The controversy over how much Big Tobacco knew, when they knew it and to what extent they are responsible for the disease and deaths of countless souls rages on, fought by better minds than mine. But I watch with interest and a great deal of empathy.
On the one hand, give me a break--cigarette smoking has been provoking angry Pa's to tan bee-hinds out back of the shed since all movies were black and white. What prompted such whuppin's? Not just plot device or character development of the crusty old dad. Everyone knew they were bad for you.
How bad? Bad enough that a glittering Marlene Dietrich reaching for that pack, trembling hands fumbling with the lighter, was always the metaphor for despair. The tear-stained cheek, blood-red lips wrapped around the white cylindrical nicotine-delivery device, was surely the height of self-destructive desolation.
Bad for us. We knew it. But in that delicious, daredevil way that we love what is bad, but not too bad. Bad like James Dean with his pack rolled under his T-shirt sleeve, bad enough that we had to hide them from angry mommies and daddies (who still indulged themselves). Not so bad that anyone thought of blood-stained vomit or the buzzy sound of people talking through tracheotomies.
Turned out smoking was much worse than expected. And even more addictive than we ever dreamed.
I think of it because even now, 20 years after I stubbed out my last cigarette, there are still dark days when I mentally slap my pockets, looking for a pack.
That's right, you know me. I'm the priss-pot who rolls her eyes and asks you to extinguish it, puh-leeze! I stay home from clubs, even when it is my favorite music, because I despise the smoke. And don't get me started on the putrid and ridiculous affectation of cigar nouveau. And yet ...
And yet the other day, I sat at my desk, working on a piece of writing that was not going very well, and my fingers longed to make the peace sign, snapped shut around a glowing white tube of smoke. That long suck-in, holding it briefly, then letting smoky tendrils waft from my nose and lips, and finally the deep sigh of release. And again. Ahh. And again.
For crying out loud, what is this stuff, that I would, in my darker moments, still long for it like a lost lover? Heaven help us all.