Two things really inhale you into the habit of smoking. One is, famously, alcohol. Barrooms, supposedly elegant drinks and a lit cigarette seem to go together. But, I daresay nobody really enjoyed their cigarette while having a drink. A cigarette in a bar is more a means of occupying the hands…a stage prop…along with the accoutrements of smoking…the ashtray (a minor player), the package, and more importantly…the cigarette lighter or matches. All these have a part to play …if only punctuation in the ritual of ‘having a drink with a friend.’ They are all beguiling. But in that ritual…the cigarette itself is secondary to the ‘experience’. The second ‘habit former’….was, for me, much more deadly….the cup of coffee.
A cup of coffee and a cigarette. I estimate that I began at least 12,410 days of my life this way. Through my twenties, coffee had not become the rich drink it is today (Post-Starbucks). In the eighties coffee was maxwell house and for me…it was ‘strong’ and hot that counted. Back in the States at that time …smoking was still not ‘cool’ like it had been in Europe. The ‘health concerns’ overshadowed the experience and directed me and my buddies to smoking ‘healthy’ cigs. In my (and in many others) that meant “Merit” cigs. How Merits became a popular cigarette I can’t really say. I think they must have been touted as being ‘flavorful’ and also not as ‘heavy’ as ..say…Winston or Marlboros. For many years I was a faithful Merit smoker and it served fine as a functional part of my smoking ritual. But, in all that time I can’t say I ‘liked’ Merits. But, I comforted myself telling myself that Merits ‘weren’t as bad’ as Marlboros. Then, somewhere around the time I was in law school I started smoking Marlboro Reds.
I always thought the Marlboro Man commercials and ads were corny bullshit. But, I had noticed that certain people that I admired for their apparent intelligence, or spirit or talent or fierceness seemed to smoke Marlboros. Reds. ( Writing this, I can’t seem to recall ever seeing anybody smoking a “Menthol” Marlboro. Though I see them for sale…have you ever seen someone smoking them? Who do they sell those too?) I asked someone …back then “Why you smoking Marlboro?” and the answer was, “They are the best, man.” So I tried Marlboro. They were the best. Then I worked it around in my mind that I might as well go ‘whole hog’ if I was going to smoke and smoke “the Best.”
Somewhere, back in those days when I had gone in on Marlboros, I thought, “ok…I need to quit.” I quit. Threw away my pack. Not gonna smoke. In the evening of the second day I was feeling frantic. I walked out of Krogers. I was with a woman. She remembered she had to get something else and went back inside. I looked down at the asphalt of the parking lot and saw a good sized butt scuffed but still holding its shape. I leaned over, picked it up and put it to my lips and lit it.