Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That cigarette)
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I remember that when I was little my mother smoked filterless PallMall cigarettes. I think the big shift to unfiltered cigarettes was only just beginning. I can’t recall what my Daddy smoked. True of almost everything about him that didn’t frighten or disgust me.
Cigarettes were still advertised on TV back then. I’ll go to my grave knowing that L.S.M.F.T. stands for Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. And that Winston Tastes Good Like A Cigarette Should.
And who could forget those pugnacious Tareyton smokers who’d Rather Fight Than Switch. Smokers of other brands must’ve been damned zealous since the Tareyton smokers always had black eyes. The cigarette’s gimmick was a ‘charcoal filter’ that did I never figured out what.
Benson & Hedges smokers were more lighthearted. But pigheaded. They must’ve been because they were always getting their smokes caught in car windows and elevator doors. Less determined folks would’ve switched to a regularly sized brand. But length was their gimmick; 100 millimeter cigarettes were oddities back then. An unremembered brand tried to up the ante and be a Silly Millimeter Longer.
You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby was Virginia Slims attempt to cash in on Women’s Liberation. I think there was a brand that sought to appeal to women with a floral band.
Completely forgotten I’m sure is Zack. Nothing more than Marlboros repackaged in a faux-denim pack. A failed attempt to appeal to the youth market. Hard to remember than jeans were supposed to be a sign of being young and individual. It was much later that upscale designer jeans by the likes of Gloria Vanderbilt appeared to sate the special needs of folks who can’t like something they haven’t paid more for.
Growing up I never felt a desire to smoke. I can’t remember when the Surgeon General’s Warning first appeared on the side of the packs but by the time I was a kid everybody knew that smoking was deadly and stupid. Being peerless I didn’t face peer pressure to smoke.
When Victor returned to Savannah he’d started smoking. Probably was one of the few entertainments available in the brutal youth reformatory he’d spent a year in. But it wasn’t until Gordon came to Savannah that I smoked by first cigarette.
He smoked rarely but did bum a couple off Victor. So I tried one. Nobody wants just one as Lays says. Why? Beats me. My first cigarette left me a dizzy and mildly nauseated. I became a habitual smoker at 18. I decided with stupid sincerity that I’d smoke for four years and quit. I might as well planned to be a millionaire in four years.
Since Victor smoked Salem that was what started with. I think I switched to Benson & Hedges. Most likely a longer cigarette for the same price seemed the better buy.
One day I hope I can do justice to Severin (Real name: Paul Francis Dolan. Nom de folle was taken from the Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs. Reed had taken it from from the novel by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch the man whose name gave us the term masochism.) He was the quintessential supercilious, artsy gay guy at least in the context of Atlanta in 1972.
Severin smoked St. Moritz. St. Moritz’s distinctive attribute was a quarter-inch gold band where the cylinder of tobacco joins the filter. The gold band was probably what drew Severin but Gordon and I both switched because the cigarette tasted great. I’ve never smoked anything since with a comparable quality of menthol.
St. Moritz was never popular. Once on applying for a market research job the company grabbed me for a focus group they were having that night. It was for the maker of St. Moritz and the research company had been going crazy trying to find people who smoke such an obscure brand. The honorarium paid for at least four cartons.
Years passed and I kept on puffing away. I found out how addicted I was when I climbed a very small mountain with friends one day. I ran out of cigarettes. As my body rebelled against the lack of nicotine I started having hot flashes and hating everybody.
Siobhan and I lived together for a few months before I ever told her that I loved her. When we were living in Manhattan I was unemployed most of the time. She paid the bills. That is probably why I tried to quit. But she bought me a pack. After inhaling a revivifying draught I finally said “I love you.” A sad confession. Later in Chapel Hill I tried to quit because the smoker was bothering her. Unwisely I figured I’d smoke at work but not at home. But I didn’t tell her of this amendment. It wasn’t long before she dropped in to visit me and saw the smoking proof of my duplicity in my hand. So I went back to smoking full time. One of the few things for which I’ll never stop feeling shame.
When gorging, hard drinking, heavy smoking (up to four pack a day) and inertia put me in the hospital several years ago I finally quit. Without a struggle. It was one of those rare moments when insight and action align.
Not long after quitting I came to realize how awful cigarette smoke smells to non-smokers. It is about like forcing them down into a filthy ditch.
I went for years without smoking. Then I met Charles. He’d quit once himself. But when his life fell apart he turned to tobacco for comfort. Once we were together he’d try to quit but always fail.
I guess I smoked a couple of cigarettes with him for a lark. Charles certainly didn’t want me to. Before I knew it I was a nicotine junky, needing my fix.