Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Smoking has been frowned upon in Southern California for what seems like forever. We haven't been allowed to smoke in restaurants and bars for so long that when I am in other states where you can smoke in those places I feel like I'm being bad if I do so. My instinct is to head outside to the "smoking area," which used to be a patio, but lately seems more likely to be located in the dark, badly lit alley. I'm not a regular smoker, but I have a craving that kicks in after my second martini or glass of wine. Otherwise I will smoke when I am driving in the car with Christina because there's something fun about smoking with your friend while cruising around with the music up loud.

I started smoking when I was about 15. I don't really remember when I quit, but I haven't bought cigarettes in a long time. So long that the last time I got buzzed at dinner and went to the liquor store to buy a pack I was shocked that they cost over $5 a pack. The last time I was buying them and carrying them around I paid about $3! I have always enjoyed the dramatic effect of a cigarette held in my hand while gesticulating wildly in drunken conversation. I also love the camaraderie of drinking and smoking and yakking with friends.

I can totally relate to the poem that Billy Collins wrote called "The Best Cigarette":

There are many that I miss
having sent my last one out a car window
sparking along the road one night, years ago.

The heralded one, of course:
after sex, the two glowing tips
now the lights of a single ship;
at the end of a long dinner
with more wine to come
and a smoke ring coasting into the chandelier;
or on a white beach,
holding one with fingers still wet from a swim.

That's only the first part but I think he describes, perfectly, my "best" cigarettes. I do love the after dinner cigarette, or the after swimming cigarette, stretched out on the beach, cool, salty skin, warmed by the sun. Or lolling by the pool with a cold drink and a cigarette, reading a magazine on a lounge chair. I've never understood the after sex cigarette though, I can't stand the smell of smoke in the bedroom, it's so foul I can't sleep. I dated a guy once who was so addicted that he couldn't make it through the night without waking up and smoking. And the smoke would wake me up and then I'd have to open the window. Even if it was 35 degrees outside and I wouldn't let him near me because of the tobacco wreak. But it was better than the heroin he used to do - relationships are all about compromise.

And cigarettes are horribly addicting as evidenced by the fact that he could quit heroin, but he couldn't quit cigarettes.

And cigarettes, as we've been told time and time again, will kill us. Or, at least, some of us. My great grandpa Loren smoked from the time he was about ten years old and subsisted on a diet of Baby Ruth's and Butterfinger candy bars. He also drank brown liquor, I'm not sure if it was Scotch or Bourbon, but he imbibed regularly. I loved to visit him up in Concord because he literally had huge bags of candy that my brother and I were free to help ourselves to. Grandpa Loren lived to be 98 or so and when I read this article it made me think of him because he smoked right up till his last day and really enjoyed it.

His best cigarette was probably the last one he smoked right before he died.

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