Why Can't a Cigar Be Just a Cigar? There are many reasons a boss can't remain a human being. Here's one.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – So now, having taken away the value of my stock options, Wall Street tells me that cigars are over. I heard it the other day, when shares of Morton's steak houses fell more than five bucks on the supposition that people will be eating less steak. I can tell you, I'm not going to be eating less steak, and the manufacturers of gin, vodka, and Scotch have even less to worry about as far as I'm concerned. But I guess it's true. I will be smoking fewer cigars, because I cannot continue to smoke them in, around, or near my office. My floor has told me so.

About six months ago everything around here kind of went blooey. Days that used to begin at nine started getting under way an hour earlier. The call volume, like, tripled. I would have considered sucking my thumb if I'd believed I could have carried it off, but people are watching, you know. I had no idea how closely.

Under stress a person's bad habits blossom. Those who yell, yell more. Those who drink, drink more. Those who fondle associates increase their workload. Is the smoking of a cigar now and then a vice? It's done purely for pleasure. It carries you away from yourself for a few minutes. It has nothing to do with anybody else. Of course it's a vice.

So I started smoking a cigar in my office once every couple of days. Some mornings I fired one up right after my morning decaf. Is there any more pitiful phrase than "morning decaf"? Please write in and tell me what it is. Other days I waited until after my lunch, at which nothing was consumed but greens and finely tuned waters from streams where pristine fishes spawn. We're not talking Web Hubbell-sized stogies here. Little fellows, they were. Didn't smoke a lot of them either. Just a couple of puffs--ah, that's nice.

All over now.

Almost immediately I was aware that the cigar was doing something to the entire neighborhood around me. People began poking their heads around the doorjamb and peering at me, slack-jawed. "Hi!" they would say, and leave. I became aware that my cigar smoking had become a topic of intense speculation. "He's smoking again," I heard one person say to another when they thought I wasn't listening. Of course I was listening. I see everything. I listen to everything. I'm the boss. Why do you think I need a cigar now and then?

After perhaps a week of this, I discerned several main themes that the floor was toying with to explain my apparently abrupt adjustment to the amazing weight of my duties in this challenging business environment.

--Something has happened and we don't know what it is. Whatever it is, it has forced the formerly sane person we know in the corner office to become demented in some fundamental way. The sky is falling.

--Something bad has happened. Whatever it is, it has forced the formerly capable person we have known in the corner office to throw up his hands and descend into the madness of narcissism and drug addiction.

--Something good has happened. If this is true, it must be something particular to the person in the corner office, because we certainly don't know about it. What's he got to be so happy about?

Consensus seemed to coalesce around the second choice--that I was smoking because things were bad. Whenever my little smoky friend began to fill my office with its homey, warming glow, the anxiety level on the floor would start to mount. I sort of didn't care. I can't take a warm bath in my office. I can't even take a decent nap anymore. I can't close my door, of course, because it sets off incredible levels of panic. So I smoked.

For the record, this is why.

--I have no bad habits left. A person is defined not by his good habits, which are pretty generic, you'll have to admit, but primarily by his bad ones. As I've lost bad habits, I've lost definition. When I indulge in one of my remaining puerile bad habits, I feel much better-defined as an individual.

--Tobacco is a wonderful drug. It's legal. Once you get used to it, it makes you feel swell. Of course it's bad for you! Shut up!

--I can't smoke cigarettes because I don't want to die. At least not that way. I refuse to believe that the smoking of, say, two cigars a week is going to kill you. Any one of the phone calls I take during a normal day is probably shortening my life span a lot quicker than any Macanudo could do.

--You can't drink at the office anymore. In the 1930s, people had bars in their offices. "Drink?" they would say to people who arrived to meet on serious issues. They also wore cool hats and puffed on Luckys. Things are better now.

--In spite of the fact that things are better, they are worse. In fact, things suck.

--I felt like it. I'm the boss, damn it.

I thought things could go along this way pretty much in perpetuity. Who could stop me? Who would want to stop me? Don't they want me to be happy? No. They want me to be explicable. Predictable.

It came to a head last Thursday. Ned approached me in the hallway. "We had the baby!" he said. I was happy for him. He handed me a plump, juicy monster from Honduras. "Yum," I thought, and went to my office, where the final plans for the coming layoffs lay festering on my blotter. I sat. I smoked. I felt better for a while.

I became aware of a growing hubbub in the vicinity of my doorway, a buzz of some kind. A woman went by, ostentatiously coughing and waving her hand in front of her face. Rob, my friend and associate, came in. "What's up?" he said, looking at the cigar. Nothing, I said. I waited. He seemed to be in the grips of a powerful emotion of some sort. "What is it, Rob?" I finally said. "How can you smoke a cigar with all the terrible things that are going to happen around here?" he said. For the first time I saw the handwriting on the wall.

That night I was sitting next to my friend Anne at a corporate event. She leaned over to me and whispered into my left ear very sweetly, "I've been deputized by the rest of the floor. It's about the cigar."

"Oh?" I said.

"Everybody wants you to put it out. Because, well, it stinks."

Now, that's a concept I can understand.

So I've stopped. I'm sure I'm a better manager because of it. People appreciate how responsive I am, that I care enough to stop something I clearly enjoy. It's probably better for me anyhow. It wasn't all that hard, it turns out. Why should it be? I'm the boss, and I can do whatever I want.

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real fortune 500 company he'd rather not name.