“Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.”
Perhaps you’re familiar with this quote; it’s been around for decades. As a current nonsmoker, I totally get the disgusting imagery those words evoke but, as a young smoker who was actively dating all those many years ago, I didn’t have a clue.
To the best of my memory, I only dated a couple of girls who smoked and I don’t recall the smoking habit ever interfering with any dating activities, unless you count the times I took my eyes off the road while fishing for a carelessly dropped cigarette on the floor of my car or the time I fell asleep on a date’s couch as my cigarette smoldered on the rug. (Fortunately, this was discovered early in a house of smokers whose carpet bore the scars of previous similar transgressions and had no lasting effect on our relationship.)
While I don’t remember any smoking-related complaints from my dates, some of them must have found it to be at least annoying. At the peak of my smoking days, I was phobic about being stuck someplace where smoking would be difficult, if not impossible. So I carried an ashtray with me wherever I went, a fairly long-lived habit that I now find incomprehensible. The corduroy coat that I wore through most of my college days was riddled with burn holes and was a sponge for the malodorous blue haze that often engulfed me.
Remarkably, my nonsmoking parents tolerated my habit, allowing me to smoke in certain areas of their house although they certainly didn’t support my behavior. I wasn’t a loyal smoker, either, switching brands on a whim. When I wanted a treat, I would spring for some English Ovals or some French cigarette whose name I’ve forgotten. I found the cigarettes to be pretty ordinary, but I liked the snobbish effect of pulling one from their hoity-toity packages. At one point, I rolled my own with one of those rolling machines and carried them in my fancy store-bought packs.
Beggars at Omaha’s Union Pacific and Burlington railroad stations, where I worked, were so annoying that I started rolling cigarettes so tight that it was impossible to smoke them. These leaden joints were enthusiastically doled out to the most persistent of the station moochers.
My dates, on the other hand, were treated to a full complement of smoking tricks, from Bogart-type holds to blowing perfect smoke rings to my clever one-handed method of snapping open my Zippo lighter by holding it between my thumb and two fingers and bringing them together, catching the opened lighter in the process. I then ignited it by snapping my fingers, grazing the striking wheel. Very cool.
But I don’t think I smoked because it was cool. There was nothing cool about that first cigarette of the day. To be honest, it was often awful. But I did it anyway. I was hooked.
Next: How and why I quit.