smelling like ammonia. The only brand that I feel has held the line somewhat on quality is Macanudo, which I have returned to as a relatively safe haven.

What is occurring in the cigar industry is similar to bottling a wine on Tuesday and selling it on Wednesday, with consequences just as predictable.

Cigar company stocks have crashed, so I know consumption is down. Most of my friends have simply quit smoking cigars, and I smoke far less than I did two years ago. And it has nothing to do with all these yakking do-gooders either. It's all about quality.

Of course, I can't help but be amused at all these young peckerwoods that don't know a good cigar from a good woman. They tout their fake Cohibas whose labels jump out like neon lights across a crowded room. But woe be the cigar industry if they think their future lies in these faddists.

Yes, there were plenty of pretty good cigars in Cuba. And to my way of thinking, Cuban cigars will always be superior for the same reason that certain wine regions in the world simply have the best soil and growing conditions that can't be duplicated. But even in Cuba, in the motherland of cigar aficionados, I had cigars that were less than note-worthy and often made my eyes bug out trying to draw them, even those that I purchased in the factory, including the much-touted Trinidad.

The simple fact remains that curing and aging is just as important to a fine cigar as fermentation and aging is to a fine wine. It's called patience, and it lies at the oppositeend of the spectrum from greed.

Circumvent this process, and you do so at the gravest of risks, which is now manifesting itself in the market place. Maybe, in the long run, we all do get what we deserve.

My solution is simple. Use your position of leadership and readership to exert pressure on the industry to manage itself before it is too late. Be honest with your ratings. THERE ARE NO TRUE 90 RATED CIGARS EXISTING IN THE MARKET PLACE TODAY. Period. Anyone who knows cigars knows that. Become a responsible crusader for keeping the cigar industry on the straight and narrow, even at the risk of losing some of your cherished ad income. It will pay off in the long run.

People will always drink fine wine with fine food. Whether they conclude that meal with a fine cigar depends on a lot of variables--quality should not be one of them.

William S. Bishop
La Avinta, California

Editor's response: Your letter proves once again what we always say: taste is subjective. We disagree with your statement that there are no 90+ cigars in the world today. We have smoked a number of cigars this year deserving of 90s from various cigarmaking nations, including Cuba. And when quality has fallen short, we've pointed it out. See our June 1998 issue, page 82, or any of our tastings.

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Dear Marvin,

Bravo, Marvin and Gordon, for your editorial in the August issue. The spirit of "new prohibition" has gripped the entire decade of the '90s, and I just keep hoping that maybe when this decade is over the prevailing "Little Johnny Mustn't" attitude in our society will fade away. Unfortunately, I fear that my generation, the Baby Boomers, is fueling a lot of this. Raised by the media to worship youth and fear old age, we're on an obsessive quest for the fountain of youth, and as a result have given the country (in order of appearance) the jogging craze, the health food and "anti-fat" craze, the anti-tobacco craze and--wait, the '80s were just a rehearsal--the "anti-alcohol" craze. I'm one Boomer who has no illusions that eternal youth can be attained by so-called "clean living." I work at the American embassy in Bonn and have to live with the "No smoking in government buildings" rule and the self-righteous twits who glory in it, but at home I can draw the line: on the door of my apartment here in Germany is the following sign: This apartment is a smoking area./The enjoyment of tobacco products is cheerfully tolerated here. You have a problem with that? Don't come in.

Name and Address Withheld