|A Real Man, I smoked|
the UNfiltered variety.
- Hiram, Ohio, early 1960s. A college student, still living with my parents, I am lying on the floor one summer night watching a late movie on TV. I am smoking, the ashtray beside me on the floor. I fall asleep. I snap awake when I smell something odd. I look to the source and see my Pall Mall has rolled out of the ashtray onto the carpet. Where it has burned a hole in the carpet the width of a cigarette and about two inches long. Oops. Thinking fast, I go over to the couch, pull it away from the wall, pick from the carpet near the wall a bunch of fibers, return the couch to its wonted position. I stuff the fibers into the cigarette burn, smooth it all over. Perfect. Next day, my mother vacuums the living room. Not perfect.
- Late 1940s, early 1950s. People smoke cigarettes in the movies, their exhalations weaving in and out of the beam of light from the projector, the atmosphere thick. Later, theaters build glassed-in smoking areas at the back of the auditoriums. People watch. And smoke.
- 1960s. I can handle my cigarette like a professional. I know how to hold it in my right hand, pinching it gently between my thumb and forefinger, then use my ring finger to flick the extra ash into the wind. There's a kid in our high school we call "Chuckert" (don't remember why). With a lighted cigarette in his mouth, he can flip it back entirely inside his mouth, lips closed, then flip it back out again, in smoking position. I am afraid to try it, imagining a hole in my tongue ...
- I can light a cigarette in a high wind outdoors.
- I don't like exhaling smoke through my nose.
- I know how to knock a pack against my hand so that only a single cigarette emerges. I know how--one-handed--to shake a pack so that only a single cigarette emerges.
- 1960s. In the machines, packs of cigarettes cost .25.
- 1966, Aurora Middle School, Aurora, Ohio: In my first year of teaching, I've learned to love my free periods. I sit in the faculty room and smoke with my colleagues. I've learned: Each Pall Mall takes about seven minutes. Free periods are about forty minutes ... how many cigarettes? Years later, teaching in Hiram's Weekend College, I tell my students, most of whom are older, most of whom smoke, that they can have a seven-minute break outside. They look at me in wonder: How does he know that?
- Summer 1965. My dad has a new car, a Buick Wildcat. He loves it; he fears it. It is our first car with air-conditioning, and Dad does not know about the condensation that will drip to the carport floor while the car cools down. He thinks something is wrong, is leaking. He drives the car back to the dealer. Who assures him all is well. We are driving the Wildcat to Oregon from Ohio, our last big family trip to see Dad's large family, most of whom still live out in the Walla Walla Valley. I am about to enter my senior year of college. I am sophisticated and wise. Dad lets me smoke in the car--if I roll down the window. Mom wrinkles her nose, every time, certain she is smelling the sulphur of Hell.
- I never, ever smoked in bed.
- I liked to smoke while driving, while drinking beer, while reading, while watching TV, while grading papers, while walking, while eating (well, immediately after eating), while thinking, while breathing ...
- Late 1940's. Enid, Oklahoma. My dad has left me in the car a minute while he runs in the bank to cash a check. Dad is proud of this car. A green Chrysler. The family's first brand-new car. I am about five. And I am bored. I push the cigarette lighter in. When it pops out--hot and ready--I look at the bright orange glow. I use the lighter to burn beautiful concentric circles in the dashboard of the car. Many beautiful black circles ...