There was a time in my life some years ago when a dark fear stalked me: that I was destined to become the last person on earth who could not kick the smoking habit. Like a fat person in a bakery, I was losing control.
Reminiscences about smoking seem such a grubby subject for a blog, but I was heartened to read a wonderfully penetrating essay on this very subject in the latest edition of the New Yorker magazine this week. Written by David Sedaris, and titled Letting Go, I urge any former smoker to read it. It will kindle a bonfire of memories of your own smoking journey through life.
Johnny Depp once remarked in an interview (without a hint of sarcasm, I believe) that the one thing he was really good at was smoking. It resonated deeply within me. I was far better at smoking than at maths or science or sport at school. I think I could have got a B+ if they had awarded grades for smoking effort, focus and (brand) loyalty.
Sedaris pokes wry and sometimes wrenching fun at the fact that we children of the 1960s grew up at a time when smoking was untainted by health concerns. When, for example, my own step-father, a physician, smoked 60 Van Rijn plains a day; when, in a gesture of spontaneous love, my mother would buy me a carton of Stuyvesant. My friends were so damn envious. How cool was my mom!
In those days smoking offered a smooth ride to adulthood, a gateway to sex, drugs, rock and roll. Cigarettes were the glue that held the whole wonderful puzzle of life together.
Smoking was not just physically and emotionally satisfying, it was also politically comforting. In the newsrooms of the Rand Daily Mail, Post and City Press, smokers literally puffed on their ideology. If you smoked Mills you were Congress; if you smoked Consulate you were Black Consciousness. The cops could have hauled in the entire UDF if they just focussed on arresting Mills smokers. It was that obvious.
In those days Steve Biko really had a grip on the political mind of the country so I too joined the migration to Consulate — though it gained me no acceptance.
I finally ended my smoking career as a Camel loyalist. Their pay-off line was pure genius and, as every smug Camel smoker knows, it was 100 percent honest: The Taste. Those ffing bastards were killing me with the sweet smoothe truth.
The mystique of being a Camel smoker was brought home to me one day in the Drakensberg when, riding on the back of a bakkie, a freezing thunderstorm descended upon us. I demanded that the driver stop and let me into the cab but he just laughed and said, “C’mon, your’e a Camel oke, you can take it.” As I forced my way into the front of the bakkie, I hauled out my pack of smokes and waved them in front of the driver muttering, “Camel Lights, you fool!”
Such are some of the hazy, lazy memories of a dedicated smoker; Go read Sedaris’ piece and give yourself permission to savour your own smoking history, and let the memories drift leisurely over you like that plume of satisfying smoke from a cigarette at the butt-end of a great meal.
First Published in The Mail&Guardian ThoughtLeader