These are the times that try men's stogies.
In case you hadn't noticed, we are in the midst of a crisis that threatens the very essence of manhood -- a cigar shortage.
Wasn't it Sigmund Freud who once declared, "This may be a phallus, gentlemen, but it is also a cigar."
Hah. We all know what he meant. Wasn't it old Siggy himself, that proverbial pessimist, a man who died of cigar-induced cancer, who said there's no such thing as a joke?
This cigar-shortage business really is no joke (at least it won't be in Washington within 12 hours of the publication of this story).
Here's the scenario as seen daily by David Berkebile, owner of Georgetown Tobacco:
"The customer comes in, walks into the humidor, can't find the cigar he wants and then wanders out into the void beyond the door. I don't know if he keeps wandering forever -- maybe hoping to find a dealer who just might happen to have a box stashed away."
According to Mitch Jacobs of Hoboken, N.J.'s Pan American Cigar Company -- which sells about 10 million smokes a year -- a failure of the tobacco crop in Cuba has caused Europeans to buy up the other Carribean-made cigars that usually make their way into the mouths of politicians and other mortals. Jacobs says there's no way to tell exactly how much imports are off, "except that we can't possibly fill all the orders we have, which has never happened before."
Then there's the political situation in Nicaragua. Pete Wood of Washington's National Pipe and Tobacco Co. says the Sandinista triumph has all but ground out the flow of tobacco from that nation. And in the Canary Islands, says Georgetown Pharmacy's Doc Dalinsky, cigar purveyor to the stars, they've stopped making cheroots from local tobacco, substituting old Cuban leaf which the U.S. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has declared unfit for consumption in a democracy.
What this means is that it's becoming more and more difficult to find Montecruz, Don Diego, Royal Jamaican, H. Upmann, Don Miguel and similar quality smokes. A glimpse around Washington tobacco shops reveals many empty boxes. Real men find this threatening. Wasn't it Rudyard Kipling who observed, "A woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke."
All over this great land, humidors once brimming with goods are lying half bare. Isn't this supposed to be the land of plenty? Didn't somebody -- specifically Thomas R. Marshall, while presiding over the U.S. Senate in 1917 -- says, "What this country really needs is a good five-cent cigar?" And now we can't even exercise our heavily inflated right as citizens to go out and buy a good $1.20 cigar. Is life worth living anymore?
"I don't know if there's a cigar shortage shortage," says ABC's Sander Vanocur, a man who knows how to enjoy a good smoke. "My wife would certainly like it if there was."
Up on the Vineyard, Art Buchwald -- another serious smoker -- says that the shortage "isn't affecting me. I've been trying to cut down from seven or eight a day to three or four. So if the imports are cut in half, that'll just fit my quota."
How will we survive? Wasn't it Eugene Field, of the Tribune Primer, who rightly pointed out in 1882 that "a good cigar is as great a comfort to a man as a good cry to a woman."
And here we are in an election year, to boot.
Maybe men will start crying. Maybe a candidate will emerge promising a stogie in every kisser. Perhaps some enterprising scientist will accidentally discover the key to creating a good artificial cigar while attempting to clone a Zippo lighter.
And maybe -- just maybe -- God will smile on the earth and make this whole silly shortage go away.