The Old Glamour of Smoking
When I was a kid growing up in Midland, Texas, in the fifties, it was a smoker’s world. They owned it, they ruled the air and they oozed glamour into the atmosphere. Smokers smoked everywhere and made no apologies about it. There were no people who were allergic to smoke and no complaints about the constant haze of wafting smoke that layered every room in every house and building in the world. People never asked if they could smoke in your house--they just asked you where the ashtray was. If you didn’t smoke and people came over to your house, you still had really pretty ashtrays for them and you felt like you were a pansy for not being able to stand the smell of those fabulously sexy sticks of aromatic tobacco. You were a dork.
People had really cool table lighters too. We had one that was a foot tall and carved sort of like a totem pole. It was more like a Mexican-carved, wooden candle stick. We also had one that was lacquered red and painted with an Asian theme. It was the size of a softball and anyone who tried to light a cigarette with it looked like a child trying to kiss a bowling ball.
People don’t have table lighters anymore. You don’t see guys whip out Zippo lighters much either. That was the coolest of the cool. To see a guy in blue jeans and a cotton shirt with his hair greased back in a duck tail and his cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his shirt, slide a Zippo out of his pocket, flip it open and sear up a Lucky Strike… was as sexy as Humphrey Bogart ever hoped to be. Little did we know then that Ingrid Bergman said kissing Humphrey was like licking a dirty ashtray.
I remember going into the Ritz Movie Theater and seeing smoke rising up from different places in the seats. Even while the movie was showing, people would light up whenever they wanted to. There were ashtrays built into the backs of every movie seat just like the ones in the arm rests of the airplanes. Amenities were created for smokers. Everybody wanted to please them, make them comfortable and create handsome paraphernalia like Dunhill, lizard skin cigarette holders, outdoor ashtrays in the shape of Texas, and lighters that when tilted, revealed pictures of naked women. So daring and fun.
Is it any wonder that some of us Boomers have a really hard time quitting smoking? We associate smoking with Waterford tumblers filled with Black Jack and clinking ice, black-and-white movies that starred Marlon Brando and the Tiparillo Girl’s little black tutu dress. Okay, I wanted that dress…and that job.“Cigars, cigarettes, Tiparillos?” she would sing. I could do that and I figured you could sing, hang out in bars and it paid better than being a nun.
People back then didn’t know that lung cancer could come from smoking cigarettes. A smoker’s hack was as acceptable as Sunday morning church bells, and dirty ashtrays were just a sign that people were having a really good time. These days a smoker’s hack is considered the sound of a loser and proximity to a dirty ashtray means you are hanging out with The Hell’s Angels, your identity got stolen, or they’re filming a movie starring Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe in your driveway.
I try to be nice to smokers because I know that they are hooked on a very addictive drug that isn’t even enjoyable to them anymore. I also know that if you go to the smoking area at a party where interesting people are guests, it’s worth breathing their smoke outside for an hour or so just to hear their stories and get a good laugh. They are the cast offs and they know it. All of them know they have to quit and are in the process as best they can be in the moment. They are a not-so-secret society of lepers in a world that treats them like ants at the picnic.
I don’t judge smokers anymore because they are banished from blowing smoke around us, they wish they could kiss a baby without offending, and they know they have what amounts to dog breath.