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.