It’s no secret that I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle inside a burrito or some such. Wrap your head around this:
I like to smoke. I have a psychotic aversion to burning tobacco.
My mother was an intolerable chain-smoker. My father had long since given up getting her to quit. The house and my school clothes smelled like absolute shit, but it didn’t matter; everyone else’s mom chain-smoked all the time too.
Parents smoked, teachers smoked, doctors smoked the goddamn things. Car trips were sheer hell if you couldn’t roll the windows down. We kids cured like fucking hams while our parents torched down one coffin nail after another, as they drove. Fires blazed at the roadside, thanks to tossed butts; no one could be bothered to crush them out in the ashtray built into the car.
Cigarette butts were everywhere. They stank. The average smoker couldn’t give less of a shit about the “environment”; back then no one did. In the city, thousands of little yellow filters clogged the street gutters and drains. People smoked in movie theaters and hospital lobbies. Eventually doctors went back to pipes, which didn’t jaundice the walls and ceiling within a week, and made the smell somewhat palatable.
The Italian women in my family all smoked like fucking fiends. Do you remember the lead-up to “Sandra Dee” in Grease, when the girls try to teach Olivia Newton-John how to smoke? That’s how normalized the link between women and tobacco was in the middle-20th century. My aunt, mother and grandmother would all light up at once, like Patty and Selma. The men in my family smoked cigars. No joke: cigarettes were “faggy”. Johnny Carson smoked them, but that’s why he had that voice.
When I was little, a friend and I went into the woods, gathered up fallen leaves, rolled them into a huge newspaper tube, and “smoked” them with matches I’d stolen. The remainder of the afternoon was spent puking in confusion. This may be the real reason behind the following factoid:
I have never smoked a cigarette. A dog turd stands a better chance of getting close to my face. I won’t even touch a lit one: once I had to pick one up that my mom dropped, and my OCD was birthed, as I spent hours trying to wash the stink off my fingers. My frustration with my mother’s endless smoking peaked at 9, when I threw her pack of cigarettes so hard it smashed a window, and I had to lie to my dad that I’d thrown a hard rubber dog toy. Think how hard a child would have to throw a pack of cigarettes to break a window. Translation: I am past sick and tired of breathing your toxic shit.
One of the first girls I ever kissed later confessed to me that she was a smoker, and I thought to myself, “that’s why her mouth tasted like a baboon’s asshole.” Girls’ mouths are supposed to taste like sugar and spice and New Year’s going off in your brain. You want to smell her lips, breath, and hair, not the greasy ashtray at Grandma’s house in Flatbush. That’s the repellent; the unmistakable scent of a relative leaning in for an inappropriate, sloppy kiss.
Believe me, I know. I generally keep all this to myself.
As I often harp upon, I’m an American. And you know what? So are two crops: tobacco and hemp. Despite the deliberate demonization of hemp in the early 20th century by William Randolph Hearst, a substantial percentage of our population embraces its medical aspects, as I do. This all happened long before I was born, and it’s not any of my business telling people what they can smoke, regardless of odor. I’m not a doctor, smoker, or tobacconist.
If I’m a guest in a smoker’s house: smoke your brains out. I can hold my breath. It’s not even an inconvenience. I like to look at and cavort with females, so I go to bars. People smoke there. It’s one of the few remaining places they can. I’ve been around the block long enough to know bars are “neutral territory”, and not places you judge anyone, unless you want a ruckus. Plus, smokers in bars tend to be judicious with their inventory, so you don’t get six fiends lighting up at once, like at my aunt’s house in 1985.
Women smoking is also a contentious matter, because it’s another one of those things they were forbidden to do, and when they got the right, they went bugfuck overboard.
Once it was legal for women to smoke, tobacco companies hired women to appear wherever women were employed in large numbers, a factory for instance, and light up cigarettes as though they were the torch of Liberty. It worked like a charm; in the middle 1950s, almost half the country smoked cigarettes. Then in the 1980s, almost half the country died of lung cancer.
Early and Native Americans smoked tobacco and died of bear attacks, not cancer. Once tobacco became a 19th-century industry, the scumbags in charge added all sorts of horrible garbage, as the butchers did adding sawdust to meat. Because the health applications of cigarettes are imaginary at best, there’s never been a regulatory commission to take the horrible garbage back out. They just left it alone unless someone complained about the taste. Contemporary American tobacco companies have the moral compass of murderous pimps.
Legendary author Kurt Vonnegut had a unique perspective on his tobacco jones:
“Here’s the news: I am going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Pall Mall cigarettes, for a billion bucks! Starting when I was only twelve years old, I have never chain-smoked anything but unfiltered Pall Malls. And for many years now, right on the package, Brown & Williamson have promised to kill me. But I am eighty-two. Thanks a lot, you dirty rats. The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick and Colon.”
-Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without A Country
I cannot, in good conscience, fully condemn something that’s part of my country. If I do, I risk not listening to the people on that side, and that’s when folks get steamed. Have I ever mentioned how much I detest pro football? Seems like literally everything negative in entertainment can be bested by pro football players, plus it guarantees embarrassing riots. Not my business though; for all I know, I could be seeing these riots as part of a false agenda. There’s a lot of that going around these days.
I do try not to get in smokers’ faces with all this, really. One last thing, though; when one of you says “if it bothers you, I’ll put it out”, that’s bullshit.
You don’t want to hear that any more than I want to hear “you stink like a Phish concert.”
(An unexpected positive when I was in Fulton County Jail: for 48 days, I did not have to smell cigarette smoke. At all. It was the best part of the experience, other than the climate control.)