August 2001 Editorial
Hummers and Cigars

It used to be that when I drove through the streets of Santa Monica or Beverly Hills, every so often I would spot the unmistakable sight of Arnold Schwarzeneggar in his brand-new Humvee. His razor-sharp jaw with cigar centrally planted and his monstrous, George Bush-sanctioned, all-terrain Desert Storm vehicle (that perfectly reflected his own gargantuan physique) cut quite an impressive 86.5-inch swath through the lesser four-wheeled products that littered the streets: the rabble from the assembly lines of Ford, GM, Nissan, Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. Even Rolls Royces, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris, who normally held court on the blacktop lanes of Hollywoodland suddenly seemed like mere gnats in the wake of the Austrian’s 3.4-ton vehicular macht. Nothing less than the mightiest herculean tank of our United States Army could raise an eyebrow of Arnold’s “Hasta la vista, Baby” countenance. Anything more would cave-in the streets of L.A.

Yes, it used to be that I could spot Arnold a mile away. It also used to be that if I avoided Arnold I would rarely encounter the stench of those foul cigars. Now-a-days those with a spare eighty-thousand dollars and the need to bolster one’s ego by sucking on what amounts to the back end of a Havana bus, thus emulating Mr. Terminator, can drive around in their own war machine and impress everyone they pass. Or do they? Whenever I see one such display I cannot help but think that there goes another idiot with a lemming mentality, another fool who has easily parted with his money. He is driving and smoking nothing more than status.

The Hummer is not a pleasant ride. Sporting such features as a 40% side-slope capacity and a central wheel inflation system, its civilian use is only good for driving down into the Grand Canyon or if one wants to commute to work through backyards, store fronts, and the La Brea Tar Pits. I can’t imagine dating in such a vehicle, either (a stiletto-healed blonde in a tight dress trying to manuever that first step is funny enough). The two front seats are separated by the immense back-half of the engine block, a design feature I’m sure the Army did not put in to discourage the driver from getting too friendly with the person reading the map.

Had Arnold influenced the world by driving a souped-up laundry truck instead of a Hummer, perhaps our concept of chic/macho modes of transportation would be entirely different. Had he smoked a pipe rather than a cigar, I’ll bet that everyone else would have followed suit. Have you ever smoked a cigar? It’s bad enough during the act; however, the next morning the mouth surely must taste as though one had licked the men’s room floor at a bikers’ bar. Imagine having to kiss a woman who is polluting the air with the essence of a smoldering manure fire, and who has decided that she is now someone just because she has a phallic, albeit soggy, cigar butt jammed in her maw.

I once saw two young couples emerge from a limousine outside of Shiatzi, Arnold’s cigar-friendly restaurant in Santa Monica, California. Each male immediately reached into his tuxedo breast pocket for what was left of a mangled, half-smoked cigar, and proceeded to light up. Equipped with their new status-symbols—not to mention their dates—they were then ready to enter the restaurant. I wondered if cigars were required, and if I arrived sans stogie would the restaurant provide me with the requisite appendage. Humans as lemmings: once Arnold was seen in public with a Cuban, the wannabees and the already-theres suddenly stampeded to jump off that same cliff.

Here we are desperately trying to fit in with the rest of the world. As a teenager, I simply had to have a pair of blue corduroy bell-bottoms, just like everyone else. Years ago, my son had to shave the sides of his head, leaving a bowl-shaped clump of hair on top. I saw a TV program about men whose cars represented to them their importance and stature as human beings. One such poor soul had a Clenet, a custom, rolled-fender job which he would park in front of a ritzy Beverly Hills restaurant, in view of everyone inside. He would tip the valet to keep the car where it was and then make his self-important entrance to sit at the bar and gloat with his drink. About every forty-five minutes there had been enough turn-over in the clientele to render him anonymous, so he would go out to his car to make a call on his mobile phone (never mind that there was a telephone right there in the bar), immediately reestablishing himself as the owner of the exquisite vehicle and elevating him once again to being someone. He would continue that procedure for the rest of the evening. During the interview he acknowledged that without the car he was a nobody; with it he felt all-powerful. He must have been related to the aspiring actor I once met who, though very poor, was saving his money to buy an expensive pair of Porsche sunglasses so that he could gain some respect at Hollywood parties. I assured him that for that kind of respect I would rather save my money and stay home.

Donald Trump and his family once had to fly first-class on a commercial airliner because his own private jet was “in the shop.” His then-wife Marla Maples reported that for the entire trip he was livid that he had to fly as a commoner with the rank-and-file. Imagine him stranded in his Bentley in the middle of the Mojave Desert: given the choice of accepting a ride to safety in an old Dodge Dart or sweating it out with his last sip of Perrier, his previous behavior would venture me to guess that Messieur Trump would choose the latter. I once saw an enormously over-weight woman wearing a skin-tight T-shirt with the name Yves Saint Laurent in huge colorful letters printed across the front. She looked ridiculous, but in her eyes the designer label “qualified” the situation. Remember the gangsta rap influence on kids wearing their underwear on the outside? How about the fast-changing lapel and tie widths, or the ever-fluctuating hem lines? If eight-inch cuffs were hip today I guarantee that they would be outmoded two weeks hence. The public stampedes the clothing boutiques, clamoring to buy the latest froo-froos from the fashion runways of Paris, only to discard them tomorrow and be spoon-fed the next new “look.” Lemmings, all.

Where do we go from here? If Arnold decides to trade-in his wheels for the new Volkswagen Beetle, used-car lots won’t be able to give Hummers away. The world awaits his next move. Imagine him realizing the dangers of smoking, and declaring a movement for a tobacco-free planet: R. J. Reynolds would fold tomorrow. We saw an example of the power of celebrity when Oprah publicly disdained beef. If Arnold had joined her cause, the cattle barons of Texas would now be overcrowding the unemployment lines. Imagine his deciding to learn Spanish: Mexico, Spain, and most of Central and South America would be the tourism capitals of the world, Los Angeles gardeners would find themselves very de rigeur, and there would be a global taste for paella, sangria, and bull fighting—not to mention speaking with a Castilian lisp.

What worries me is Mr. Schwarzeneggar appearing in public one day extolling the virtues of, say, eating stir-fried killer bees and jumping off bridges headfirst. Come to think of it, there are a couple of benefits to that scenario: idiots will quickly be removed from further contributing to the already-contaminated gene pool, and the earth would be rid of the stinging insect in a very short time.


©2001 Stuart Vail