I sit 90 degrees underneath palm trees
Smoking bidis as I burn my calories
From Brooklyn rooftops to Brooklyn teepess
Who that be?
Trying to get the best of me
From Hawaii to Hawthorne I run marathons
Buju Banton I'm a true champion
Farrakhan reads his daily Koran
It's a phenomenon
Lyrics fast like Ramadan
I'm thinking about it because I'm reading a Fark post about clove cigarettes.
I have always considered myself an anti-smoker. The smell and filth of the habit is disgusting. Smokers' houses always stank. Smokers' breath stank. Even in high school, people having "nic fits" were just sad. Congratulations, you've sold out to the Man by buying his friggin smoke sticks. And you're going to kill yourself, and you're making yourself broke.
Even in college, I knew a few folks who were die hard smokers. I always thought it was a retarded habit that was just a waste of time. Drinking, I was all for. Smoking, whatever. I remember one guy in our philosophy circle, John Cogburn, who absolutely loved to smoke. He claimed that if he could inject nicotine, he would. He would hack out philosophy papers for hours on end while using an old shiner bock bottle as an ashtray. The disgusting sludge of backwashed bock and endlessly masticated cigarette butts made an awe inspiring site. And smell.
(And, let me put in my special dispensation for my good friend Michael Henderson, whom I reverently refer to as the Last of the Great American Smokers. Michael's as smart as they come, and is an unabashed lover of the tobacco. I remember one trip he took to Ireland. he told me he was getting the patch. I asked, oh finally giving it up? He said, no they just don't let you smoke on the plane anymore... gotta get through the eleven hours without a cigarette.)
However, take that with a big side of hypocrisy. Back when it was cool to do so (i.e. the mid nineties), I went through a minor cigar phase. Not too different from my beer, or salsa, or scotch, or wine phases, I tried a bunch of different kinds and settled, more or less, on the H. Uppman as my weapon of choice. Of course, cigars are as nasty as any other tobacco product. Your fingers get the smell on them, and your mouth ends up fried from sucking on smoke for an hour.
The biggest thing I liked about smoking was just watching the smoke. I remember infuriating one cigar weenie by sticking his high end stogie in my mouth and puffing on it like I drinking bubble tea. Drove him nuts until he finally gave up, laughed, and said, "you just like seeing a lot of smoke, don't you?" Sure do.
So I went through that phase, and I had the phase where I hung out with a couple who smoke incessantly. I got in the habit of sticking an unlit Marlboro Light in my mouth, and maybe smoking one a night. I smoked the cigarettes like I would smoke the cigars: no inhaling, all smogging. I did like inhaling through the unlit cigarette and tasting the tobacco and, hah, I am sure the other addictive chemicals they put in there. I am sure I looked like a dumbass, but who cares.
Cigarettes were good because you're much less committed to the smoke. I get bored with the smogging within ten minutes. With tven a small cigar you can be sitting there for an hour waiting for the thing to burn out. And re-lighting it was never as satisfying as that first burn. Cigarette burns out and is gone, no more worrying about the annoying smell.
And, of course, when I went to Paris with Traci, we smoked Gauloises while walking on the Champ d'Elysees.
Now hidden within this smoking thing was the occasional Djarum. I first saw these things in undergrad, when a woman I knew named Noreen would smoke them. At the time I was fascinated by their metal tin (one of my many affectations was writing with a fountain pen, and the tin made a perfect storage container for the ink). Years later, i picked up some for some damn reason.
They still had the metal tin. They were wrapped loosely and had no filters. And that clove taste turned your mouth numb, in a weird and thrillingly dangerous fashion. The tobacco even seemed weird and scraggly, compared the near pate like consistency of American cigarettes.
Looking at the Djarum site, I am not even sure that they still make the kind I smoked. Wikipedia implies that they were the "Originals". Not sure if the metal box is gone, if the cigarette itself is gone, who knows.
I probably smoked, eh, forty of these things over the space of five years. Always seemed to be a conversation started at parties. People had smoked cloves in their youth, or were worried that cloves are somehow more carcenogenic than other cigarettes, or just wondered what the heck it was. The majority of them, however, I smoked on my balcony back at my Gables apartment. That was back when I was a big phone talker, and I could spend hours yakking and yakking on that balcony. Or I'd just sit there and watch the cars go by on 38th, remembering Noreen who smoked Djarums, or Daksha who smoked bidis, or Traci when she used to smoke Gauloises.
For a long time after I gave up even the limited amount of smoking I did, I kept the cigar box with all the accoutrements from those days. Cigar cutter, lighters, matches, and the last stray bits of tobacco (of course, I was always accused at parties of using it as a stash box). I still have the box, but no more smokes at the house.
I remember the last Djarum I smoked. Michelle was gone for the weekend, and I was home alone. I had a shot or two of whiskey and rummaged out this old, wrinkly, decrepit cigarette. I smoked on the porch in front of the house and felt that weird cool tingle in my mouth. I was working up my courage to call Michelle's folks and tell them I was going to ask her to marry me, and it felt both foolish and complete to indulge in a few bachelor habits before I made the call.
I don't know that I'll ever buy another pack of cigarettes. Smoking reminds me of clubs and of being lonesome. It's a strange feeling to think back on that period of my life.