Thursday, October 4, 2012

To Smoke or Not to Smoke. Is There a Question?

A rare photo of my mom, dad and baby me.
Love this picture.
I was on a run through the park today and passed a smoker taking in the creek flowing gently beneath the bridge. A pleasant moment for her, but for the thousandth time I was somewhat taken aback by the burn in my lungs and reflexive cough as my body rejected the smoke. “Why should this be a surprise?” you ask. Good question. For the whole of my childhood I lived with, and was to a second hand degree, a smoker. At least one smoker, sometimes two (girlfriend), and sometimes Dad would lend a helping hand to a troubled soul who needed help to get back on his feet, to make three adults who smoked cigarettes in our house.

I never minded much that I lived with smokers. When a freshly lit cigarette filled the cab of my father's pickup, I thought it smelled good. At home I liked watching the smoke rise and curl in the air and thought it looked cool the way smokers could blow the smoke out of their nostrils, or let it out of their mouths and inhale the same smoke through their nostrils. I knew it was “bad” for you though and resolved to myself that I would never be a smoker. I didn't realize I already was one.

I loved sports and could never figure out why I would wheeze when running for distance or if I pushed myself a bit harder than normal. If I was anxious it compounded the problem. I thought it happened to everyone if they pushed their limits. I also thought that I just wasn't built to be a good runner. I never connected the two.

Also, being the child of a smoker automatically adds you to the WT side of the scholastic social circle. Why? Because I smelled. Bad. I didn't realize how bad it was until I visited home after moving out. Once back from the trip my newly enhanced olfactory senses demanded showers and laundry; even for the clothes that weren't worn. I remember realizing, I must have smelled like this every day at school. Admittedly, there are other attributes of my persona that compounded the problem. Such as my unkeen fashion sense, my propensity for wearing Camel Joe tee-shirts, (in WT land they were cool, I liked the colors, and well they were free) and my lack of a hair style. However, as a teenager I got a job and could afford to buy my own clothes and hair cuts; but unfortunately I could never shake the unseen fog that hung about me.

Once, while holding a pack of cigarettes for an unnamed friend of mine, (No, really! She lifted it from her mom and expected a room raid.) I decided that I should try it. Not to become a smoker, but just to gain a little understanding as to why everyone I cared for did it. There had to be something that compelled people to spend a fortune over their truncated lifetime for the privileged of smelling bad and aging prematurely.

I took a walk by myself to The Pit, (our local swimming hole) sat on a rock and lit one up with practiced expertise. (I'm observant by nature.) The cherry glowed and I pulled the first real drag into my lungs. I didn't cough. I exhaled through my nose, waited a moment, and took another. I flicked off the ashes just as if I had done it since time immeasurable and eventually flicked away the cigarette butt. (I know, I totally littered!) I thought to myself, this is stupid.

On the walk home I analyzed the results of my experiment at little more thoroughly.
  • The buzz consisted of a slight dizzy feeling. Like perhaps I spun around once, not much, not terribly pleasurable.
  • My mouth tasted terrible.
  • My cigarette gripping fingers smelled and my hair smelled. (Bad enough that even I could smell it.)
  • I didn't feel cool, at all. I was realistic enough to know all the cigarettes in the world couldn't shroud my awkwardness in smoky tendrils of coolness.  Actually, I felt like a poseur.
Conclusion: It is indeed, stupid.

Curiosity satisfied. Test complete. Understanding imperfect. I still don't get why people do it. Perhaps people get started during their adolescence when, “Can I bum a cigarette?” is a viable pickup line. I was less interested in that particular pickup line than I was in cigarettes themselves. Or maybe overprotective parents make it alluring by trying to shelter their kids. It certainly does makes an effective mode of rebellion against protective parents. Whereas in my environment it was there always every day, and there was a general feeling of disdain for uppity non-smokers. Perhaps I am a rebel of sorts for rejecting smoking and some of the other facets of my upbringing. What is a person who rebels against rebels?

I don't get it, probably never will and I am kind of glad I don't. However, I have no such problem understanding the allure and pleasure of a cold beer on a hot day.   Speaking of which...

I'm not against smokers or cigarettes. As member of a free society I'm glad people have the freedom to make their own choices. I am opposed to banning smoking in private establishments like bars and restaurants. Personally, I prefer eating/drinking/working in non-smoking establishments, so that's what I do. Perhaps some ordinances on ventilation is needed, to preserve the safety of the workers, but otherwise proprietors and customers should be free to make those decision for themselves. That being said, children are not free to choose where they eat/drink/live and deserve consideration. But to their credit, all the parents I know who smoke are very cautious to keep their kids from being exposed.