Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another Re-Run: Smoke 'Em If Ya Got 'Em

I went looking for something this morning (I found it, too) and came across this old chestnut from four and a half years ago... which I posted right at the time I quit smoking cigarettes.  It kinda rang a couple o' bells with me; I hope it works for you, Gentle Reader.  The post, in part:
It’s been a week today and I’m still off the evil weed cigarettes, still haven’t cracked the Partagas stash. It’s still very early days, but at least I haven’t done that backsliding thing immediately. Thank you, Nicorette.

So. Just by sheer coincidence (and thanks to the inimitable Lileks, he of the cigarillos taken under the gazebo in the summer), I came across a couple of items on smoking yesterday, wouldn’t you know. And they’ll continue to pop up just like clockwork for the foreseeable future, too. Life’s like that.

The first: Barack Obama is a smoker. No sh!t.
But Obama's semisecret weapon amounts to a double-edged sword. After all, what sort of successful Democratic politician smokes nowadays? Smoking is GOP old-school. House Minority Leader John Boehner regularly smokes cigarettes—which helps explain why he didn't hesitate to hand out tobacco-industry campaign checks on the House floor some years back. But Democrats shun the demon weed, at least in public. One of the first acts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was to ban smoking in the Speaker's Lobby, long the haunt of nicotine-crazed legislators. (The most famous Democratic tobacco addict doesn't even smoke. Former President Clinton likes to chomp on cigars—and, as the Starr report detailed, to occasionally use them for other purposes. Sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar.)
So, it's understandable that Obama, according to his aides, has been trying to kick the filthy habit as he gears up for a possible presidential campaign. The senator is refreshingly honest about his penchant for cigarettes: When asked about it by the Chicago Tribune in 2005, he replied, "The flesh is weak." When asked whether Obama still smokes, his spokesman, Tommy Vietor, hedged. "I haven't seen him for a month, so I don't know," Vietor said in late December. Vietor later declined to comment for this piece. (emphasis mine)
That Starr report link is pretty danged graphic, but I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. Back to Barack… I really don’t give a damn if Barack, or anyone else, for that matter, smokes. I don’t think most Lefties are that tolerant, however. Because they know what’s good for you, even if you don’t…and they’re not shy about telling you, either. Still and even, I think this just has to be the most unique, if not bizarre, reason to quit I ever heard… “Well, I decided to run for President, so I guess I better quit.” Takes the cake, that does.

The second item is quite old, a Times Online (UK) item from March of 2005 titled “Up in Smoke.” (No, Sparky, not that Up In Smoke) It’s a bit of nostalgia, and Boy-Howdy, do I ever relate.
Not very long ago, the whole world smoked, no room was truly furnished unless it contained an ashtray, and all of waking life was measured out in cigarettes. Doctors smoked in their consultation rooms. Chefs smoked in restaurant kitchens. Mothers smoked while dandling their babies. Mechanics smoked in oil-flecked garages. Athletes smoked on the sidelines. Teachers smoked in classrooms. Patients smoked in hospital solariums. Television presenters smoked on camera. Shoppers smoked in the produce aisle at the supermarket. We smoked in the rear halves of airliners, in the balconies at movie theatres, between courses at formal dinners, on crowded dance floors while gyrating, on elevators despite the signs, on the subway if the hour was late enough. We smoked in the office and at the beach, in the waiting room and at the hair salon, in the art gallery and at the stadium. We smoked in bed: just after waking and just before sleep, after making love and sometimes during it. We often smoked without being aware we were smoking.


In Europe - actually, in most parts of the world other than the US - everyone was perpetually offering everyone else a smoke. Sit down at a table with three people and instantly out come four packs, an expertly gradated trio of ends poking out of a corner of each, and of course you have to take one, even if it’s a brand you abhor, just as they must take yours. To refuse would be an act of aggressively bad manners, like spurning the proffered tea in an Arab country or the bread and salt in Russia. In America, by contrast, prison yard customs prevailed. The pack was kept in a shirt pocket and one pill was drawn out at a time and inserted into the owner’s mouth. This was not viewed as a breach of etiquette since, it was reasoned, everyone you encountered would already have his or her own pack. Keeping your pack to yourself was a sterling example of the American ethos, like fencing your land and shooting trespassers and considering that basic societal benefits belong to those who can afford them. (Ed: gotta get that snark in, doncha?)


Bohemians and intellectuals predictably went for Camels or Luckies. Raymond Loewy’s Lucky Strike package was a triumph of design, even after the green background was excised in the Forties so that the dye could be saved for the war effort. In the Twenties it was stylish for cigarettes to allude to the Near East, hence Murads, Fatimas - and Camels, now the last survivor of the trend. (Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade smoked Fatimas.) Supposedly, there were dirty pictures concealed within the image of the camel on the package, but though I nodded yes when they were pointed out to me, I was never able to make them out. Both Camels and Luckies appealed to a certain purism, to a nostalgia for fedoras and speakeasies, to a peculiar impression that the brands were so elemental as to be something like produce, not really commercial brands at all. Nothing was better at conveying cosmopolitan style and culture in America than possession of a pack of Gauloises, or Gitanes. The aroma of black caporal tobacco was so distinctive you didn’t need to flash the pack to stand out in a crowd. (Ed: You sure didn’t. Gauloises and Gitanes stink, in a manner that’s simply beyond the stink of an ordinary cigarette and is, essentially, indescribable. Anyone who has ever been to Paris, or anywhere else in France, knows this for a fact. It begins when you ask yourself “What the Hell smells in here?”)


Anyway you can’t smoke any more. You can’t smoke anything - not low tar, not Sher Bidis, not all-natural additive-free tobacco in unbleached paper. It’s not yet illegal to possess the materials and implements for smoking, nor to consume them in the privacy of your own home, but it is increasingly difficult to smoke in public places, even outdoors, even in Europe. It’s true that a certain dark anti-glamour lingers outside the restaurant doorway, as you and people you will never meet again enjoy the rough comradeship of exile, puffing away in your thin jackets in February as if you were doing something heroic. It’s true that in a few Western settings - student life, for example, or among fashion models - smoking remains almost normative. It’s true that if you produce a pack of cigarettes in the right place and at the right time entire roomfuls of confirmed quitters will line up to bum one. And of course everyone knows at least one defiant and unapologetic smoker. In general, though, and especially in prosperous suburbs, you can expect passers by to glare at you with undisguised contempt, however discreetly you light up.
Barack, take note of that last paragraph. Or perhaps he’s already read the article. At any rate, every single thing in the above paragraphs is true, with the possible exception of smoking during sex. After sex? Most certainly. During? I don’t think so.

I’m old enough to remember the days when smoking was cool, the days when, as noted above, everyone did it. I learned “British Rules” on smoking when I lived in London. Not coincidentally, The Second Mrs. Pennington’s and my consumption rate doubled or tripled, even, when we went out on the town or down to the pub. We realized this almost immediately and developed subterfuges to counter the expense, which could be considerable. There were nights when the two of us would go through five packs of cigarettes, simply because all our mates were eager to accept our cigarettes when offered. I would routinely pass on the cigarettes offered in return, having never developed a fondness for Players Navy Cut or Rothschilds. We figured out what the Brits didn’t like (Trues, IIRC) and we’d both bring a pack of those along to offer around. Naturally, the offered smokes would be declined. Thus: money saved. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true.

Being the good Bohemian I aspired to be in my youth, I began with Luckies. I even did the James Dean thing by rolling them up in the sleeve of my tee shirt while on the job as a landscaping contractor’s assistant in high school. Yes, I began in high school. We all did the JD thing, and we all smoked Luckies, too. It was the thing to do. Over the years I moved from brand to brand, changing about every ten years or so. At the end (last week, ha!) I was smoking American Spirits, one of those “all-natural additive-free tobacco in unbleached paper” brands described above. Well, the paper is bleached, I think. And the damned things were still killing me, in spite of their “naturalness.” God willing, I’ll make it stick this time.

Even though I’ve excerpted from the article heavily, there’s much, much more. Here’s the closing graf:

Maybe there are ex-smokers out there who feel uncomplicated relief at having quit. I doubt there are many, however. Your cigarette was a friend - the sort of friend parents and teachers warned you against, who would lead you down dark alleys and leave you holding the evidence when things went wrong - but a friend nevertheless. It’s terribly sad that you can’t enjoy a smoke now and again without tumbling into the whirlpool of perdition, the way you can take a glass of spirits on the weekend with no danger that by Monday you will end up filtering the shoe polish after exhausting the cooking sherry. But just as an alcoholic remains an alcoholic even after decades of abstinence, so a smoker is a sinner forever after. You have breathed fire. You have experienced one of the deepest satisfactions of life: the first cigarette of the day in tandem with the first cup of coffee. (Ed: Or the two glowing cigs in the dark after wild, wild sex!) You have felt that knee-trembling rush upon taking the first drag after suffering an enforced separation from cigarettes - after a trip to the moon, for example. Your friend has come running to your side in the worst moments, and has been there to cheer you on in the best. You have tasted of the fruit of good and evil. Now that you have chosen the path of righteousness, can it be that the decision is fixed and irrevocable? Is it possible that smoking will be legislated or taxed out of existence? Is it possible that the Earth will be wiped so clean of tobacco that, like opium, it will be difficult to find without undertaking hazardous journeys in troubled regions? Is it possible that you will never again be able to enjoy the comfort of knowing that you have traded five minutes of life for five minutes of serenity? We may all have stopped smoking, but we continue to burn.

If you’re a smoker, or even an ex-smoker who doesn’t mind a trip back to Former Happy Days, go have a read. And smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em! Uh, no. Don’t.
The pic is one of the very few I could find showing me with a cigarette, which is passing strange, mainly because we almost always used ciggies as props in the way-back... before smoking went out o' style.  True confession:  I still miss the damned things.


  1. Ah, cigarettes. Sweet, sweet cigarettes. I do miss them, indeed. BUT THEY WILL NOT HAVE ME BACK!

  2. Andy: Me, too... I both miss 'em and ain't never goin' back.

  3. November 7, 1987, 10:00 am, I lit the last Kent III. But who's counting?

  4. The memories are many... and long. I was eight or nine when we built the neighborhood tree house where the stash was kept. By the time I was 11 had discovered that no questions were asked if I bought by the carton, particularly since my brand was Camel. I did dabble a bit with other brands but never really liked filters... to the point of breaking them off when I bummed a smoke. An upside of smoking non-filter cigarettes is that a lot of other smokers don't like them and won't bum. In the Navy I took to carrying a pouch of Bull Durham for the chronic leaches. It also served another purpose, but I forget what it was.
    I did quit once about 30 years ago and went for six years until, in a moment of stress, I lit up a cigar and was on again for another 25 years.
    Do I miss them?
    Not yet.

  5. Interesting post. I didn't grow up around cigarettes much. I had asthma when I was a kid, so my father quit cigarettes. First day at college, I was offered a cigarette. Couldn't breathe after one puff, and never tried cigarettes again.

    I can relate if I compare my addiction to chocolate or black tea to cigarettes. It would be hell to give those up.

  6. But who's counting?

    Heh. I remember the exact date, place and time I lit my last American Spirit, too.

    Skip: I obviously put cigarettes and cigars in different categories, the key difference bein' one doesn't inhale cigar smoke... if one is smart. But I hear what you say... and my memories of cigarettes are so very strong, as well.

    Red: You're fortunate in a small, small way in that your asthma prevented you from getting addicted. And cigarettes are among the VERY worst of all addictions. DAMHIK.

  7. I was a social smoker in high school - only ever bought one pack myself, would bum them off my then-boyfriend and other friends. When I met The Oracle he informed me, without knowing I was a social smoker, that he hated smoking. I stopped bumming ciggies that day. :-)

    These days, with asthma that is hard to control on good days, even 2nd hand smoke gives me trouble. Hell, even if I just smell it hanging around after someone smoking is long gone - it can trigger me.

  8. Never smoked; never needed to since both my parents did.

  9. I started smoking cigars to get off cigarettes. Quitting cigars was easier than going cold turkey.

    My mom says I started smoking when I was 12. I really don't remember. But our family was falling apart about then, so I assume it might have been part of it.

    What I do remember, was how I REALLY enjoyed them. I bought my cigarettes with my lunch money out of a machine. My mom smoked Lucky Strikes but I liked a filter. I think I got started on Chesterfields, and they tasted great.

    My dad smoked Lucky Strikes until about 1968 when he couldn't afford booze and cigarettes, so chose booze.

    Of all the stuff I inhaled, I think Chesterfields would be my drug of choice. If they said I was terminal, I'd have the nurse go back in time, and get me a pack of them.

  10. Kris: Quitting before you got hooked was a great good hing for you. I sympathize with your asthma issues, as well... I know what it's like to not be able to breathe all TOO well.

    Lou: Both my parents smoked too. I'm surprised you never took it up.

    la fumée: I REALLY enjoyed cigarettes as well. Too damned much, actually.


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