Smokin'

smokin'
The Smoker, a presumed self portrait of Joos van Craesbeek, 1635-36


"I closed the side window so the breeze can't push fresh puffs inside on me."

I was a dedicated smoker in my youth, sneaking smokes out on the football field during lunchtime at high school. Slinking around, I mostly learned how to sneak there. My parents were raging liberals when it came to smoking, figuring that they'd rather we not sneak around at home. My dad, brother, and I thereby inflicted second-hand smoke on everyone else in the house, not so much indifferent as ignorant of the damage we inflicted. I quit in a fit of righteous self discipline on the new year when I would turn thirty-five, figuring that smoking was a young man's game and I was headed in the wrong direction to avoid one of the dead certain afflictions should I continue the habit. The Insurance Company had just before instituted a strict no smoking policy and I didn't relish becoming one of those poor souls forevermore hovering around a drizzly courtyard. We speak now of castes and classes. When I stopped smoking, I was immediately upgraded a class. I bruised my left nipple for months after from constantly tapping my shirt pocket, checking for the accustomed pack which was no longer there to cushion my panicky inquiries.

I later picked up cigars, fine little Dominican ones which I fallaciously claimed had been hand-rolled on the thighs of virgins.
Macanudos, a rich sweet smoke, they haloed my head like Gandalf had with his ever-present pipe. They accompanied my reveries, though I found myself consequently writing while standing at my workbench in our standalone garage. I smelled like a humidor everywhere I'd go, though I'd scrupulously scrub my face after every stogie. I didn't need advertise this shameful little practice, it announced its own presence. My habit was obvious enough that nobody needed to hire a Sherlock Holmes to find a dog that wasn't barking. It barked endlessly. I subscribed to the age old self delusion that it's better to have smoked and quit than never to have smoked at all, or at least I did until my father contracted lung cancer twenty and more years after he'd stopped smoking. I quit the cigars cold turkey.

Smoking, though, does provide one of the finer illusions available to folks. It sort of relaxes while sharpening the mind, clearing the head while suffocating all sense of smell. Its own pervasive smell sticks everywhere, upholstery probably its greatest supporter, though wallpaper can certainly hold its share. My mother had an uncle who smoked so prodigiously that he'd leave brown teardrops of nicotine dripping down his living room walls. When I was a kid, smoking had not yet become disreputable. Decent and upstanding gentlemen openly smoked pipes everywhere but church and, while grade school teachers snuck down into the furnace room to puff, everyone knew they used the stuff by the aura they carried back up and into the classroom with them. Nobody thought a thing about seeing any adult smoke. Now it's become one of those societal indicators, largely a poor folk habit, and often seen as a grave moral shortcoming. Smokers are presumed to be jokers, masters of nothing more than self deception, prime candidates for COPD and worse.

I woke early this morning feeling that old, once-familiar sensation in my throat. I peered across the pre-dawn draw and I swear that I could see a certain density between me and the trees lining the surrounding foothills. The air smelled thick and gritty, and each little gust of breeze force-fed me another gasping lungful. There was no place to go to escape this insidious pall. It seemed all-consuming. I considered global warming, once a distant threat and now an annual companion when summer starts spinning down. Lightning causes most of this and it's inescapable, signaling much-needed rain. A chain dragging behind a vehicle on the freeway perhaps caused this latest blaze. They evacuated the unlikely-named town of Noname last night. Nobody can say when the freeway across the Continental Divide might reopen and they hope they won't have to evacuate the small city of Glenwood Springs, but anything could happen now.

I mostly rely upon my muscle memory to navigate. A sensation like a smoky horizon sparks a long-ago learned gut reaction and I'm suddenly a smoker again. I react largely by preconscious comparison, even when the present situation only distantly justifies my reaction. When I hit a novel situation, like This Damned Pandemic, for instance, my usual method of navigation probably serves me poorly. I cannot just fall back on lessons learned back when I was still actively learning new lessons, back when I was young and overflowing with hopefulness. I've built my barricades against change, largely satisfied with what I corralled inside and also with what I more or less deliberately excluded. I do not warmly welcome intrusions into my well or poorly-crafted world, but I can learn to wear a mask. Since I stopped smoking, I no longer gasp for air and my lungs were never compromised. I can stay put, too, and not just because I'd really rather. I learned to deny myself when I quit smoking, and I know myself capable of waiting out panic reactions. I'd be about as welcome as a chain smoker in a monastery visiting anybody, even kin, so I'm staying in. I figure that I might, if lucky, see my grandkids within the next year or so, though it's already been a year since I last intruded on them. I could become a legend of their childhoods, a ghostly presence distant and lacking consequence. The future seems smoky this morning, too. I simply cannot see all that far in front of me. I closed the side window so the breeze can't push fresh puffs inside on me.

Here it is Friday again, and Smokin' or not, it's time to revisit my recent postings.

I began my writing week looking at
Discretion, once seemingly the better part of valor and believed to advise against stepping into trouble, but more recently its definition has twisted into justification for doing whatever one chooses.

I next proclaimed that I'm not a
Worker, if only because I can't seem to catch on to charging by the hour. This one sparked a ton of terrific comments.

I lost my glasses next and experienced one of what I called
LittleDeaths.

I next wallowed in double entendre in
TakingAPass, where I noticed that I'd become a master at passing stuff by.

I next wondered how The Damned Pandemic might influence future Detective Fiction in
Gumshoe.

Then I went and got good and lost for a short while in
Disorienteering.

I ended my writing week with a heart-felt political screed in
DogWhistlingInTheDark.

I've had a Smokin' writing week, really feeling like a writer and not just a pretender. Smokin', too, because I've been feeling increasingly uncertain of what's coming next. We've talked about trying to get away for a bit, but I sense that traveling urges should rightfully be nixed just yet. We might manage to get away just fine, but what might we bring back home with us? I cannot seem to accurately foresee, which once seemed to be more than half of my everyday visual acuity. I'm better at looking backward right now, perhaps most present in who I once knew myself to be than who I might ever become. Smokin'!

Thank you for following along through this haze!

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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