Me and my Cigarettes.

Both my parents smoked. Cigs were as much a part of my family as milk when I was a kid.  I didn’t really pay attention to how much my parents smoked. It was always just there.  And not just the house, but also inside the car.  They smoked with the windows rolled up and this was just something that wasn’t questioned. In fact, it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties, riding along with the young woman that got me to start smoking and her insistence on rolling down the car window that I even had a second thought about ‘maybe it’s not a good idea to smoke in the tight confines of a car with the windows rolled up.’

I can’t recall what my parents smoked in the sixties…but by the seventies they were both smoking Benson and Hedges 100s.   I  vaguely remember them switching to these cigs with their seemingly elegant gold semi-foil package and discreet printing.  They seemed much classier than say…Marlboros or Winstons.  I believe that my Mother smoke Kool Filters for a while but she gave that up.

By the time I was a teenager, the message that cigs were bad for your health had permeated society.  It was a mark of social status at  high school whether you smoked or even experimented with cigs.  I didn’t. When I was fifteen I couldn’t imagine myself ever smoking a cig.  That was really uncool.  Not to mention I recall my buddy Mark Eckert coming into class one day and somehow absolutely drenched in the stench of cig smoke.  He smelled really shitty.  I didn’t want to ever smell that way.

I  wasn’t a very talented athlete.  My skills were all erratic. My coordination was too undependable for anybody to rely on me in a game. I was quick and fairly strong but I was awkward looking even if I was playing ‘well’ in sports like basketball and tennis. However, those failings didn’t effect my ability at repetitive action sports like track, cross country running and swimming all of which I was good (but not great) at.  I enjoyed cross country as I later enjoyed running for exercise in my twenties and early thirties.  On any other cross country team I would have been a leader but it was my misfortune to run on a team with Mark Croucher.  Mark was a truly gifted long distance runner. A Regional star who won distance races without ever being seriously challenged it seemed.  He smoked. 

After high school I went away to college and had no more inclination to smoke a cig than I had ever had.  I’m not sure, but it seems like this was when Yul Brynner was diagnosed with cancer and made some commercials bitterly attacking the habit of smoking.  It seemed so obvious as something you just wouldn’t do.  If I hadn’t tried it as a teen why in hell would I consider it when I was twenty?   The way it happened was this;  As a sophomore in college I got involved with a senior girl (or young woman) who was a dancer in the schools top level ballet program.  Actually, she was the star of the school program and in addition to that talent, she was incredibly bright and an “A” student.  I sort of had my first ‘adult’ relationship with her.  She had an apartment just off the campus (I was still in a dorm) and on weekends I started spending Friday or Saturday nights overnight.   She smoked Salem lights.

It sort of made sense for dancers to smoke.  First, they tortured their bodies. I learned ballet is an extremely demanding discipline for those who are serious about it.  And dancers lived knowing that like pro athletes, their star would only shine for about a decade…most dancers don’t go much past thirty one or two.  There was kind of an obsessive compulsion to burn the light as brightly as possible and in fact it was partially this driven ambition that attracted and fascinated me about her and her world.  So, as it happened,  she would,  late in the night,  offer me a cigarette.  I think it was just ‘politeness’ or grace. Maybe a way for her to feel  normal.  And, I always said ‘no’. I don’t know why,  perhaps it was because kissing her,  I could taste her smoky somewhat flat breath…that was still somehow intimate and familiar…..and compelling, that one night I said ‘ok’.   I smoked a Salem light.  I can still see in my mind’s eye her ashtray with little lipstick marks on her cig butts and none on the one I had smoked.

Our romance lasted from the fall, through a lovely snowy winter and into the Spring.  She was graduating and looking for professional companies to join.  I went home to our little small town.  Probably sometime in either late June or early July, I got the phone call. She was decent enough to talk to me rather than write me the letter.  It was over and she was moving on.  I had been dumped before…in a much worse way.  I suppose I knew she had to move on.  Still,  I felt bad about it for a while.  At the time, I was working on construction jobs. Heavy brute labor.  It was ridicuolous to imagine she would be continuing a ‘relationship’ with me.  Plus, I had received my notice from the college that due to my poor academic performance I had lost my scholarship.  What the hell. I didn’t like the path I was on anyway and had blown all my grades hanging out with her.  That’s when, I bought my first pack of cigs.   When I started,  I bought Salem lights. But, the summer before,  one of my mom’s girlhood friends had come for a visit and brought her daughter who was a couple years older than me with her.  They had just spend a long afternoon but I walked with the daughter out by my family’s barn where she fetched a camel no filter out of her bag and told me of a trip she’d taken to Greece…that’s when she started smoking Camels …burning the end with the label.  I think she was high on something when she told me that story…but…later on the next summer I bought a pack of camel no filters.  Smoked it on the job.

Later,  my buddy and I went to Europe for the fall and winter using the money we saved up from working hard and long hours up until November at union scale. When we got there it seemed like all the backpackers smoked. We learned to buy pouch tobacco and roll our own. (Just like John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction). Drum made a very good …very good rolling tobacco.  If anyone bought cig packs it was either Gauloise,  Gitaines or the ubiquitous Marlboro.  That winter of 79-80 to ride on a train in Europe was to immerse yourself in the heavy perfume of the Gitaines and Gauloise smoke. Everyone in Europe seemed to smoke.  It was like drinking wine or sipping coffee.

I think by the end of that adventure…I had an actual habit.

End Part one.

8 comments for “Me and my Cigarettes.

  1. Jules
    February 11, 2014 at 12:19 am

    Pall Mall’s at my house during the 60’s/early 70’s…Probably the only reason I never started smoking was because one of the first more mature relationships I had was with a guy, ( who smoked), that conveyed to me how tacky he thought smoking made women look…He was an arrogant ass, but did save me from a bad habit…( And no I don’t think women who smoke are tacky, but the comment stuck in my head).

    I know it played a part in my mother’s death for sure, but I still can’t begrudge her. or anyone else really…She made the comment fairly often, especially towards the end of her life, that she wished she’d never started, but in the next breath she’d say, “But I’ve really enjoyed it”. 🙂 I can only imagine how hard it much be to quit and am very proud and glad for you…Continued will-power and success.

  2. The 'BikerDude'
    February 11, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Camels fer me fer…..YRS, dude(from high school on)…..till they pizz’d me off,LOL!…….r’member them ‘coo-pons'(lil’Ron White in’ere,LOL!)……..sent 9000 them things in!…..YEAH!…….never got shizzola…….wait’d 6 MONTHS!……said they never got my order….PFFtt…..they had’a neat radio, look’d like front end/grillwork of a JEEP….had a ‘crank’ on it too…..case you batt’s went dead, or did’n have no ‘lectric .hahahaha…..bastids……

    still do non-filter ……I jus’……tear’em off……hahahahaha….

    • February 11, 2014 at 8:18 am

      I think I remember that crank radio. My buddy Greaser used to save ‘coo-pons’ from Winstons. He had a million of ’em it seemed in his house. I don’t know whathe did with them.

  3. David M.
    February 11, 2014 at 8:17 am

    Genetic variability is an interesting factor in the smoking habit by which I may have gotten lucky.
    My mother has been a life long smoker but with constant (and reluctant) attempts to stop smoking. You will find few that are more pro smoking and simply love it. You will also find few that are more addicted. She has never stopped, at least, chewing nicotine gum.
    My brother, quit ten years now, smoked two packs of camel filters a day for quite a few years. His telling story of addiction was one night when he ran out at bedtime and told himself he would wait till morning to buy more; he was out of money. Before he new what he was doing, he found himself dolling out change on the Quickie Mart counter dug from the couch cushions.
    My father smoked regularly up until the 80s when it became the strong trend to stop smoking. He could simply put it down and smoke only at parties or whatever he liked. Mom would get on the gum and maybe smoke less but that was the best she could do. Nicotine had control.
    I smoked erratically and sparsely for years from a teenager on. In retrospect, I just don’t think Nicotine ever pushed the chemical buttons in me that it did for others. I never experienced the euphoria people report, just mild nausea or a racing heart beat. What’s fun about that? I smoked most with a live in girlfriend who smoked. The drug delivery efficiency of cigarettes was displayed one night as I looked at the smoke coming from her mouth backlit by a lamp. Each breath had diminishing smoke coming out from the initial drag and, when it was only air, she took the next drag. My only near addiction experience was an odd urge to buy cigarettes that I had years after this girlfriend. This urge would keep coming up in my mind that was not strong enough for me to act on. One day I bought a pack of filterless Camels and managed to get mighty nauseous on half a cigarette. Miraculously and after that experience, I never had this urge again or smoked a single cigarette.

  4. liberalhussy
    February 11, 2014 at 10:34 am

    Great story, sir! My grandfather worked for Phillip Morris. Part of his retirement was he received one carton of Marlboro Reds every month, and still does. I smoked them for a while. I think partly because they smelled like him and their house which was comforting. If I get a whiff of them, it conjures up a lot of good memories, still.

  5. Lynne Wild
    February 11, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Quit smoking October 2013, Cold Turkey, As Mark Twain Said ” I quit smoking everyday”.
    That was me, I started smoking in my teen’s. Would quit for several days, some weeks, then in the past 10 yrs. Tried everything , Chantix, patch, chew gum, laser light surgery. I smoked Carlton, almost 8.00 a pack. I didn’t care what cost, because that was my only vice. ( paying to kill myself) My son tried to pay me off to stop smoking, I would take his gifts and would promise to TRY VERY HARD THIS TIME TO QUIT. The Doctor told me three years ago that if I didn’t quit I would be on Oxygen. I have COPD, I use a nebulizer twice a day, no oxygen, , I belong to several support groups, my lungs are damaged, I am just trying to maintain and restore some of the cilla in my lungs.I live in the south in the winter, I am required to maintain a level of exercise, eat small meals, certain foods, wear a mask in crowds, everyday I check my oxygen, blood pressure. I did this to me !!
    Have you ever been unable to get your BREATHE ?? your body goes almost numb, you feel needles all thru your arms and limbs, you see silver things, that’s before you pass out. Well I hope and pray you don’t wait until that happens to quit the cig-demons. I had that happen once, its called an excaberation. I finally did it. NO I DON”T THINK I will be smoking again.
    If you want to quit, get Alan Carrs book or you can read it online at ex-smokers.com.I give my success to all the prayers that my friends had been praying for me, and Alan Carrs book.

    Oh, my favorite excuse to go back to the cigs was I gained weight, I haven’t gained any weight this time. I eat very healthy. I do not want this put on Facebook, I feel it is very private because I can’t believe that I really did this to myself.

    My love and prayers to all of you who smoke and all the ex’ smokers.

  6. February 12, 2014 at 9:44 pm

    I used to be a Marlboro man, then quit for two years and for some reason when I started again I was Kool man. Then after about six months I quit again.

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