by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.
Recently a girl-friend of mine let it slip during casual conversation that she had started smoking cigarettes, an odd occupation I thought, first because she never smoked before, and second because we live in an era when as everybody knows it is more fashionable to quit smoking than to take it up. While I initially excused the lapse as the product of her sister’s recent medical concerns, it turns out that my friend began smoking over five weeks ago, long before her sister had developed any problems. Clearly the impulse was not motivated by sympathetic response. My friend has promised to explain to me what precipitated this unusual conduct, and I own that I anxiously await to know the cause. For the time being, however, what is patently clear is that my friend (let’s call her Jane for ease of reference) is enormously enjoying this singularly untrendy and – for the most part – unpopular habit. Indeed it took no provocation at all to excite her to an extremely animated state when describing the venture which is for her nothing short of uplifting. Listening to her, I oddly found myself vicariously and similarly titillated. There immediately sprang up within me the recollection of years of pleasure which I too had once derived from the evil tobacco and its many accoutrements. Jokingly I suggested to Jane that I would now know what to get her for Christmas – not a carton of cigarettes (as she posited), rather a cigarette holder (Jane tends to the flamboyant under most circumstances). Affectation is of course not an inconsiderable part of the attraction of smoking. Given the history of media advertisements for the product, it is beyond dispute that the swank people of this world have indulged themselves in a similar pass-time, as jaundiced as one may be inclined to be about the posture.
Naturally my apparent condonation of the undertaking is to be met with the violent reality of the science and "numbers" which have evolved over the years to squelch anything but an academic or nostalgic interest in the subject, which currently has about as much attraction for most people as the spittoon. Nonetheless the allure of the wickedness and its attendant thrill are there. Perhaps comforted by the knowledge that it takes as much as forty years to succumb to the effects of smoking, Jane insulates herself from the consequences of her actions by reasoning that she is now approaching fifty and plans to be dead by ninety. In the meantime, its all about being naughty. Who knows how long the exhilaration will persist! At a certain point in life, after each of us has endured our own share of disappointments and catastrophes, the proscription of delinquent conduct may require more substance than merely being bad for one’s health. There comes a time when one feels like snapping one’s fingers at dilemma! Even without such obtuse behaviour, simply relinquishing oneself to the flippancy of social abandon has its own shallow and, in this case, private rewards.
It has been so long since I have been in an enclosed space where someone has been smoking that I cannot imagine how it would be accomplished. Quite apart from the persistence to self-destruct, the governor of our primal deportment is still the over-riding sense of social responsibility which has been cultivated over the past quarter-century. Even within the territorial confines of one’s own house, I imagine the inclination for all but the most egregious is to respect the now constitutional right of others to breath clean air. Take it outside onto the porch! And yet, in spite of the relegation, the knowledge that one has adopted something akin to being a gypsy assuages the otherwise revolting endeavour. Admittedly there is also the element of pathos.
If one doesn’t allow oneself to become too entirely macabre about the subject (as I suspect is the position taken by those young enough to ignore anything adult), there can certainly be a modicum of fun in the proceedings. It is after all a fairly inexpensive (though not completely innocent) indulgence. It affords sufficiently large berth for a show of extravagance, the nonchalant tossing of the head while exhaling, the prayerful positioning of hands to shelter a match from the wind, the carefree flicking of an ash into a crystal tray. Sometimes we’re far too serious about life. Goodness knows we have enough readily at hand to bring us down if need be. Until then, Que Sera, Sera!