Hey Arnold, That Stogie Looks Like a Tootsie Roll
It all probably started because one of his little Hollywood toadies was afraid to laugh at Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It's not fair to blame the whole country's billowing cigar euphoria on Schwarzenegger: But still, you need someone. Otherwise, you'd have just a few puffs of smoke, not this raging cultural wildfire.
I'd quote exact statistics on US cigar sales, but my source material - Newsweek - featured MTV-alum Jenny McCarthy clutching an unlit Antonio y Vega on the cover and never even made it to the check-out stand. My wife suggested I should get my data from sources with words like "research institute" in their name rather than "sitcom star" behind it. Anyway, I think it's a lot.
It was a mistake that led moviedom's most famous muscle guy to light up America's foulest trend since latte-lite.
What was this mistake? How did this start? Best I can guess, the little toady surprised his boss a couple of years ago, entering his dressing room unannounced.
Anyway, Toady caught Schwarzenegger off guard, gnashing into a Tootsie Roll (one of those big ones; a 59-center, like they sell at the Walgreens). This alone may sound unusual for the health-oriented Austrian, but Arnold had tried to shove the whole thing into his mouth at once: He hadn't broken it into pieces first.
Faux pas times two.
The former chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness couldn't be witnessed succumbing to garbage calories; nor could he let word circulate that his snacking habits were so ... enthusiastic.
"ARNOLD TERMINATES DINING ETIQUETTE," the tabloids would scream, and "LAST GULPING HERO CAUGHT IN JUNK-FOOD BINGE." Bad press.
So to preserve image, what would a super-hero do? Improvise, of course. Just like every 11-year-old boy found reading his teen sister's diary.
"I vus chust rehearsink vor a new role," he'd say, all steely-eyed like he does, "a guy dut smokes cikarz."
If you're the little toady, you're quick enough to realize you've just been granted continued life. Hollywood's No. 1 star is embarrassed. You play along, and he'll be indebted. For a Hollywood toady, this is the Promised Land.
"Heh, heh. Looks great, Mr. S," Toady agrees, months in the trenches paying off fast. "In fact, that cigar bit makes you look even more macho."
And from that last one sentence, our most ridiculous fad is born.
"Ja, do you mean dis?"
"Wish I'd thought of it. I'll have a box of the real thing couriered over from 'Smokin' Folk' by lunch."
"Ja, dis ideuh. It pleesus me."
MIT doesn't have an atomic clock fast enough to measure the time elapsed between the first paparazzi pictures of Schwarzenegger with a giant Monte Christo firmly clamped between his jaws and the start of the Cigar Century.
And we are a nation of joiners: Now we have cigar clubs, cigar nights, cigar magazines with 400-plus pages.
Pity no one tells the emperors they have no clothes. Of course, you couldn't tell Schwarzenegger, "Don't go there." If you could, "Last Action Hero" wouldn't have been made.
But any regular guy sending his smoke screen down a city sidewalk should be told that drawing on smoldering rolled plant-matter doesn't make him look stronger, tougher, handsomer.
No, it makes him look like Ralph Kramden when his face got stuck to the vacuum cleaner hose because Norton flipped the "on" switch while he was trying to blow out something caught inside.
That just can't be a look many men aspire to.
Arguments against cigarophilia should never have to get as far as any health issue. Men need only hear the words of Mrs. Hale, my all-too-adorable freshman high-school English teacher who once caught Jimmy Kornblum smoking a plastic-tipped White Owl over by the flagpole outside the new building.
"Jimmy," she purred in that way that made all us 14-year-olds pay closer attention, "you shouldn't smoke cigars. Girls won't kiss you."
If only Arnold had his own Mrs. Hale, instead of that little Hollywood toady. Or anybody who would have seen what Toady saw, and said, "Hey, boss, you gotta cut those Tootsie Rolls into pieces! Somebody see you like this and they'd think you're trying to look like Groucho with a cigar in your mouth."
What a better smelling, less silly-looking world it would be today.
* Kent Shocknek is a news anchor at NBC-4 TV, in Los Angeles.