Recently, these 3 people walked by me going to smoke. The 2 men and one woman were laughing.
They each were also coughing and hacking up a lung.But they were the happiest trio of people that you could imagine. This got me to thinking about back when I smoked.
I’ve been quit smoking for around 30 years; I smoked the occasional cigar for a few years but laid that down several years ago because I stunk/stank? I didn’t smell good. I did smoke one or two on the helipad when I worked in the cath lab to stay awake for all night cases that ran on.
Much irony there? Smoke cigarettes to stay awake to open up heart arteries that were clogged, many times, by smoking.
But these guys going to the smoke shack reminded me of something I had forgotten: the comradery of smokers. For those that have smoked, they understand. For the non-smokers, they’ll not get it.
HEAR ME CLEAR: I’m NOT advocating smoking, at all.
But there is a certain bond that smokers share that many may not know about that needs to be known. Why?
Because the world would be a much better place if we had more smoking-type relationships.
- There are toys! I nearly bought a 1970’s ashtray the other day because it was cool. It’s as simple as that. As in my leather cigarette lighter cover that I still have that has my initials stamped into it. I had it made in the early 80’s from a leather shop in Lexington. That lighter cover spent many nights in the Waterhole, in my 1981 truck, in Henderson County Ambulances and inside of the apartments we rented when we first got married up until I graduated college and laid the cancerous fun down. You always knew you could buy a smoker something related to his death for his birthday or whatnot. More lighters, cool ashtrays that sucked the smoke back in, a distinguished pipe or my aunt had a donkey that you put rolling papers in, dumped some tobacco in, pumped his tail and he’d poop out a nice cigarette out of his butt. And then you’d put that same cigarette in your mouth….right. There were no ambiguous gift cards. They were specific to your brand of smoke.
- They’re usually willing to share in this smoking habit. ‘Man, I left my smokes in the truck’. ‘No worries man, I got you’ and he taps out another Marlboro 100 in a box and hands it to his buddy. That usually would infer that the he owed him back. But at the end of the day, I never knew smokers to get in a fight over who lent whom a smoke and how many. Comradery at it’s very best.
- Smokers always happy to get to go out together, like kids used to be about going out to recess. Comrades going on a journey together; to smoke.
- If you didn’t have your lighter, or it ran out of lighter fuel, and you asked for a light it wasn’t considered ‘weird’ for you to put the smoke in your mouth, your bud to pull out his lighter and light it for you. While on the outside that seemed nice and giving, it was really so that you’d get your lighter back. But still, there was the act of lighting someone’s cigarette for them that was part of the comradery. Especially if one were too inebriated to fire up his own cigarette. (Sometimes my Lexington just falls outta me).
- When someone is trying to light a cigarette in the wind, smokers will huddle around the effort, hunker in, make a fort, or put up their hands, to help their poor smoker get that puff going. I mean that’s friendship now. Sometimes you get by with a little help from your friends!! It’s kind of like helping someone light a campfire, except the desired goal is tobacco instead of a hot dog.
- You can be in the outer banks of Mongolia, around nobody that has ever even heard English and some smoker there will be your best friend if you need help finding or lighting a smoke. Smokers have this unusual sense of connectivity. It’s unsaid. It’s celestial even. But smokers stick together and will defend each other to the bitter end. They may hate each other while working in the line at the factory, but outside, the world is all good. Smokers’ support for each other is universal.
- You make more friends smoking. Of course, you make a lot of people mad too. But, you cannot know someone, bump into them at the smoke stand, and then by the time you squash that butt out with the toe of your shoe, you’re the absolute best of friends. You knew the other’s family, maybe even some distant kin and now, you’re coming to next Christmas at their house.
- And last but not least is a reference to how the dance has changed and the dancing comradery. How smoking was part of the dance for many, many years. Intertwined with the dating rituals. But the dance has changed a lot now. Smoking is a killer, make no mistake. The devil in rolling papers has been the cause of many early deaths, so it does not need to be glamorized. But, was and still is, I guess, part of the dance of dating.
Putting aside our views of smoking that have evolved over the past 20 or so years, think back for a second.
How many relationships, probably mostly one night stands, but how many relationships started with something that goes a little like this;
Everett walks into a bar. A bar that is filled with loud people and smoke and the stale smell of last night’s beer still hanging thickly in the air. Wearing his best pearl buttoned cowboy shirt, he separated the slowly bumping and drunken dancers to make his way to the long wooden oak bar. After getting his usual Bud Light in a bottle, Everett lit his own cigarette because his lungs were not quit filled enough with the left over smoke from everyone else’s smoking in the bar. He needed more smoke and the taste of the Marlboro. And he needed to breathe deeply. As if he couldn’t breathe deeply without a cigarette.
Spinning around on the bar stool to lean back and stretch and inhale and peruse the room, he saw her right away. Directly in front of him against the dark paneling wall board that had been there since Henry’s bar opened in 1974.
Lila had come back for him, again.
Wearing his favorite black dress with the little blue flowers around the low cut top, she was sitting alone at a table. And she was looking right directly at him.
And, to top it all off, she’s smiling.
She’s smiling a smile that says to him, ‘its ok Everett, I’ve missed you’.
Returning the smile with his sideways smile he always had, he pays for his beer and walks over to her. She doesn’t hear the sounds of the dancers, or the slow sounds of the Merle Haggard tune that’s coming from the juke box in the corner of Henry’s. She only hears the sounds of his boots on the wooden floor as he is coming towards her; looking directly at her.
The rest of the world shrank away completely, as if in a vacuum, as these two lonely souls focused on each other this night.
To calm her racing nerves, Lila needs to smoke.
Nothing was said, not a word, as she pulled back her long brown hair and reached opened her leather clutch.
Nothing was said as she slowly pulled out a cigarette of her own special liking, the long skinny cigarette that had ‘elegance’ written all over them.
Intentionally, she leaves her lighter in the bag. Nothing was said as Everett gets closer to her table, and he watched her put that cigarette between her painted red lips; the full lips that Everett had missed since the last misunderstanding.
Nothing was said as she looks up towards Everett, with those big eyes that have taken Everett back so very many times.
But, then….. something was said.
With a centuries old courtesy that is nestled deeply inside of a man’s DNA, Everett leans down to her. He gets close enough to her heart shaped face enough so that he can smell her light lilac soap
He doesn’t want to be rude and blow smoke into her face, so he slowly exhales a cloud of gray smoke from his thickly mustached mouth out to his left side to the wood paneling.
And then as he smiles his crooked smile again, Everett says to Lila;
‘Ma’am, looks like you need a light’.