Out of the Humidor

| By CA Readers | From Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

Dear Marvin:

I am 25 years old. I am a programmer by trade, a college student, a devoted husband and a loving father. Being as young as I am, I don't feel as if I am in the average cigar-smoking crowd. I was very happy to pick up your magazine and read that I'm not the only young cigar smoker. Your magazine made me very proud to be in that group even though I get many frowns and head shaking. I do have an interesting cigar story for you.

My son, Jonathan, was born on August 2, 1992, and I immediately went out and bought two boxes of Macanudos to celebrate the occasion. That weekend a close friend of mine was getting married. He had six bridesmaids and six groomsmen, and all were close friends of mine. The average age in our group was 23. Well, after the ceremony, we went to a hotel ballroom for the reception, and since it was an elegant occasion I gave all my friends a celebration cigar. I figured after a good meal we could toast the newly married couple and the birth of my son. After the meal, we all sat back and lit up. Next thing I knew, my friend (the groom) came up to our table and told me to put out the cigars because we were annoying others. And Marvin, we had just lit them. It's funny how some people are "repulsed" by the stench of a cigar when it hasn't been lit. Anyway, I proceeded to tell him why we were all toasting, thinking he would join in. He told us to either put them out or leave. So we left. All of his groomsmen and ushers walked out. Even the best man, the groom's brother, went with us. We spent the rest of the night in the hotel bar, toasting and enjoying the Macanudos.

What an evening! I really hate what happened but sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in, and I firmly believe in letting an individual enjoy his or her indulgence--not to mention that I was and still am a proud father.

Phillip Gerringer
Greensboro, North Carolina

Editor's Response: Twenty years ago it was traditional at weddings, bar mitzvahs and births to celebrate by handing out cigars. It was as much a tradition as champagne before a meal. Somehow the joy and fun associated with a cigar have been overshadowed by people who lack even an occasional moment of understanding. You took a very strong stand for what you believe. I understand; I've been there myself on occasion.

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Dear Marvin:

My male companion brought your CIGAR AFICIONADO home and I read it from cover to cover. I read it in bed and found it rather interesting on other topics besides cigars. I myself am a tall, beautiful Croatian woman in my 30s. I get terribly excited when I see a man put a cigar in his mouth and when he plays with it and wets the tip. There is something wonderful about the whole thing. It can drive a woman nuts.

J. Marie Andacic
New York, New York

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Dear Marvin:

Congratulations on a stellar first year of publication. I was elated when I saw the story on CNN Headline News about the launch of this magazine dedicated to one of the world's great pleasures...cigars. As soon as the piece was over, I ran to my telephone to call the area bookstores to see which, if any, had this magnificent periodical on their shelves. After two misses, I found a store with several copies and made a mad dash to the other side of town to acquire my first issue of CIGAR AFICIONADO.

When I left the shop, I was beaming from ear to ear. I rushed to my car and flew back home. You may be asking why I didn't just read it right there in the parking lot. I would have, had it not been early September in Orlando, Florida. Also, in my haste to get to the store, I left my house without any cigars. I wanted to enjoy reading this newfound friend with a Partagas No. 10 and a cool libation, so it was back to the hacienda for me.

I spent the next several hours devouring the magazine and two Partagas No. 10's and loved every minute of it.

In February, I left Orlando and moved back to Southern California after almost 11 years in Florida. I am in a new job as a voice-over actor for animation in radio and television commercials. During my tenure in Orlando I had several different jobs, but my last job has to be the envy of cigar smokers everywhere.

In June 1990, I auditioned for Universal Studios Florida to portray one of my childhood idols, W.C. Fields, a great comedian, world-class juggler and cigar aficionado. I landed the role and was told to bring the great man to life in every respect. I asked whether that meant that I could smoke cigars just as W.C. Fields did and was told that not only would they allow me to smoke cigars but that I would be reimbursed by the company for my cigars. What a beautiful job. Being given carte blanche to smoke my cigars, insult every guest (tourist) within the sound of my voice and smite little children upon the sconce when they came within reach of my cane. Glorious, simply glorious.

During my two years and eight months that I was in the employ of U.S.F., I met cigar lovers from all over the world. Whenever they saw me and my cigar coming, an instant camaraderie existed whether or not they knew who W.C. Fields was. I met many wonderful men and women from all over the world who love cigars and never hesitated to let me know about their passion for good cigars. I got several offers to trade jobs. I also got more than my fair share of subtle and not so subtle "hints" that my cigar was not welcome. Those times are far outweighed by the wonderful conversations and friendships with my fellow cigar aficionados.

One story in particular is worth mentioning.

I received an invitation to appear before a gathered throng of conventioneers. I accepted the engagement. During the course of the evening my duties were to mix and mingle with the crowd. As always, my cigar was lit.

In one particular room, filled with special dignitaries to the convention, I was seated at a table with four charming women, regaling them with tall tales and several jokes. Suddenly, an old shrew crawled over to our table and demanded that I put out my cigar. She informed me that they had passed some rule that had outlawed cigar smoking at their conventions. She then shoved a glass of water at me and began to bray that my cigar smelled bad and I would have to put it out in the glass of water. She was saying all this while smoking a cigarette.

I stood up, squared myself, and looked the old battle-ax right in the eye and said in my best W.C. Fields voice: "My dear, if you want the cigar out, you only have to ask. But this verbal sewage you are spewing in my direction regarding my cigar is uncalled for. You, my little Rocky Mountain canary, are crazy. And I, in all probability, am drunk. However, in the morning I will be sober, and you'll be crazy for the rest of your life."

With that I bid a fond farewell to my friends at the table and strolled out of the room to the sound of thunderous applause. I had made an impression on the entire room. One of the muckety-mucks found me later and thanked me for putting that woman in her place because they had been trying for years without success to do what I had done in a matter of minutes. He offered me one of his cigars and we chatted for about five minutes about our love of cigars.

We have all suffered someone like the woman I encountered, be they male or female. But we can now take solace in the pages of Brother Shanken's publication, as we now know where we can light up without fear of repercussion from anyone who would have us put out our cigar in a glass of water.

Keep up the good work, Marvin. The beacon at the end of your double corona shines for all of us in the dim, but thankfully not yet dark world of personal freedoms. Long may it burn.

Bob Joles
Arcadia, California

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Dear Marvin:

I'm very pleased with CIGAR AFICIONADO. It lends conviviality to a dignified enjoyment that our time is leaving behind in its neurotic rush to embrace ways to exist longer, as if that were the same as living well.

John A. Rippo
Publisher, The Espresso, San Diego's coffeehouse and cafe newspaper

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Dear Marvin:

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."

Peter Iacangelo
Calabasas, California

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Dear Marvin:

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!"

Mark Fierro
Fort Lee, New Jersey

P.S. I made it through and didn't look back.

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Dear Marvin:

Though I'm a Franciscan brother who has taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I must admit that I enjoy the wonderful pleasure of after dinner smoke. My mom bought me a subscription to your magazine. In fact, some of the pages have perused the pages a bit since a few of your articles have been about places where we have missions and friars stationed. Though I am not able to smoke in the monastery, I do occasionally get to enjoy a Davidoff or a Macanudo courtesy of my mother or brother at Christmas and Easter. I just want you to know what a fine companion to a good cigar your magazine makes. As St. Francis was heard to say regarding the joys and wonders of God's creation: Pax et Bonum for bringing the joy of fine reading and the fragrance of a fine cigar into the lives of cigar smokers everywhere.

Brother Rick Wilson
T.D.R. Franciscan
Washington, D.C.

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Dear Marvin:

Like you, I am concerned with the misconceptions about cigar smokers. The stereotypical, obnoxious cigar-chomping lout is not the norm, and the health risks are minimal (I rarely smoke more than one a day and never more than three). The benefits of a leaf well rolled are one of life's genuine pleasures and are to be savored and lingered over by gentlemen.

Regarding your editorial in the Summer issue, I find the first lady's ban on smoking in the White House portends to other issues. Political Correctness is the New Intolerance. I have never smoked cigarettes, but when the White House targets the cigarette industry, I am moved to buy a pack of Camels. The Clintons need to remember that we are the descendants of the people who tossed the tea into Boston Harbor. We do not elect presidents "who know what's best for us." And, if we do, only once.

W.L. Ripley
Knob Noster, Missouri

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Dear Marvin:

I am a born-again Christian. WAIT! Since realizing I'm not good enough to get to heaven without accepting it as a free and underserved gift from a loving God, I have had trouble reconciling the things I enjoy with the way other Christians interpret the Bible.

I have always felt that God intends us to enjoy life. There are many things which He clearly detests, but not all things enjoyed by humans are to be banned. Some Christians have a way of tossing anything that brings a little pleasure into the trash with the more clearly forbidden fruits. They are my brothers and sisters and I credit them for their convictions. However, I do not agree with those siblings in Christ who strive to make the "narrow path" even more narrow than God intended.

For example, many Christians believe that alcohol, in and of itself, and in any form, is forbidden by God. I believe that drinking a nice glass of wine with dinner is showing respect and enjoyment for a gift from above, while downing a bottle of wine to get drunk is clearly an abuse. (The Bible does indicate that we should abstain from drunkenness and all forms of overindulgence.)

This is a great analogy to describe the way I feel about smoking cigars...at long last.

Smoking cigars moderately is a great way to relax and ponder issues, watch a sunset, read. write, enjoy fellowship with good friends and yes, even pray to the One who makes it all possible. (Granted, I don't know how many points I have scored for my well-intentioned prayer: "Lord, thank you for this perfectly aged cigar and please bless H. Upmann for making it.")

Just last week, my wife and I had a couple from our Sunday school class over for dinner. After a nice dinner, the husband and I went out onto the balcony to smoke a cigar (our wives were invited, but, sadly, they declined). My friend and I spent more than an hour in easy conversation while experiencing a delicious smoke. We talked about how great life was, our super wives, our mutual friends, the taste of fine cigars and the joy of knowing that God is in charge of the whole thing.

I bet He was smiling, don't you? (Maybe he even blessed H. Upmann.)

Michael Insalaco
Fresno, California

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Dear Marvin:

As an avid cigar smoker, I wanted to first thank you for your creation of CIGAR AFICIONADO. As a subscriber, I have enjoyed every issue so far. I also had the good fortune to participate in the Big Smoke on May 17, 1993, and I found it to be most enlightening. Normally, I would never consider writing to editors of any major publication, because I would doubt their ability to be truly responsive, but in reading your last issue, I decided to try anyway.

At only 28 and a licensed member of several state bars and federal courts, I find myself to be very fortunate in life at a very early age. As an African-American, I take personal satisfaction in knowing what hard work an diligence will do for a person. Unfortunately, when I attended the Big Smoke in May, I found myself in what appeared to be a distinct disadvantage. I found that on numerous occasions when I approached the various vendor, wanting to sample their wares (as did everyone else), the vendors were polite but not particularly responsive to any inquiry or comment by me. While I watched other individuals approach the various cigar tables and receive more than the specified allotment for each customer time and time again, I was given the standard promotional cigar and sent on my way.

Having been treated like this before at various cigar stores, I always assumed it was because of my youthful appearance. But on that evening I was with a friend who is the same age as I, but is not African-American. After commenting to him about my observations, we both observed that the treatment he and others like him received was clearly different than mine. For example, when I inquired at one table about the proper temperature and humidity levels for aging my cigars in the summer, rather than assuming I just might be the proud owner of a Savinelli humidor (which, by the way, does contain at least one "special cigar") the gentleman assumed that I did not even own a humidor and that I must store my cigars in the refrigerator. Even recalling this now makes me burst out in laughter, even though this was just one of many similar occurrences that evening.

On the upswing, there were at least two times when my appearance was not a detriment. Specifically, when I was on line to receive my La Gloria Cubana Torpedo No. 1. After getting to the head of the line, I saw that the Latin gentleman rolling the cigars was of color like myself. Upon seeing me (one of only a handful of African-Americans there that evening), he nodded his head and with a wink of approval, proceeded to roll a slightly longer and thicker gauge cigar than the others. The other time was a similar encounter at the Nat Sherman table with a salesman named Sam, who was so pleased to see a "fresh young face" that he commented as such and proceeded to go out of his way to accommodate me and my associate.

I have written this letter not to complain or whine about the facts of life, but instead to remind those in the world, that as cigars come in all ages, shapes and colors, so do its connoisseurs. To those who have determined that because someone may not appear to be either famous or an older big businessman worthy of "favored treatment," let me say that there will be at least two businesses that will always have my patronage.

Richard R. White
Assistant District Attorney
New York, New York

Editor's Response: All of us who read your letter will think about what you wrote. Thank you for sharing such personal thoughts with us. We hope that at this November's Big Smoke you and all African-Americans who attend will be treated no differently than anyone else.

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Dear Marvin:

My father smoked cigars most of his adult life and my mother hated it. But my memories of my father always have him with a "stogie" in his mouth. One of the occasions I will always remember is the day that my dad took me with him to a small shop in downtown Los Angeles where a small band of expatriate Cuban gentleman pursued the art of hand-rolling cigars. He loved that shop, and I got some insights into my father and into what passion is when I saw the look on his face. He loved his cigars and they certainly gave him more pleasure than most anything else in his life.

Robert Bixby
Santa Cruz, California

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Dear Marvin:

My business takes me on frequent trips to Asia and the Pacific Rim. Being a cigar lover, I often find myself in parts of the world where cigars of any kind are simply not available, so I bring my own. China is such a place. What follows is a tale of cultural differences escalated to the comical.

In October last year, my travels took me to the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province of China and not exactly on the beaten path. One afternoon, with some time to kill, I selected a couple of the Macanudos I had brought along and stepped out of the hotel to smoke. The people there do not see many Americans and even fewer cigars so the sight of me smoking a Baron de Rothschild was something of a curiosity.

In no time at all, I was surrounded by a crowd of curious onlookers pointing and speaking among themselves. One old man in particular had moved his bicycle right in front of me and sat there staring. We exchanged smiles. Bolder now that the ice had been broken, the old man pointed at the second Macanudo in my pocket. I thought for a minute and decided that my supply was adequate to finish the trip, so I took the cigar out of my pocket and gave it to him. Hands across the sea and all that.

The old man took the cigar with both hands and carefully put it in his pocket. Then came the surprise. he reached behind him into the wire basket on the back of his bicycle and produced a live chicken, which he held by the feet, and handed it to me. I have never had much use for live chickens, including this one, so I shook my head no. This produced a shocked expression on the old man and loud murmurs among the crowd. They were not happy.

The noise had attracted the attention of a local bellman who fortunately spoke a little English. After talking briefly with the old man, he turned to me and said, "You have to take chicken." I told him I didn't want the "&%**$&&%#%" chicken. The bellman shook his head and explained that I had been given a gift and, in China, the person receiving it must reciprocate. If I did not accept his gift the old man would lose face. So, I took the chicken. Everyone seemed quite pleased now and the old man went on his way, leaving me, the bellman and a lice chicken. Have you ever tried to smoke a cigar while holding a live chicken?

The story has a happy ending for all except the chicken. The bellman gladly accepted the bird to take back to his family for dinner. Thankfully, he had been exposed to enough foreign guests to know that I expected nothing in return.

Now, when people tell me that you have to be very careful when you light up a cigar, I smile and say, "yes and no."

David Kusek
Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Dear Marvin:

My husband, a 27-year-old chef and owner of a catering business, has recently taken up cigar smoking. I just want you and your readership to know that some wives out here do like this avocation. I enjoy going to the local tobacco shop with my husband as he chooses the perfect torpedo. (Now maybe he understands my passion for shopping!) And nothing pleases me more than when, at the en d of yet another exhausting day for him, he sits down and goes through the ritual of unwrapping, clipping and lighting his much deserved cigar. I can see his muscled relax as the tensions of the day go up in so much aromatic smoke.

Quite a novice two short months ago, your magazine has proven indispensable for him, and for me, as well. (I used it as a guide for Father's Day shopping.) Being new at this myself, I do have a question. I know cigar smoking isn't as harmful as cigarette smoking, but how much better is it and why? Our friends keep badgering us about this and we don't know what to tell them.

Trish Furino
Bridgeport, Pennsylvania

Editor's Response: As we've said before, the big difference between cigarettes and cigars is, generally speaking, you don't inhale cigars. Cigarettes are known to be a major factor in lung cancers. Cigars represent an insignificant health risk when they are not inhaled. Secondary smoke has yet to be validated as a serious health risk, according to much of the medical research that I have read. I'm more afraid of snow skiing or being mugged as potential dangers to my health.

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Dear Marvin:

What can I say? I feel like the member of an underground movement who has just been given the secret countersign by a fellow member of the brotherhood.

Cheers and best wishes on the success of CIGAR AFICIONADO.

Harold Strong
Honolulu, Hawaii

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Dear Marvin:

A few years ago I was hired by a Washington, D.C., marketing firm and shortly after was attending a business dinner in the private room of one of Washington's finest restaurants. It was here that I was first introduces to the joys of a good cigar.

I got married (at the ripe old age of 35) and I assumed that my newfound pleasure would be restricted to the golf course or long walks with my dog. But one night this spring me new bride and I were walking home from dinner at a local restaurant when I lit up a Royal Jamaica. She out my arm around me and told me that she loved the smell of a good cigar and asked me why I never smoke them at home. It seems her father had smoked cigars and the smell always reminds her of her happy childhood.

So, I hope everyone will accept my thanks. My father-in-law for giving my wife a happy (cigar-friendly) childhood, my friends Jim and Charles for introducing me to the joys of cigars and you for publishing CIGAR AFICIONADO, which I consider to be the best written, informative and entertaining magazine I have ever read. I look forward to all of us spending many happy evenings together, if only in our thoughts.

Neil Kopit
Washington, D.C.

Editor's Response: Maybe I'm a little crazy, but I know exactly how you feel, and so will many of those who read your beautiful letter.

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Dear Marvin:

In the 15-or-so odd years since I started smoking cigars, I have come to one conclusion: The best cigar is the one enjoyed in the company of friends. For that reason, I want to take the time to salute you and the good company of friends at the Bayou Humidor in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Your magazine affirms that we are not a dying breed of people, but that the cigar smoker is part and parcel of our society.

Greg Robbins
Livingston, Louisiana

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Dear Marvin:

A friend of mine "borrowed" my first issue of CIGAR AFICIONADO, and it took me two months of begging to finally get it back. When he asked to borrow my most recent issue, I had to tell him no. The good news is that now I can give subscriptions to your magazine as gifts to many of my friends, and know that they will think I am the greatest friend in the world.

S.J. Gulsvig
Villa Park, California

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Dear Marvin:

After reading your second issue, I couldn't wait for another trip to a place where I could sample Cuban double coronas. Well, the opportunity came along recently. I sampled some Cubans and I guess taste, as beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I question the magazine's overall emphasis on Cuban cigars and tobacco. They are good, no question, but not any better than Partagas No. 10, Arturo Fuente Hemingway Classic, or Avo No. 3.

I hope this is not "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" syndrome, or, "it has to be better because it costs more and you can't get it in the United States."

In any event, keep up the good work, I really do enjoy your magazine.

Lowry Eads
Richmond, Virginia

Editor's Response: None of the above. We taste blind and therefore do not know a cigar's origin while we are rating it. The cigars you prefer are great cigars; a Partagas No. 10 gets a 91 in this issue, an Avo No. 3 scored a 90 in a previous tasting and Arturo Fuente cigars routinely score very well. I don't see a conflict.

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Dear Marvin:

Like many, I just finished the most recent issue. Another fine job. Most particularly salient were your remarks on tolerance. Without wishing to belabor this recurrent theme, I would hope you and my fellow readers will suffer yet another instance of the hysteria with which many of us are greeted when we attempt to engage in smoking.

At a social club not adverse to smoking, I sat and listened to a musical performance while enjoying an adult beverage. Sitting near the bar, I held the cigar alternately between my fingers and my lips. Without the least warning I was set upon by some zealot who admonished scornfully, "put that cigar out, I'm allergic to cigar smoke." my rejoinder was "the smoke really bothers you, eh?" The answer came back in all manner of gasping, choking and wheezing. When I produced the lovely Macanudo which I had been caressing and demonstrated that it had not been lit, I was provided no apology.

Let us simply hope that some measure of sense and, indeed, tolerance, can be found--as life is too short without such pronounced animus against a problem that doesn't even exist.

Dennis Hayes
Wyandotte, Michigan