Choking On Hype

"I love the smell of cigars. It reminds me of my grandpa just before he died."

Christopher Columbus was the Inspector Clouseau of explorers. Not only had Vikings and Native Americans been here long before he "discovered" America, but he also thought he was somewhere else entirely. No wonder you have to come as far inland as Ohio to find a town named after the guy.

Columbus is also credited with taking the idea of smoking back to Europe from here. Could he do nothing right? If Columbus were alive now he would no doubt be part of the tobacco companies' myth machine--the one that maintains that tobacco and cancer have never been conclusively linked and the one that now tells us that cigars are the country's hip new rage.

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The editor guy at Mother Jones asked me to go to some Los Angeles "cigar bars" to see what they were like. First I read several articles on the subject. They all claimed that cigar smoking is sweeping the nation, with the female cigar- smoking population growing the fastest.

Cigar Aficionado magazine contained an article listing the hottest spots around L.A. to smoke cigars. I couldn't find them. Occasionally I found the venues themselves, but I never found them teeming with patrons. A woman at one of the restaurants said, "We're not a cigar bar, but if we're empty, people can smoke cigars." I began to put it together: Cigar Aficionado might have a vested interest in hyping a cigar craze that doesn't exactly exist.

I kept returning to some of the places, figuring I just wasn't going at peak hours. The site of my first successful infiltration was the bar at the swanky Peninsula Hotel. I was truly embarrassed to be there, but I decided I'd blow my investigative cover if I banged my hors d'oeuvre fork on my wine glass and announced, "I think you all look very silly and I'm only here because I have to be." I sat near a gaggle of men struggling with cigars the size of baseball bats wedged in their mouths. They looked like those circus acts who balance chairs on their chins.

I wear a leather flight jacket with Glenn Miller on the back. More than one man approached me to ask if I had played with Glenn Miller. I'm 36. Either the lighting in the glamorous cigar bar is not flattering or cigar smokers are not that bright.

The cigar smokers I ran across did seem pretentious and stupid, especially the women. I saw one woman choking on a puff. She looked like she was thinking, "This can't possibly be what everyone is doing."

I hate women. Instead of reaching our potential, we are tied to the thought that says: "We want to do what men do." That's why tobacco and gun companies target us. Even if cigar smoking were popular, that doesn't mean it'd be a good thing to do. Lynching was popular once, too.

I went to Phillip Dane's Cigar Lounge in Beverly Hills on two separate occasions. This place is so exclusive that no one was there either time. (I don't know how I got in. I must look as if I made wise investments with my Glenn Miller album royalties.) They had an issue from volume three of The Cigar Monthly magazine on the bar. I was wondering how they could publish more than two volumes about cigars when I noticed an article about a place in Louisiana where they make humidors. I realized the magazine was not just about cigars. If it seemed thin, I'm sure it's because they're gearing up for their special collector ashtray issue.

The Cigar Monthly also had an article by a woman describing how she realized smoking cigars was "something my fiancé and I could enjoy together, something interesting and different." You'd think she would have noticed that they had so little they could enjoy together before they got engaged. They probably went from months of uncomfortable silence to such stimulating conversation as:

"Honey, are you puffing?"

"Yes, I'm puffing."

I don't even date, but I feel safe in counseling that if you see cigar smoking as a beacon of hope for interaction with your fiancé, you've unearthed a fairly severe shortcoming in the relationship. It might be a good time to go back over the guest list for your wedding and eliminate the groom.

The hype says that cigar smoking is a way to meet more interesting people and that the variety of cigar colors, shapes, and sizes makes them an interesting topic for conversation. Cupid himself is probably perched high atop the humidor at Hamiltons cigar and wine lounge, inspiring encounters like:

"Hey, you smell disgusting and so do I." (Puff, puff.)

"Do you come here often?" (Puff, puff.)

"Yes, do you?"

"Yes, isn't that freaky?"

"Your cigar is brown and my cigar is brown. How eerie."

"I love the smell of cigars."

"Me too, it reminds me of my grandpa just before he died."

"Me too!"

Crayons also come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Interesting people (or at least many children) use them. Crayons smell great, and they say "nontoxic" right on the side. Why can't crayon bars be all the rage?

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