Why I Started Smoking
I’m little and playing outside my grandmother’s ranch house, the alley next to me two trenches for car tires, lines that will never touch. My uncle stands there lit up — he’s a factory worker that is buff, welds and lifts refrigerators, so I’m told later — I can’t smell what he torched, maybe my brain was assigning my future environs at age eight, nine. I’ll receive four head injuries in the future, so memories are sometimes pictures that I see and reassign to the Somehow Important. This is a childhood memory. All he says is don’t do this or don’t start this or don’t let me be an example. Dialogue isn’t written on pictures. You recall this or make it up. Sometimes both actions are the same. Sometimes both are true.
His warning was a challenge to my adult self — if adult means I’m finally the sum of my mistakes.
At the new tobacco store in my neighborhood one of the owners says that a client is going to live forever. He smokes a brand that is all-natural (non advertised, not the brand that plays on the guilt of slaughtered indigenous people and their sacred habits), has a boat, sits on it and drinks beer. He is going to be around a while, this guy says. He comes in here, smoking the same brand, he is never going to switch. It’s the lack of additives. It’s the lack of pesticides, he says. You can have a girlfriend — or a boyfriend I don’t care — but this guy. This guy is going to out smoke us all.
I don’t know what to do with my time. The non-smoker life is boring and there are no asides. I smoked a few cigarettes in my early 20s but when I was in England and smoking hookah on a patio in the streets of London there was something to the smoke issuing out of my lungs and mouth that could not be ignored. It was the power of the first fire, that I was the first to harness its energy, that I alone was privy to the tar and missteps on the way to death. Some smart man said it was the clever way to commit suicide, but you can’t go through with it if you think of life as something to be respected.
There is no tool for conversation; there is no warning to challenge me, make me laugh. I am all for more stringent pack warnings: I think tobacco companies are behind anti-tobacco campaigns because most of what is said is the inverse. Behind SMOKING WILL CAUSE A HORRIBLE AND PAINFUL DEATH is that it can grant life. So, choose us. Be on the side of life.
I am sick. I have a cold. I will smoke menthol. Not the mouthwash mint, but the brand that tastes like a row of Thin Mints aflame or the chocolate mint meltaways that they used to sell in fridges next to the walk-in flower cooler. Get your date a nice bouquet while you are in this whole business of collapsing your lungs.
I will be all of the grotesque warning pictures on every pack, combined.
And the brands:
American Spirit: You are trying to save the world. Smoking is a temporary thing. This will not last forever. This is a phase. You compost. You don’t wash your hair. Or if you do, you know you are washing the hair but will spare the dishwasher because it’s all energy, so much energy is being wasted. This is the healthy way to smoke; nothing can kill your big heart for humanity. You know they are owned by a bigger company, but hey they started out small. It’s them who are serving us. Where did you get your dreadlocks done?
Camel: Failed poet. Bob Dylan smoked these, so. Lights, I mean Blues, I mean they are like smoking plastic pipes, like those playplaces they don’t have anymore for safety reasons and fat kids who won’t take off their shoes and clog the tubes. The sad girl at the coffee shop will pull these out. She doesn’t know any better (Filters or Reds). I would smoke unfiltered, but they are too expensive and quick lung cancer or whatever.
Parliament: Yeah, the recessed filter is cool, right? It’s for drugs or something. It’s because soldiers in World War II… aw f-ck it. It’s a gimmick, just like you. Bret Easton Ellis wrote about them. No one knows about the full flavor and how they are far superior. The white filter makes it seem unending, just like your life.
Winston: Old person.
Old Gold: Ibid.
Lucky Strike: Ibid. You can’t get these many places. Mad Men, you say?
Virginia Slims: So thin! Cute! Cougar! Women should be able to smoke what they want. We have a choice.
Pall Mall: Dirty. Grey coat wearing secessionist. I’d say trailer park but even they know it’s cheap.
Marlboro: Lights and you are scantily clad and outside a bar. They call them Slut Butts, if you didn’t know. Marlboro menthol because you don’t smoke that often but that one girl had them on your dorm floor, so sure, why not. Reds because that’s the first thing we see out of the womb, now that cartoons can’t sell us these things. But the 27s are classy because they are amber, and that’s like a nice wallet or purse, right? They go well after French toast. Ultra Lights because you are today’s concerned businesswoman who takes no chances. Or you are foreign so this is better than your homeland’s brand. You will not be colonized.
Newport: I had never had one of these so I traded a black woman for one, on a bar patio. She was taken aback that I had never indulged in culture, her words.
Roll your own: Go hop a boxcar and play on your instrument with an ironic slogan on your case. F-cker. People will bum you because they feel sorry for your cheap ass. It tastes better? It feels closer to the earth? Get a job, they’ll say. Then you can get robot rolled packs.
Nat Sherman: I’m like American Spirit, but I shower and have a well paying full time job like a banker or stagecoach driver. Or I’m experimenting. You haven’t heard of these? They’re all natural, but better. And British or something. European, I don’t know.
Dunhill: John Lennon smoked these. And Hunter S. Thompson. They taste like popcorn. Will I get any with these factoids?
Chesterfield: Congrats on reading DeLillo. Obscure old person.
Gauloises: You can’t buy those here. Asshole. Give me one or a carton. Read some more “World Literature.” English Major I studied abroad a semester and that foreign warning label shows that you are well cultured. Hm.
There is certain separation that happens with the smoker. I read a book that said there are locations where people can go anywhere without the smell of cigarettes. It was a quiz. If you said yes then you were closer to an upper middle class lifestyle. In a twisted way I smoke to represent my class. It gives me a second wind. That will come in handy when I’m on a breathing machine surrounded by my unmade ghost children. It was the faulty sperm, darling.
With each pack comes twenty chances to stop and I will take every one.
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