He didn’t miss the smoke. In fact, he couldn’t stand it. He had smoked back in the seventies, but for a variety of reasons finally gave it up. And he was happier. He was happy to be rid of the filthy habit. All of it. But gradually as the years passed he couldn’t help noticing that certain behaviors he’d come to associate with smoking were conspicuously absent and he missed them.
In other words, the smoking ban, or the anti-smoking craze has had unintended consequences. He couldn’t help noticing, for example, that certain courtesies he’d come to take for granted gradually disappeared. They’d been part of the smoking culture and had by now irretrievably become part of the past. The most striking being the courtesy of the proffered cigarette between strangers. It had been considered at one time rather bad form to take a cigarette for oneself without first offering one to one’s companion, friend or foe. This habit began to go even before cigarettes disappeared because many non-smokers took it as an opportunity to be rude. “I don’t smoke” began to be curtly said instead of the rather more polite rejection, “No, thank you.” Some non-smokers went so far as to lecture the smoker or even to threaten them! “You can’t smoke that in here!” There is no doubt but that the anti-smoking era contributed to the end of public courtesy.
Friends once lit each other’s cigarette in a lovely ritual of reciprocity which is now gone forever. Part of this was male chauvinism, there’s no doubt about it. Men enjoyed lighting women’s cigarettes and no doubt women liked to ask men for a light. What a great way to meet people! It could be done with flare. People did of course carry cheap Bic lighters, disposables in bright colors, but others had rather nice lighters which could be quite fetching. I received a very smart Dunhill lighter with gold piping from a classroom of Korean students as a going-away present.
Those were good times. A lighter was the perfect gift for a low-paid teacher like myself.
Smoking had a civilizing effect on human relationships. I don’t doubt that smoking is a nasty, filthy habit. I’m just saying smoking did have its benefits, if not to the lungs, then to one’s spirit. What I mean here is not the emotional pleasures of smoking, although those deserve consideration. No, what I mean is that the courtesies involved in the sharing of cigarettes benefited those involved, although I will concede they went totally unnoticed by those left out. Non-smokers missed out and were therefore all the readier to denounce this foul pleasure. As a smoker, however, I can say that smoking culture provided opportunities for ritualized behaviors that I now miss. Let me give you another example. While in college, my best friend, another smoker, would go into my breast pocket without asking if he needed a smoke and his were not readily available. This violation of privacy I overlooked because in the heat of the conversation I made myself available in ways that only smokers can understand. No doubt, pot smokers have similar routines, as they too share implements of pleasure. As I now no longer smoke, my friend wouldn’t think of reaching into my pockets, certainly not for a pen! Not for money! This level of intimacy has disappeared from my life.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I would venture to say that the success of this most-worthy of causes has played no small part in improving our lives while at the same time contributing to the loss of an element essential to life’s enchantment. It is a vital undefined and indefinable sensibility that makes social life more charming. Smoking, I would suggest, added an air of mystery to the human animal, making women and men sexier to the objective observer. Think for a moment of that pictorial cliché, the attractive woman waiting alone at an outdoor café with an espresso on her table and a cigarette between her fingers. Or think of the masculine equivalent: a 007-archetype standing in front of a roulette table, dressed in a white tux, with a martini in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Now some might wish to barge right over and put out that cigarette. All the power to you. For a man of my generation, this is a look that draws one in. Before the anti-smoking craze, a man or woman with a cigarette was an alluring figure.
Of course, there are those who would disagree. They’ve had their say. They won. There is no going back. We will be deprived for the rest of our lives, and, yes, we might live longer because we’ve refused to be taken in by this self-destructive imagery. All I wish to say is that there are things one misses. Not the smoke, nor the butts (wonderful name), left in ashtrays or, God forbid, on the pavement. Good riddance, but oh how sexy were those little thugs in white T-shirts, leather jackets, and boots, with a cig hanging from the corner of their mouths. Brando, Dean, Eva Gardner, or Jean-Paul Belmondo. Let’s face it. The magic is gone…along with the lung disease and the cancer.
David Lohrey grew up in Memphis. He graduated from U.C., Berkeley. He writes frequently for Transnational Literature (Flinders University, Australia) and Caesura (University Emanuel, Romania). David’s poetry can be found in Otoliths, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, FRiGG and Poetry Circle. Recent fiction can be read in Crack the Spine, Dodging the Rain, Route 7 Review and Every Writer. ‘The Other Is Oneself‘, a study of 20th century fiction, was published in 2016. David is a member of the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective in Houston. He lives in Tokyo.