WHEN MY EDITOR SUGGESTED that I write an entire column on the subject of cigars, I thought it was a remarkably ill-advised idea. Few people in this world like cigars, and fewer still like the people who smoke them. Most men wouldn’t touch a cigar with a barge pole (notwithstanding the fact that some cigars today are almost the size of a barge pole). The vast majority of women despise cigars more than they hate cockroaches. And children, of course, are the worst of all, waving their precious little hands in front of their precious little noses in supermarkets at the mere sight of even an unlit cigar. This never fails to irritate the Kinkster. Sometimes I’d like to poke them in the ribs with a barge pole.
Yet that is exactly why I decided to write this column. I see it as an educational service for the pompous, politically correct, humorless, constipated spiritual bullies in our pathologically health-conscious, civic-minded society who tend to treat cigar smokers like biblical lepers. In fact, cigar smokers are one of the most reviled and put-upon minorities in the country. Fortunately, most of us are large, abrasive, loudmouthed, wealthy men, and we can handle any abuse that may come our way from precious little kids in supermarkets.
Though the opinion is not widely shared by the scientific community, I have always believed that cigars are good for you. During a crisis, non-smokers often stand passively by, inhaling passive smoke into their passive lives. Under the same circumstances, cigarette smokers usually break into a panic and jump from the window of their basement apartments. However, when cigar smokers encounter a trying moment, they often appear to be calmly directing some cosmic symphony that only they can hear. Their attitude can best be described as “Let the lava flow.” This mind-set, I contend, lowers the blood pressure and reduces stress, not to mention that it’s always fun to enjoy yourself while irritating others. This last part, I maintain, is one of the true secrets to the cigar smoker’s vaunted longevity.
Thomas Edison, for instance, who reportedly smoked 18 cigars a day, lived to be 84, mainly by blowing smoke at all the people who ridiculed his inventions. Mark Twain, who smoked up to 40 cigars a day, said, “If smoking is not allowed in heaven, I shall not go.” He was 74 when he took up celestial cigars and began puffing halos instead of smoke rings. And then there was Winston Churchill, who almost always had a cigar in his mouth during the war years. He even requested a special oxygen mask so that he could smoke during high-altitude flights. He lived to be 90.
Sigmund Freud, the first man to realize that smoking cigars was a highly suggestive oral fixation, nonetheless was rarely without a cigar himself and lived to be 83. In a rather unpleasant turn of events, I myself was unceremoniously tossed out of the Freud museum in Vienna, Austria, three years ago. The woman at the desk, who looked and behaved like a ferret with earrings, did not take kindly to my smoking a cigar in the museum, which was dedicated to a man whose very life revolved around cigars and the sick things they might represent in the subconscious mind. I was pointing this out when she summoned a phalanx of former U-boat commanders who escorted me to the door as I chanted repeatedly in rhyming verse, “Sigmund Freud would be annoyed!”
As for myself, I smoke as many as twelve cigars a day, and I expect to live forever. Of course, I don’t inhale. I just blow smoke at small children, flowering plants, and anybody who happens to be jogging by. At fourteen I experimented with Swisher Sweets and Rum Crooks before moving up to the large black phallic symbols I smoke today. My brand, Kinkster’s Finest, which is available at kinkycigar.com or livecigarrollers.com, is as close to Cuban as you can get and still have five American flags on your pickup.
I believe that the plight of the cigar smoker is symptomatic of something seriously askew in the priorities of this great country. Let us say, for example, that three men walk into a restaurant in California. The first is wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a cigar the size of a large kosher salami, the second is carrying an Uzi, and the third, having just returned from a yoga seminar in Utah, is naked and attempting to moon as many patrons as possible. It should come as no surprise that the maître d’ and the customers would almost instantly confront the cowboy and have him arrested. The other two men would be left wondering what the hell happened. Maybe the police would come back later and ask to see their screenplays.
I can only hope for the day when the role of the cigar in our society will no longer be relegated to the ash heap of history. There is something about a cigar that provides a person with a certain spiritual ballast, a measure of peace of mind, and a handy device for keeping the world at bay. Cigar smoking is more than a habit, more than a Freudian slip of the tongue around merely another tobacco product. Smoking cigars is a secular religion, a way of life for those men (and women) who are not afraid to live.
One such person was Ernie Kovacs, a major cigar smoker and a much-loved pioneer of iconoclastic comedy on late-night television. David Letterman and many other comedians continue to borrow heavily from Kovacs’ material, philosophy, and style. We’ll never know how much he might have contributed to a culture in need of a laugh because his life was cut short in 1962, at the age of 42, when he crashed his car. According to legend, the police found Kovacs slumped behind the wheel, his ever-present cigar in one hand and an unlit match in the other. There was widespread speculation that his trying to light the cigar might have caused the accident. What I think happened, however, is that after the crash, knowing he had only moments to live, his last act on earth was to attempt to light his cigar.