b Papa Dog's Blog: Smoke

Papa Dog's Blog

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Saturday, December 04, 2004


I rode up the elevator the other day with someone who had just come from a smoke break in the plaza. It’s only six floors but – whoa Nellie! – the dude was putting out about twenty floors’ worth of tobacco reek. Granted, an elevator’s not a big room or anything, but I’m always amazed how quickly a single smoker can suffuse the whole area with that smell.

Maybe I’m just overly sensitive because I rarely smell it now. I grew up in smoke-filled rooms. My mother smoked, my brother smoked, one of my sisters smoked. There was even a time when my dad smoked, but I don’t think he did it in a big way. Aunts smoked, uncles smoked, cousins smoked. My most persistent memory of Uncle Bob is him sitting on the couch in the dim light at the back of my grandparents’ living room, quietly smoking. I think I remember a drum of tobacco sitting on the coffee table. Did he roll his own? Don’t recall.

When I first started my illustrious career typing about dirt, California had not yet commenced legislating pulmonary health. Nobody expected a smoke-free workplace, and the extraordinary woman who headed the department was a chain smoker. The WP room always had a little cloud cover hovering overhead. I barely noticed. The thing that bothered me most was that she kept the room too dark. I always had to have a lamp pulled down right over my copy stand.

In Vancouver and New Orleans, I finally smoked a bit myself. I never developed a habit, but when I was in a bar and drunk enough, I’d bum smoked from my friends. It’s easy to see why film actors have always cultivated smoking onscreen. There are so many bits of business ready built into the process. Strike a match and pause thoughtfully before lighting. Inhale and nod slowly. Slap down the cover of the Zippo. Tap the ash with a flourish. Stub the butt angrily.

Mama Dog was a smoker when we were first together. She was always solicitous about sitting by the window when she smoked, but it didn’t really bother me. She gave it up when we started trying to procreate, and has never relapsed. I can’t say I miss it.

Charles was the last smoker I spent any real smoking time with. He too was conscientious in that late 90s way about making sure he never lit up at an unwelcome time or place. He was just starting the habit when I first got to know him, and was so occasional about it that it seemed more affectation than habit. It wasn’t long before it hit full-blown addiction. He didn’t permeate an elevator – not that I noticed, anyway – but he got the point where one of the first things you’d know about him is that he was a smoker.

Now – who do I know that smokes? Mama Pirate, but she always discreetly takes it outside. A few people at the office, I suppose, but they go downstairs to do it. I have a smoke-free home and a smoke-free workplace. I can’t remember the last time I went to a bar, but most of them don’t let you smoke there anyway. It’s strange to remember how full of smoke my life was for so many years without my ever taking up the habit. That’s how the world changes, I guess, and there’s another lesson to teach Baby Dog when she’s old enough to grok. Time passes, and some things eventually do blow over.


Blogger Twizzle said...

Other smokers whom you know:

Your sister, her husband, and two of your nieces. I believe that Charles has quit. (Good on ya, Charles!) Can't think of anybody else.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Brownstein said...

No, I failed. I blame myself, of course, but my mitigating circumstances were election night, a then-girlfriend who smoked, and a subsequent month of back-to-back conventions.

Quitting smoking was a struggle that I was only able to maintain for six months. It's an insidious habit that for me had to do with choosing between mental and physical health. About a month after I "quit" I fell into a horrifying clinical depression that took about two months to shake. And when it was shaken it was because of the endorphins one's brain creates in the early euphoria of a new love. That faded, as those things tend to do, and I settled into a flat, unpleasant mood at all times. Five months after "quitting" I'd find myself having a cigarette or two when I drank. Then as things got more hectic at work and at home I'd find myself smoking a bit more.

Then I gave up on Election night, watching the scumfuckers numbers inch up towards victory. The first thing I had to do after that was go to a comics convention in Texas and the smoking gave my brain chemistry whatever chemicals it seemed to need to stay strong.

Now I'm back to a pack a day. I wake up with a cough every day and I get winded going up a flight of stairs. But I'm not as depressed nor unpleasant as I was when not smoking.

So it really came down to the choice of, in social situations, does someone endure an unpleasant odor on my skin or an unpleasant mood from my mind. For me, it's no contest.

And besides, who really wants to live forever?

12:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And it's amazing that 'secret smokers' think they can hide it!

10:54 PM  
Blogger RachelleCentral said...

My husband is a smoker. A chain smoker, even. Terrible. I myself never started smoking after an ill-fated event when I was 15. I was at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu on holidays with my parents, and they had gone out for the evening. I snuck one of my mother's cigarettes and was smoking it out the window. Suddenly, I dropped it, and it fell below - where a ton of foliage lined the hotel. I didn't know what would happen to the cigarette, but I'd seen countless movies where someone left a lit cigarette in a rubbish bin, etc and overnight the embers burned until a huge fire was started. I didn't know how long a cigarette could burn for or how long all this would take, so I stayed up the entire night, worrying that the hotel would burn down and that arson squads would point to our window and find out it had come from me. It was enough of a shock to ensure I would never smoke again - and I never have!

10:29 AM  

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