September 1998
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by Robert Brandt

My first time was in the back of an Oldsmobile Delta '88.

I was only 15.

I didn't know what to make of it at first.

It was short and skinny, but it had a lovely tasting tip on it.

I put it in my mouth.

I started to choke, but eventually got used to the taste and smell and loved every last second of it.

It was a Hav-A-Tampa Jewel Sweet, and it's still my favorite cigar.

Cigars were quite revolutionary in 1992. The "swing revival", with all of its jazzy, dimly-lit-room-sitting, cocktail-sipping and cigar- puffing was a good five years off still. You had to trek into weird old neighborhoods on the weekends just to find a place with a decent selection of cigars. You would be asked to extinguish your cigar at almost any bar or restaurant as not to offend the other customers (as if it would matter in the smoking section at your local T.G.I Friday's on the weekend; you try breathing there).

Girls would not come near you for fear of you being an absolute geek or really, really old and smelly. Just about the only place where you could freely smoke your cigar in public was at the golf course (It's interesting to note that this is about the time when I became a passionate golfer), or in wide open spaces on the streetcorner (It's interesting to note that this is about the time I began loitering on street corners).

A small group of us were so ultra cool in high school, that we would never go out on weekends but stay in dank basements playing cards just to smoke cigars. Who needs fast times and fast women when you've got Pink Floyd CD's, a bag of chips and a pack of $1.35 stogies? Our bizarre obsession (or oral fixation; guys who hang out with only guys who love cigars; you do the math), led us to try a vast variety of cigars of all shapes and sizes. We would travel to the hippest parts of Northeast Ohio (such as Coventry, Cuyahoga Falls, and Mayfield Heights), just to shop for exotic cigars and then lurk in parking lots to be seen smoking them.

These were the days when the most underground cat in your school was the guy with the long hair and some t-shirts with weird, unknown bands on them such as Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam and Nirvana... underground...HA!! You want underground?? The real underground was listening to Zappa on vinyl, not knowing how to unhook a bra and smoking cigars. It's so underground, I think I'm beginning to feel a sense of great horror with myself and start to cry...

Like all great underground movements, it had to become a trend at some point.

So what happened?

In a nation that was duped into buying 80 million "Wacky Wall Walkers," we as young Americans are always searching for the "next big thing." I'm of the opinion that cigar smoking amongst the hip youth came at us from two sides.

If you were a young person living in the inner city somewhere, you saw your favorite rap star chomping on a Phillies Blunt in some video. You thought to yourself "Hey, that must be cool if DJ (fill in the blank) is doing it! While I'm at it, I think I'll buy these size 46 pants and take my mom's clock of the wall and make a necklace out of it!!"

On the other hand, if you were a young person living in the suburbs, you saw some fellow on your TV in a pinstriped suit clutching a martini in one hand and an Arturo Fuente in the other while fronting a band whose music your grandparents might have dug. You thought to yourself "Hey, that must be cool if (fill in the blank ex-marching band horn player who just happened to get a record deal) is doing it! While I'm at it, I think I'll steal this black eye shadow from my mom so I can fit in at next week's big concert too!! Free Tibet!!"

That said, why cigars?

Well, first off, they taste good. But it's an acquired taste. You can buy cigars soaked in anything from cognac to cherry juice. Whatever floats your boat. Secondly, they're a lot better for you than cigarettes. Most likely because they're all natural and you don't really inhale them. If you do, then you will have a heck of a chest pain in the morning. This goes back to the whole tasting good part; you puff on them to taste it, rather than suck down a cancer stick as I am right now.

What kind of cigar should you buy?

That's up to you. You could go down to the local smoke shop and pay upwards of $15 for a cigar that's "to die for" and think that it tastes like tree bark. You could also go around the corner to the gas station and pick up a pack of five for $1.25 and think that they are heaven on Earth. It all depends on your own personal tastes.

Myself, I enjoy all of them. I've paid as high as $35 for a cigar, and thought it was no more than ok compared to a cigar that would cost around $5. I guess the point is to not be fooled into thinking that the more you pay, the better the cigar.

So, try it. You may find a new hobby. It's classy, and a great way to meet people when you get to know your stuff (it's a great networking tool to sit in a cigar bar with uppity types and discuss Cuban seeds versus Dominican). But I guess that if you take my advice, then you will be trendy as well. There's just no way to win.

By the way, I hear that Pong is making a comeback.

Editors' Note: The Shrubbery doesn't advocate underage smoking, or promote smoking in any way, but we do advocate, promote, and succumb to fads.

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