Thursday, November 18, 2010

Great American Smokeout

It is Smokeout Day.  How's that working for you?

35 years ago the American Cancer Society challenged us to quit for a day.  And trust me, 35 years ago, we needed it.  In my boutique Yankee Candle scent (called  "Have a Nice Day,") brimming beanbag ashtray is the bass note.

Everything smelled of smoke.  And growing up in Virginia, we mean everything.  The grocery store.  The bank.  Those crazy beehives.  You had a separate wardrobe just for going out.  And you don't want to hear about the workplace.

At Simmons, it was famously said "Smokers are friendlier people."  Being forced outside is the great melting pot, and you'd better believe that if the Boss smokes, the smokers have an In you do not have.

In spite of that opening, this is not my Main Idea.  In the style of Freshman Composition, I am going to state an opening, then transition into a different idea.  (Why do they do that?)  And it is this:

Give the Smokers their day.  They are either trying to smoke-out, in which case they are a little jittery today and probably constipated.  Back off.  If they are still smoking on Smoke-Out Day, they don't need to hear it out of you.  If they have come here for a little distraction, I endeavor to provide.

The Drawing In Room's Positive Thoughts About Smoking, Which Will Totally and Eventually Kill You, Sucks Your Budget Dry, and  is Just Plain Gross, But We Get It.

Smoking Paraphrenalia is terribly compelling.  The kitschier, the better.  Giant table lighters, guest cigarette boxes, ashtrays.  How we purloined those round glass ashtrays from the Hollins cafeteria.  (Being bluestockings, we "purloined" things).  I have an ashtray set I just love -- one big coffee table size, and 4 little end table matches.  I have no use for them, but they draw me.  I almost put pipes in this category, but pipes are just Gross turned up to Forever.

Waiting.  People still say this all the time.  "I wish I smoked."  What a great time filler.  Nothing makes the MBTA come faster. 

Thinking.  And while you are waiting, all those constricted blood vessels making you even colder, with your hands full as it were, you have a minute to listen to yourself.  Runners and meditators get this too, but you know... screw them today.

Bumming.  Still the best pick up line, whether you are a grad student in the bar or a bum on the street.  One smoker can hardly refuse another.  Then again, they aren't 89 cents a pack anymore.  You can see how long it's been.
Menthol.  People used to claim they smoked menthols so no one would bum them.  Really it was because they taste like candy.  I can't explain why we smoked cloves.

The Buzz.  Oh, I'm not leaving you out, little buddy.  You used to be the nickel numb, but you're crazy expensive now.  I may have replaced you with the 3rd sip of bourbon.  But I think about you sometimes.

Let me close with the best thing ever said about why we smoke(d) when we smoke(d).

When We Smoked ~~ Liz Ahl

We were happier when we smoked, when we lit up,
toked a Camel between classes, or froze our asses off
on someone’s late December party porch.

We were happier when the cigarette box was crammed
into our pockets, when we socked away couch-cushion
change at the end of the month for the cheapest generics.

You say this to me: We were happier when we smoked,
you know. And yes, I know -- four months ago I stubbed
the last butt, smug as you can imagine. You say this to me

with the calm, shell-shocked voice of a wise survivor,
wide-eyed under the weight of knowing.
You grip my shoulders with your eyes for emphasis.

And if I were our therapist, I would ask what need
we had that nicotine filled like a perfect round peg,
what impediment to happiness blocked then

and still blocks our way like a storm-thrown tree,
but I’m not a shrink, and this isn’t therapy,
and I agree, we were happier when we smoked --

not just deluded. Not just younger. We took our smoke-
breaks round the clock and our days had more
than minutes -- the cigarettes that slowed time down

or those that sped it up as needed. The speed of a cigarette
is relative; we only know it gave us time and helped us push
the overly swollen hours to the side and behind, like a machete

hacking a clear path. If you were a therapist, reader,
you’d shake your head, make notes on your pad.
But you’re not. You’re you. And once, you were happier, too.


  1. Let me be the first to comment on this very well-done post. Today cigarettes cost over twice as much a carton as they did when I smoked AND office smokers seem to have many more "breaks" than the rest of us. When I quit, a friend who worked at a tobacco company was giving me a free carton a week because his wife was pregnant and could not smoke. When that carton did not appear one September week in 1978, I had an epiphany and believed a Higher Power was speaking to me. I never picked up another cigarette after that - even in the bowling center. All that being said, I congratulate all of those NOT smoking today (or anymore at all)and wish them continued success. M

  2. We WERE happier, 'cause nicotine is a drug and we dosed ourselves - smoking more when we needed to calm down, and more when we needed to pick up, and more when we just wanted that third sip of bourbon (sour-mash, I hope). Happy and healthy don't always go hand in hand.


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