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My Dad, Mark Twain and I won’t go

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, April 14, 2005

I have known the pangs of loneliness that come with being forced from your warm, safe home out into the cold, remote seclusion of the back-porch.

I’ve felt the desolation of the outsider, spurned by the vast majority of those whom I come into contact with, their disgust and displeasure for me fueled by their sighting of my personal version of the mark of Cain.

I have been asked to leave restaurants, bars, baseball games and picnics. I’ve stood by myself outside in the rain and snow – clutching, with a shudder, my umbrella and securing, with a shake, my hat – obliged to be in the elements for lack of a more welcoming place to call home.

Even friends and roommates have shut their doors on me, have slammed their windows in my face and have registered their disdain for me and my deeds in not-so-subtle exhortations.

All of these sufferings result from a choice I have made in my life. It’s a decision I consider fundamental to who I am and how I understand myself, but it’s also one that places me in contempt of most of you – you who have so frequently made the opposite, conflicting choice as mine.

And, as I’ve learned the hard way, there is no middle ground upon which we might comfortably meet. No, we have chosen our camps, picked our sides, and there’s no love lost by you for me.

Brute, monster, swine, miscreant, moral degenerate: they’re all appellations that have been levied upon me. Those names at least are printable before a polite audience. I’ve been called worse, I assure you.

Appeals suggesting a straighten-up and fly-right conversion have been made to me by concerned individuals who still feel I’m worthy enough a creature in which to invest a glimmer of hope.

I’ve been urged to correct myself, informed it’s never too late to light out upon a new way and leave my old trappings behind. “Think of the example you’re setting,” I’m told. “Think of the public health at least – do you realize how much you and your ilk cost society every year?”

When I refuse to relent, my morals are called into question. I’m certain when many of you have seen me around campus doing the very thing I’m so often criticized for, I must have looked in your eyes, with apologies to W.B. Yeats, like some rough beast – his sinful and nauseating hour come round at last – slouching toward the Dominican Republic to be born.

But, despite your dismissals, I do have allies. Many of us have met, ironically, only because of our forced isolation. On friendless walks around the lakes or quads I’ve discovered compatriots who share my sense of rejection and displacement – while also sharing my vice.

Not to give away his cover, but a dear collaborator of mine happens to be a fellow Viewpoint columnist.

Like Christians of old, we construct a secret language by which to identify ourselves. “Do you have a cutter?” one of us might ask another, in hopes of hearing a response inquiring “straight or punch?” These words are gibberish to the uninitiated, but they identify a sympathetic soul to one who shares his lot.

I was taught to be the way I am by my father, who learned from his. We’re multi-generational rebels, thumbing our nose at the Puritans-come-lately of our respective generations by reveling in our transgression of choice. I know the consequences of my decision, and I’ve acutely felt the ramifications of it already at age 22. But like Caesar crossing the Rubicon, I’m not looking back. Don’t cry for me. I know who I am. I am a cigar smoker.

The life of a pariah forced upon those of us who choose to partake in fine tobacco, to my mind, is a small price to pay for the pleasure one finds in a good smoke. Contrary to popular myth, we don’t do it for the nicotine, nor to sate some overpowering addiction.

Enjoying a cigar is like a secular sacrament. My thoughts are elevated toward something higher, a peaceful clarity of mind takes over, and the burning ash of my smoke, rising like sweet incense, brings me into a contemplative mood. For me as well, a shared cigar is a very real connection I have with my father, and something I find especially valuable as I prepare to leave home in the coming days after graduation.

Mark Twain once wrote that if he couldn’t smoke in Heaven, he just wouldn’t go. With respect to Mr. Clemens, I feel he’s mistaken. Cigar-friendly or not, there’s no reason to concern ourselves with some future Paradise. It’s simpler than that. As any cigar smoker can tell you, give us a perfect hand-rolled puro plus a match, and we’ll call Heaven right down here to earth.

Bob Masters is a senior English major. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.