I shared a cigarette with a friend the other night. He doesn’t think I should write this piece; thinks it might be bad for impressionable kiddies. So, kiddies, first off – there is no amount of wishing that will make something good for you out of something that isn’t. Poison is poison, no matter it wakes you up, calms you down, tastes like heaven or feels like love. The sooner you recognize that, the better. There is no glamor in watching yourself rot from the inside out, with only hell to look forward to for your own foolishness. (Strong enough, Steve-o?)
But in the matter of this cigarette I was sharing, these thoughts preceded my asking for a toke, not the other way around. I asked for a drag out of pure green envy. Smoking looks good. And I’ve thought so forever.
On the surface, I am not heavily burdened with vices. In fact, my veneer would suggest I’m the poster child for clean-living. Not antiseptic living, mind you – a little dirt is good for the immune system. But I could pass a drug test. My lungs are clean, my liver is pink, and my pancreas is not overwrought.
There is simply something so human about smoking. We like to go on about our opposable thumbs and our ability to reason, but all creatures, within their identified groups, achieve to the limit of their capacities. I just can’t think of any animal equivalent to the pointless eloquence of the cigarette ritual.
I once saw a man strike a match with such fury and burn the raw end of his Marlboro with such sadistic intent, that it didn’t matter I couldn’t pin a name on what sparked his rage. I knew exactly how he felt. And I trembled for the tobacco that flared just in front of his gritted teeth.
I’ve watched shaking hands soothed to competency by the torching ceremony and seen confidence bluffed successfully, just by giving the reluctant limelighter a graceful, practiced task to busy him. Urgency is broadcast doubly when the words flow out around a bobbing white wick; sadness seeps out in a grey cloud, veiling a bowed head. And a handsome mouth, lipping and pursing over the paper, makes me wonder… well, nevermind.
The thing is, there is artistry in movement. A heavy dose of agility and you’re a dancer or an acrobat. But even just a little dexterity, with some rehearsal, can make a pageant of your moods and preoccupations. The smoker’s sentence is punctuated for him – habit as performance art, especially at the lighting up and the stubbing out. I love to watch them. Generally from upwind, but still…