When I was a child, I was attracted to smoking. Both my parents smoked; indeed, most of the adults I knew smoked. In the late 1950s, early 1960s, before smoking became linked in the minds of people with cancer once and for all, it was something adults did, like drinking. It wasn’t so much the act of smoking that seemed so irresistible, though blowing smoke rings seemed pretty cool. The appeal, for me, was the accessories.
Smoking, back then, was not always just a matter of lighting up and inhaling smoke. Cigarettes as often came from a smooth, shiny, sleek gold or silver case as they did from a crumpled pack. Matchbooks advertised where you had been, from the neighborhood greasy spoon to the most exclusive nightclub in town. Lighters were an extension of your personality, reflecting your taste in jewelry and clothing or your hobbies. Many homes with a smoker had a table lighter to go with the decor of the room. Ashtrays came in every shape and color and material that didn’t catch fire when touched by a lighted cigarette.
By the time I was old enough to try smoking for myself (as opposed to being old enough to legally smoke), a lot of that went by the wayside. Cigarette cases were antiques, as far as most people were concerned. It was easier to plunk down a few cents for a disposable lighter than it was to buy flints and fluid for a refillable lighter.
Then I actually tried a puff, offered to me by a co-worker at my first job. “Inhale,” she ordered. I did. It tasted like old socks and burnt dry lawn clippings. “You have to get used to it,” she said. I coughed in reply. Too much work. I had thought vice should be easy to fall into. If I had to get used to it, what was the point?
I hang out with smokers with no problem. Even though the smoke can give me itchy eyes and all, it also reminds me of being young and listening to the adults’ “grown-up talk” while the smell of smoke drifts over the air.
As for me, I still don’t smoke. Once in awhile, though, I still think about how cool it would be to pull out a gold monogrammed cigarette case–and wonder just what the heck I would carry in it.