Betty Duffy

(Amateur)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An elegy for bad habits


I'm missing cigarette smoking, not the burning sensation in your throat as you inhale, but the smell of it, the meditative aspect of sitting in cool weather, breathing fire. I miss the rebellion of getting in my car, lighting a cigarette and speeding at night on the interstate. There's something about smoking that makes you feel sort of loosey-goosey, whether you really are or not. 

When I was smoking, I pitied those who didn't, with their always willing tendency to take offense at second-hand smoke via victimized coughing episodes, squinting eyes, and hands waving in front of their faces. Weaklings. Theirs seemed like a sterile, puritan life absent of uninterrupted moments of wondering, and fragrance, good or bad.

When you smoke, smells are everywhere, on your fingers, in your hair, in the car, in your clothes. Smoke mingled freely with certain perfumes I wore, Lou-lou, namely--which came in a blue and red bottle reminiscent in itself of wine and smoke, and the dark velvet interior of the cigar bar my husband and I used to go to when we were dating. There we engaged in life-changing conversations over many, many cigarettes, and what we couldn't work out quickly was softened by the always hopeful suggestion, "Let's smoke on it."

Of course, there's cancer, which turns all pleasure into a threat, and there are children, who still have not recovered from the scandal of catching me smoking out our bathroom window one terrible evening when my husband was out of town. And there are wrinkles and emphysema, and the image of a little fetus in my belly puffing on a cigarette, and thousands of other reasons not to smoke. 

But right now, and it's probably because of pregnancy, I'm just hungry for a more fragrant life. The later trimesters, for me, are a complete reversal of the first, when I wanted to eliminate all odors. Now I want scented candles, colognes, food on the stove, good soaps, leather, tobacco, and cinnamon. What I have, however, is a damp basement, a pile of tennis shoes by the front door, a suspected apple core rotting under the seats in the car, and a dog (We're dog sitting while my parents visit my sister in Guam).

My brother and sister-in-law were in town this weekend, which brought many Duffys and their spouses to our house Saturday night for a bonfire. While gatherings of my husband's siblings used to be one big puff of smoke and bravado, political and religious arguments and a multi-lateral campaign for the ear of the group using the weapons of voice volume and refusal to breath between sentences, we've all mellowed out quite a bit. Three of us are pregnant, a one-time political junkie claimed ignorance of the Republican candidate for president this year, and the only remaining smoker in the group now smokes E cigarettes.

Of all signs that the end of the world is near, the E-Cig, to me, is the greatest signifier. When questioned about the little neon blue glow in the night that has replaced his former flames, my brother-in-law said, "It's great. I can do it in my cube. I can do it on an airplane or in a restaurant. Everyone in my office is hooked on them. I can even blow vapor rings." He illustrated for effect. "Plus, one of these lasts longer than a pack of cigarettes, and you can puff on it all night without having your lungs burn up."

"So you can't OD?"

"It's just nicotine. So yeah, one time I threw up, after like ten straight hours, but that's not the norm."

So, I tried it. Heavier than a cigarette, made of metal, tastes a tiny bit like a Dunhill, but mostly like…vapor. It's cold in your hand, no sizzle on the inhale, and it only comes to an end when you choose, or when the batteries run out. I can see if you have a real nicotine addiction, that the E-cig might be a more healthful alternative than smoking or chewing tobacco. But the nicotine was never the draw for me. And if everything else was the draw, but most especially, the devil-may-care mood of having a deadly habit, well, the E-cigarette is just too darn perky and clean. There's no rebellion in it.

No personal stake in our vices? No interest in our politics? We talked a little bit about how social networking has killed some of our relationships, because people we like in real life act doofusy online in an election year, getting on Facebook to shout out righteous-sounding opinions that are certain either to go unchallenged or to be misunderstood, and the heated debates that once took place around bonfires into the wee hours of the morning have lost their appeal. Everyone's burnt out. It's all lost its fragrance. Or maybe we're just getting old.

In any case, the pregnant ladies went to bed early, the men drank to semi-sober exhaustion, and this morning I'm thinking about alternatives to cigarettes for olfactory comfort. A friend of mine sells essential oils, and I sampled her frankincense the other day, put a dash under my nose, and rubbed some on the bottom of my feet (as instructed). It smells like Chrism oil, like new-born-baby-head, and had me going around the rest of the day to people in my family, saying, "Here, smell my finger." No takers. Their loss, but I think I've found my new vice.

12 comments:

Lizzie said...

This has left me really wanting to smoke a cigarette...
I love your descriptive/reflective pieces like this one Betty. So evocative of a place and people but also of a feeling and state of mind...A real gift you have.
Frankincense essential oil sounds like a lovely vice to have.

Jenny said...

I definitely would be one of those people you pitied. I hated cigarettes and cigarette smoke and the stench it left everywhere. I worked in a restaurant and my worst fate was being assigned to the smoking section. Gaah!

But then state law changed and smoking was banned in most public places and restaurants and I almost never ran across cigarette smoke anymore. A strange thing happened. Since I am not inundated with it anymore, I almost enjoy it now. It smells nostalgic and reminds me of college and staying out late and hanging around the restaurant after closing.

I'm sure I would hate it again if I had to smell it all the time, but to catch an occasional, unexpected whiff is quite nice.

BettyDuffy said...

I guess the use of essential oils does not qualify as vice, so much--except that I'm tempted to unload a bunch of money just to have something yummy around to sniff every now and then. My friend says though that frankincense has proven healing benefits, so it might actually be a "good investment."

Anyway, don't smoke, Lizzie. I'm romanticizing the past because I no longer have to deal with the pitfalls. Like Jenny says, sometimes it smells good when you don't have to smell it all the time. But truth be told, all that fragrance was often quite stinky.

nancyo said...

I've been that rude person but (second-hand) smoke gives me a dull headache and smokers can't really keep the smoke to themselves. (Plus I have a super-sensitive nose, and can detect smoking in cars next to mine when we both have all windows closed.) Cigars are my particular nemesis, while pipes can actually smell quite nice.

Smoking bans have really helped, but they're not universal. I've been on foreign vacations where I couldn't wait to get back to US soil so I could get a lungful of fresh air!

All that being said, I love the mood you paint, Betty. I hope you surround yourself with wonderful, rich scents as the crispness of Autumn arrives.

Lizzie said...

I used to smoke in my teens - furtive cigarettes in the woods or out at the pub with friends. I then decided to give up during my last year at university as I thought there must be something wrong with me to be keeping a habit that definitely harmed my body!

A couple of years ago I was on holiday without my son - by the beach, sunset, beer in hand and had a craving for a cigarette. I smoked one with a friend and felt so utterly disgusting afterwards - the smell and taste didn't leave me for at least 2 days. Thankfully, the romantic notion was well and truly put to sleep that evening and I hope I never touch another one. Yuck!

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TheReluctantWidow said...

Like Nancyo, I like the mood you paint with words. I had this whole long comment about all the bad habits I'd like to pick up again since my husband died, but then I realized I don't really want to. I just have moments of wanting to regress back into my carefree, young adult days. Glad they are just moments.

I currently have a jasmine and lily candle sitting next to my bed. I haven't even lit it yet, but every once and a while I catch a wiff of it and it just relaxes me.

BettyDuffy said...

RW, Have you read the book LIzzie's War, by Tim Farrington? Your comment reminds me of it--without giving away any spoilers, parts of it have to do with having been a wife and mother for a long time, then figuring out who you are when this identity shifts. One of my favorite novels...

JMB said...

I keep having these weird feelings that we are somehow related. I smoked heavily for years, then managed to kill the beast 3 years ago. What did it for me was that my husband actually told our insurance agent that I was a casual smoker (WHO DOES THAT?!!!). So my premiums hit 1K per year. So no amount of moralizing or fear about cancer or sorry looks from my kids could make me kill the weed, only through the pocketbook. My inner cheapness won. That, and I was tired of constantly needing to smoke and be alone and thinking about what a loser I was for actually liking smoking.
I still love the smell of smokes, especially outside in the Fall. It takes me back to those wild and fun keg parties in college where everyone smoked and nobody cared about health, wrinkles or getting fat or yellow teeth.

StephC said...

Casual smoker from my late teens to late 20's, then just decided it was stupid and enough was enough.

But when I am pregnant - 23 weeks currently - I will *turn on my heels* to follow after someone who passes me on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette! It is a YUMMY second-hand smell to me.

Faye said...

First of all, I'd like to congratulate you for your pregnancy and for the fact that you've actually missed smoking for the trimester. It's very unhealthy for your baby. Anyway, while the presence of e-cigs is probably better than conventional sticks, it may still be best to not smoke yet. Just a few more months of sacrifice Betty and you'll be rewarded for it.

Owen said...

My 81 year old Mom who has been smoking since she was 17 recently quit. No big-C scares but pre-Emphysema signs. It was Mother's Day. I asked her two months into her cold turkey pilgrimage who she was doing. She said, and I quote: "It's not a problem at all, unless I think about it. I think about it all the time."