I did a play once with a man, in his early-70s, who told me that if he made it to 80 he was going to start smoking again. A noble goal, and one I would gladly follow him in.
Growing up, I often heard people say that no one looks good smoking and that it’s a filthy habit. These were said by, you guessed it, people who had simply never tried it.
Now, I am not going to merely extoll the virtues of smoking with the aim of getting you to light up. If you never have, well done! The potential risks are not worth the dubious rewards. Don’t do it. It is bad for you. If you even think about starting, Yul Brenner shall rise again from the grave and appear to you out of the wispy smoke of the half-finished Marlboro smoldering in your ashtray.
If you have quit, bravo and brava! It is quite easily the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, besides pretending to be interested in my brother-in-law’s plans for his backyard. But I was smoking while he was holding forth, so it wasn’t that bad.
I have sort of quit. I quit before I got married at my wife’s request, nay insistence. I started, marginally, during the pandemic. Something about a pandemic killing thousands of otherwise healthy people daily offsets the far distant possibility of lung troubles, and subdues the more immediate problem of stark-raving panic.
When I started again it was cigars. Small ones, occasionally large ones. I usually take the age ones in group settings, generally after a meal. Where I find that when no one is speaking to me directly, which is most of the time, I tend to chain-smoke that thing, having been weaned on cigarettes where you can do that sort of thing. The large cigar is not meant to be inhaled like you are a locomotive gaining steam. This leads to vomiting. Once at the home of people I had just met.
The last big cigar I had was from a 5 pack of Mark Twain Cigars. It seemed to be the brand a humorist ought to be smoking. I lit one up in celebration of getting my first piece accepted by McSweeney’s.
When I started on cigarettes way back when it was a way to deal with an otherwise hopeless existence. You’re 23 and your life is going nowhere in a dead-end town, it is time to fulfill your role as a Kevin Smith character. Please collect your cigarettes at the counter.
What I loved about smoking is that it forces people to do something that human beings should be doing many times every single day, which is stopping and breathing deep for five minutes. Now, unfortunately you are inhaling horrible things while you do so, but that’s not quite the point.
Perhaps if we did it without the coffin nails we would all be a little better?
Furthermore, it is a very social activity. While difficult in other walks of life, it is perfectly acceptable, encouraged even, to approach a smoker that you do not know. Make friends! They are the friendliest of all people. “You like to poison your lungs, I like to poison my lungs. Let us build on that.”
“Weee Arree The World! We are the children! We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving!”
Ah, yes, the giving. Smoking is, like yacht collecting, a very expensive habit while also being entirely unnecessary. Yet! In spite of the ever rising expense of a pack of cigarettes, smokers will generously give unto you. They don’t even hesitate. Even if they’re down to their last couple. They will give. Also it is incumbent upon you to give when asked, and you won’t even think twice before handing them over. Now all this among friends is one thing. Of course you’d expect them to share. What I’m talking about is strangers. I once approached a man on a ferry and asked for one and he handed one over. Happened to be my brand, which is just a bonus. You never even scout for that. I have also given to strangers. Every smoker has been on both sides of that transaction. It is expected. It is done. “Freely ye have received, freely give.”
Why so generous of time and tobacco? Perhaps it is because we know our time is short and we wish to spread kindness in the world while we can. Perhaps it is because this stress-relieving habit makes us more laid back, more thoughtful, more empathetic, more kind, more open.
Sex also relieves stress, but you cannot ask for that on the street, seriously, my uncle got arrested for that once.
When I started smoking I believed it would enhance me creatively. Enamored as I was by that 1920’s group of writers who smoked and drank like it was going out of style. I found no words in the cigarette papers and no inspiration at the bottom of the bottle. Not that people haven’t, just I didn’t. I’ll keep looking.
The closest I have come is this lengthy treatise I have set before you.
Cheers, pally! (Lifts ashtray for toast)