Monday, February 16, 2009

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

There's a story in the Times about smokers snuffing their vile habit out of concern for the health of their pets. It made me think about cigarettes and how much I liked smoking.

I was a smoker. Kools for a long time, then Camels, then Marlboros. I always owned a Zippo made, as all Zippos are, in Bradford, Pennsylvania in the factory with the giant neon flame on the roof. Some of my lighters were engraved. The one I had in the Army, the one decorated with my unit patch, I lost somewhere in Guatemala, I think. Or maybe it was Honduras.

I loved the click of the lid, the rasp of the wheel, even the smell of the lighter fluid catching fire. In high school, I used to put a few drops of English leather, the manly scent of the day, in my lighter, hoping to make the flame more fragrant. It never did.

There was nothing I didn't like about the whole ritual of smoking cigarettes. Tamping the pack, sharing a light, tapping the ash, all of it.

Until I didn't. Then I quit. It was some time around '94 or '95, and I haven't wanted a cigarette since. I still dream about smoking and when I do I think, "Damn, now I have to quit all over again." I'm always relieved when I wake up.

Now I realize just how unpleasant cigarettes are to people who don't smoke. Because I play music in smoky bars, I've learned to live with it until I get home and find I stink like an ashtray, but the music makes it all worthwhile. This morning I walked past a guy smoking a cigarette and the smell instantly put me in a bar, drinking vodka and playing blues. I could even taste the tonic on my tongue.

Just as deisel fumes put me back in the jungle, downwind of a generator, cigarettes have become the smell of a distinct place.

As I write this 1941 novel, I have to keep in mind that everyone smoked. Everyone. Everywhere. Looking back from our proscripted times, it's amazing to think of lighting up in a movie theater or post office.

I worked on a few RJR accounts in the early 90's, back in the heyday of Joe Camel, and when you went to the RJR headquarters in Winston-Salem, you could snag a free pack in the lobby. The meetings were always held in a haze of tobacco smoke, and God help you if you were packing anything other than an RJR cigarette.

So, I don't smoke any more, although I often find myself hanging out with the smokers at a party. They're almost always more entertaining than the nonsmokers inside.

What's my point? I don't know, just rambling on a Monday morning. Maybe it's this: If you smoke, smoke downwind of your non-smoking friends. And if you don't smoke, STFU about it.


Anonymous said...



norby said...

David-I always enjoyed smoking too, all of those things you mentioned, although I always found something satisfying about lighting a cigarette with a match.

I got a horrible sinus infection about seven years ago, just breathing was such an effort that the idea of smoking was a nightmare and since then, I've had little to no desire for a cigarette.

But yeah, sometimes I miss the ritual of it...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Younger people find the smoking on MAD MEN unrealistic. Not me. I worked in an office with over one-hundred people in 1970 and just about every one of them smoked. All the time. Including me. I quit in 1990. I hope it was soon enough.

JD Rhoades said...

Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I ever did, and that includes the North Carolina Bar exam. Maybe I should have gone out and gotten a sinus infection.

Barbasaurus said...

You just brought back a great memory I have of my dad. He smoked Kools most of his life until he became cheap and started smoking whatever the on-sale menthol brand was at the Indian reservation (where my mom still buys her cigarettes).

Anyway, my memory: when I was home for summer breaks during college, my dad and I took road trips as often as we could. By then (late 1990s) he couldn't drive anymore due to many heart attacks and strokes, so I carted him around. Just the two of us. We went to Salem, Mass., into old coal mines outside of Pittsburgh, through beautiful state parks in New York and Pennsylvania. But once we went to Bradford, Penn. just to go on the Zippo factory tour. I still have a whole roll of prints from that trip, including pics of an old-timey restaurant/bar where we stopped to share a beer and have dinner. Those were good times.

He never did kick smoking. In fact, he never tried. And I sure do miss him. Thanks for stirring up the memory.

norby said...

I don't know Dusty, that sinus infection was horrid, my ex said he'd never seen me so sick, and truthfully, I don't think I've ever been that sick, and that includes two bouts of bronchitis. I was seriously ready for death to take me at a couple of moments.

And I never said I hadn't tried to quit before that...

I live in Denver now and you would think as thin as the air is here fewer people would smoke, but I'm constantly amazed by how many people do.

David Terrenoire said...


I'm happy to oblige the memories. Comments like yours make me feel like I'm not completely wasting my time here.