Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Smoke dreams

I was behind a young man in a checkout line at the local Walgreen's yesterday. He was buying four packs of Camel cigarettes. He handed the checker a $20.00 bill but didn't get back much change. In my state they raised the state tax on a pack of cigarettes to $1.50, bringing the price of a pack of cigs to well over $4.00. For that reason alone I'm surprised that people still smoke. Or should I be surprised? When it comes to feeding addictions people will pay about anything, whether they can afford it or not. An addiction is a true luxury.

Besides being addicting, smoking is a poke in the eye of political correctness. If you want to show you're anti-establishment, just fire up a cig.

When I was a smoker it was before smokers became pariahs. Nowadays if a working person wants to light up a gasper on the job they go outside in the weather to smoke. In my day I smoked anywhere I felt like, even in the grocery store while shopping. What a jerk! I didn't know I was a jerk, and nobody told me. In those days it was impolite to tell a stranger their smoke was assaulting you. Those days are gone.

No one is immune from tobacco addiction. Even the President of the U.S.sneaks a smoke now and again.

President Clinton might have had the most notorious smoke of all, when he put a cigar in his mouth that had just been inside the White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

A few years ago there was some controversy because as the calls to ban smoking in public places got louder, the movies got smokier. It seemed that more characters in movies were smoking. That had something to do with product placement by tobacco companies, getting around the ban on advertising. But in period pictures there would be a lot off smoking, because for much of the Twentieth Century cigarette smoking was considered a personal choice, and everybody did it. Inf the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire, set in 1920 Atlantic City, New Jersey, it seems every character smokes a cigarette a couple of times per episode. It's a good thing we can see the smoking, but don't have to smell it, or I'd have to air out my house after every episode.

I was a totally addicted two-pack-a-day smoker for years. By 1977, when I quit, laws against smoking in public places were beginning to be passed. The price of cigarettes had gone to 65¢ a pack. Outrageous! I had paid 32¢ a pack in 1968 when I got out of the Army, but 17¢ for American cigarettes in the Army PX in Germany.

After I quit I would have an occasional dream about smoking. I could feel the sensation of the smoke in my throat, the brief ecstasy as the nicotine in my bloodstream hit my brain and went straight to the pleasure center. "Just like cocaine," as I heard a doctor once explain. When I woke from a smoke dream I'd have a moment when I'd miss smoking, but I didn't miss sitting on the edge of the bed for several minutes coughing, hacking up phlegm. I didn't miss falling asleep with a burning cigarette in my hand, or dropping it into my lap while I drove my car. I'm lucky to be alive, folks. I had some close calls, but my risk factor dropped when I stopped. Smoking is more of a nightmare than a dream. There is more than one way for cigarettes to kill you. Santa Claus won't tell you that.

When I saw the young guy buying the four packs of Camels the other day I figured that the $20.00 he was spending then was cheap compared to what he'll be spending later. I felt sorry for him, knowing just how he felt, that he "just gotta have another cigarette."


Kirk Jusko said...

Smoke is visual, thus cinematic. Modern-day directors shouldn't lean on it like a crutch, but I can understand why they do.

DEMiller said...

I loved this piece on smoking. Great images and memories. Best of all is a great song. I think Commander Cody did a cover version.

El Postino said...

I think about everyone has done a cover of his song. There were several versions of it out simultaneously when it was first out, and I think Tex Williams had one of the hit versions.

Kirk, I don't mind cigarettes in the old film noir movies, but when I see smoking in modern films I feel like yelling at the screen. People back in the day weren't as attuned to the risks as they are now, so I think people, including Hollywood types, ought to throw their cigs away. I might not live to see it, but I'd like to see smoking disappear in this century.

"...and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid get!"