Last night, I was taking a bike ride through town, and by the end of the ride a couple of images made a definite impression on me.
Growing up when I did, one of the things that has made a huge transformation is America’s view of smoking. When I was a kid, even though my parents didn’t smoke, my brother smoked, my sister and her husband both smoked, and most of my aunts, uncles and cousins smoked. It was considered cool, even glamorous. These days, when I see someone with a cigarette, I form an immediate opinion of them…”oh, a smoker.”
And so it was last night, as I was riding down Main Street, I saw a guy dressed in typical work clothes (jeans, t-shirt, cap) running down the sidewalk…with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. For one thing, when I smoked, I could seldom do anything with a cigarette hanging from my mouth because the smoke would get in my eyes, and that bugged me. So I couldn’t understand how this guy could be running with a cig. Then, about 5 to 10 minutes later, when I got back near my neighborhood, I saw a guy walking his dog and smoking a cigarette (not the dog, the guy). For some reason, I got mad. I have no idea why, but I was all of a sudden thinking “What the fuck is going on with all the smoking?!?!?!?!? Does EVERYBODY smoke now?!?!? Am I SUPPOSED to start SMOKING now!?!?!?!”
In case you haven’t already realized it, I’m an ex-smoker. In the past 20 years I’ve only had one cigarette, and it was on the day my sister died so I already felt like crap, and the cigarette didn’t help. I can remember my first cigarette, my last cigarette (the afore mentioned day my sister died…it was a Marlboro Light) and a lot of crazy cigarettes in between.
So let’s take a walk down GroovyRick’s Trail of Smoking Memories!
-I remember the first time I actually tried smoking a cigarette. I was 12 years old, and went over to meet my friends Tom Hinkle and Jim Miles at Jim’s grandma’s house. No one else was there, and as soon as I walked in the door, Miles and Hink both had a wicked grin on their face. I asked what was up, and Hink produced a pack of Pall Malls that he had hocked from his mom’s purse. My immediate reaction was “You guys are SMOKING?”, but it immediately changed to “Give me one of those.” We filled an ash tray, and Miles wanted to flush them, but in my infinite wisdom, I said, “What if the sewer backs up?” So we dumped the butts into a garbage can instead…an empty garbage can. Jim’s dad stopped by to check on us, and of course, the place looked like London ‘cause the smoke was so thick. He didn’t say anything to us, but soon told my mom about it. Can’t even remember if she was mad or not.
-Through high school, I really thought brand was important, so I tried just about every brand on the market. Since my brother smoked menthols, I decided that I would, too. I smoked Kools for a long time, which is about as menthol as you can get. Occasionally, I would buy Kool Straights (non-filtered). Taking a drag on one of those was like getting kicked in the chest with a steel-toed boot. I also smoked Bel-Air, Newports, and Marlboro Menthol. Man, my leisure suit must have smelled awful.
-I used to hang out with my cousin John a lot in high school. He was only 2 years older than me and we had a lot of the same friends. His dad was a mechanic who would always buy cars and fix them up, so John’s house always had about 4 or 5 cars sitting around. In this memory, John was driving a ’65 Impala four-door that his dad had bought from their neighbor, Bela Schramm (sorry, I just had to use the opportunity to type out “Bela Schramm”). Well, one Friday night, John and I had done our share of cruising around in his Impala, smoking up about a pack of Kools each. When I stopped by his place the next day, he was working in the back seat of Bela’s former pride and joy. I asked what was going on, and he said that he had gotten up about 3 in the morning and came out to his kitchen to get a drink of water, and happened to look out at the Impala…only to see that the back seat was on fire! Obviously one of us (I’m sure it was him) tossed a smoke out the window and it went right back into the open window in the back. He went outside in his underwear and used the garden hose to put it out…then tore out the back seat in case it stated smoldering again. For the remainder of the time he owned Bela Schramm’s Chevy, it didn’t have a back seat.
-While I was in college, I had actually quit smoking for a few weeks before going back for my senior year. When I got back to school, my friend Joe Tures’ grandmother had run a restaurant, but it had closed. So when they started cleaning the place out, Joe cleaned out the cigarette machine. He came into my room as I was moving in with about 60 or 70 packs of the most off-brands you could think of…Tarrytons, Chesterfields, True, L&M…you name it, it was there. That got me started again. I don’t know why, but Joe didn’t want to keep all these smokes down in his room, so he kept them in my room…and every half hour or so would come down and say “Let’s fire up a rope, Chief! What specialty brand are we going to try today?”
-Since I had stopped smoking during the summer, I didn’t bring any ash trays back with me when I moved back to college. I had a double room, but no roommate (the benefits of being a senior), so while I used the desk on one side of the room for (occasional) studying, I used the other desk to set up my stereo and albums, etc. So at parties, I would always sit on the side next to the stereo so I could always be in control of the music. There were four drawers on the metal desk that were empty since I was just using it to hold my stereo. One of the first nights back at school, I was having a party in my room, sitting in my usual spot, and decided to light up one of the off-brand smokes that Joe had gotten from his grandma’s cigarette machine. There were no ash trays in my room, so I opened the third drawer of the desk and used that for an ash tray. I vowed never to empty it until the end of the year. And I kept that promise. It was thoroughly disgusting. When I went to empty it, there was about 5 inches of cigarette butts and ash in it. I was so proud I took a picture of it. When I emptied it in the garbage can at the end of the hall, a cloud of dust rose that didn’t settle for about a half an hour. Even by my standards, it was really gross.
-When I worked in radio, just about everyone smoked. We all thought it made our voice deeper and clearer. At every radio station I worked at, they didn’t let us smoke in the studio because they said it wasn’t good for the equipment (they being the engineers). So we smoked about everywhere else we could. One time at WBNQ, we were having a staff meeting in the basement conference room, which was a 6 by 12 room with no windows. There were about 12 of us in there, and EVERY single one of us was smoking. It actually got to the point where my eyes were burning. When the meeting was over, and we opened the door to leave, smoke just came rolling out of the door like the pyrotechnics at a Poison concert.
-What made me quit, you ask? I wish I could tell you that I was concerned about the health risks involved with smoking, or that I was tired of the smell and smoky film that it left on everything. But being the cheapskate that I am, I quit because they got to be about a buck and a half a pack. I thought it was dumb to spend that much money on something that I just burned up.
Seems like country-western star Tex Williams summed it up best back in the late 40’s:
Smoke Smoke Smoke that cigarette
Smoke Smoke Smoke it if you smoke yourself to death
Tell St. Peter at the golden gate that you hate to make him wait
But you just gotta have another…cigarette