Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. That's Freud.
At other times, a cigar is a reason for well-meaning people to jump down a stranger's throat and assail him for what's hanging from his lips. That's me.
It's hard to imagine the picture that has accompanied this column for a couple of years - me wearing a straw boater and smiling gaily with a cigar - eliciting a more visceral reaction if it showed me pimp-slapping a puppy while eating baby panda stew and wearing a mink coat.
I was walking through a local mall a few months ago with an unlit cigar because I was going to try to negotiate a deal on a TV. (And it's a known fact that a cigar is a great accessory when you find yourself in a negotiation.) Before I could get to the store and accost a salesperson, though, I was accosted by acigar-loathing septuagenarian who harangued me for my harmful habit.
Put out that cigar, she demanded, informing me of her respiratory condition that was exacerbated by smoking. How, she asked, could I be so insensitive as to subject her to my filthy vice?
Even though the offending stogie hadn't been lit in days - and her breathing condition didn't prevent her from matching me stride for stride through the store - I stuffed it into my pocket, bade her a fond adieu and went on my way. For the record, I didn't get the deal on the TV, either. Thanks, Grandma.
Many responses to the picture were even cruder, suggesting I do things with thecigar that were unnatural and probably illegal in many states.
Most critics, surprisingly, have been far kinder and even, dare I say, expressed concern for my health.
Donna Dayer, for instance, wrote, "I like to read your column but often pass it by because of your photo. ... I am the tobacco treatment specialist for the N.C. Division of Public Health and a respiratory therapist. ... I spent over 25 years taking care of the sickest of the sick from tobacco use. ... My hope is that you will reconsider your opportunity as a role model and put another picture of your handsome face with your excellent column."
Handsome? Me? The lady obviously has a great heart but apparently had misplaced her eyeglasses.
David Yoder of Pittsboro wrote, "I'm an avid fan of most of your writing." But, he added, "The picture of you and the cigar is hardly the image I think you want to advocate for young people. ... Please drop the cigar picture."
After decades of public service announcements and scientific studies, even a dimwit knows tobacco is injurious to one's health.
On "Sanford & Son," Lamont informed lifelong smoker Fred that he had smoked the equivalent of a 41-mile- long cigarette. Lamont asked, "Don't you know those things can kill you?"
Fred replied, "Yep. They killed my cousin in Durham, N.C.: He got run over by a tobacco truck."
Because of a charity challenge I made during the holidays, the cigar is now gone. Still, I have to warn that anyone who smokes or does anything else simply because I do it has bigger problems than cigars to worry about it.
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