I STARTED SMOKING when I was twelve-years old. It took a lot of hard work to become addicted to nicotine, but I persevered and after quite a long time, managed to do it. I started smoking because that's what you did. I knew few, if any, men over the age of 18 who did not smoke. Smoking was considered trashy for women, and the few who did smoke rarely did so in public. Maybe at a cocktail party or in a fashionable restaurant or a bar but certainly not on the street.
Girls experimented with cigarettes too, of course, but did not often take them up as a regular habit. They did it to be bad, whereas we boys did it as protective coloration. If someone who did not smoke was offered a cigarette, the response was an apologetic, "Sorry, I don't smoke," with the implication that they'd tried their damnedest but just couldn't manage. Intellectuals smoked a pipe, bullies and politicians and business men smoked cigars, women smoked filters, ordinary guys smoked Camels, Luckys or Pall Malls. College classrooms were a chest-high blue haze, and about the only place you couldn't smoke was in church.
The first time I lit up was with two friends, one of whom had swiped a crumpled half-pack of Salems from his mother's purse. We sat under a railway bridge and puffed and felt grown up and slightly green around the gills. Thereafter, I bought cigarettes from machines and indulged more-or-less regularly with schoolmates, and by the time I was in high school was up to perhaps a half-pack a week. They tasted awful and made me ill, but even the memorable experience of smoking to excess while playing miniature golf and throwing up on the bus home did not dissuade me from my determination to be normal. I started smoking because it was fashionable, and when it became unfashionable, I quit. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
April 12, 1994
"Five-Minute Romance" is the title of fad song popular c. 1958. The "romance" is revealed in the last line to be between a cigarette and a smoker.
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