Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Smoke Up Johnny!

It’s October 1981 and I could use a cigarette. There would be just enough time before bus 49 arrived at the junction of Sunset and Kingwood Drive for me to walk down to Jerry's Market and buy a pack of Marlboro Lights and some baseball cards. I could light up on the walk back and deeply inhale the black death into my 15 year old lungs. When my high school freshman year had begun in 1981 the older smokers at the bus stop had made fun of me because I was only puffing and holding the smoke in my mouth, but now I was a fully fledged member of the teenage nicotine lung ring. My old comic book geek friends from my Mitchell-Neilson Elementary days who rode the bus would only stare in horror and shake their heads when I reached for my lighter.

It would be easy enough now to state I started smoking in order to look cool and be more adult, and this suffices to a point. There was also the need for acceptance with the sort of older teens that could make your life a living hell if you weren't in their good graces. I wanted to be, yearned to be one of those sulky long haired boys huddled with their girlfriend in the smoking area of the school grabbing a quick puff between classes. There was the exulting aura of rebellion (it never smelled smokier) that firing up a cigarette imparted. Unless you thought too hard about it and then all of my adult relatives came into view smoking their cigarettes and they didn't seem much like rebels. Looked at this way lighting up was just as contradictory a state as being 15. The reason I kept smoking for years was simple. The nicotine rush had hooked me.

I was telling somebody the other day that I used to smoke and they didn't believe me. It's true I protested. Even though I can't stand the smell I still crave cigarettes. Pleasure synapses fire up in anticipation just by my writing this post. I smoked from 1981 until the mid 1990's. A recitation of brands would go like this:

pilfered Merit's from my mother who was just about to quit smoking when I started

Marlboro Lights which was the consistent brand I would return back time and time again

Camels which I would buy out of the cigarette machine at the fire hall in front of Mitchell-Neilson where they were ridiculously cheap – funny how easy it was to just sneak in there back then

More's the long cigar like cigarettes


Newport menthols which made me sick at the Tom Petty show in 1985

Carltons which were like smoking paper (I was trying to quit)

Lucky Strikes when they came back

Pall Mall

Benson & Hedges

and finally several years of smoking clove cigarettes

The new smokeless zone we all live in is nice in some ways. I like not smelling like smoke after dining out. It is undoubtedly a healthier place. Yet it is also a less free world in which we live. I still remember when the smoking ban hit M.T.S.U. and my major adviser at the time Dr. Frederick Crawford was denied his pleasure of smoking his pipe in the halls between classes. He raved about it to his Western Civilization class I was taking as this ban was not due to a governmental wide edict, but due to one student complaining. This was followed up by an outburst about the Chinese which had something to do with why he risked his life in the Korean War only to end up in a country where a gentleman couldn’t smoke his pipe.

The governmental edict was coming and soon the adult world resembled my high school years with the grown up’s crouched together furtively grabbing a smoke outside before going inside. They didn’t look cool. They just looked sad and addicted. I quit for good in the middle of the Nineties. I did like my mother and just stopped. I still miss the nicotine sensation even if all of the glamour and mystical cool was always false. The truth is the main reason why I smoked was because isn’t a cigarette the most marvelous prop.

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