But when the flames were coming down the mountains, I bought a pack of American Spirits (the good cigarettes) and proceeded to smoke like a fiend, air quality be damned. Then I gave away the pack, keeping a few in my glove box as my "Armageddon cigarettes," you know, the ones you smoke when the world is coming to an end, or your world is anyway.
If only it wasn't so bad for you. When I'm smoking it's usually just a couple a day, but there is no really sane justification for the act of inhaling tobacco. I began while a college student in Madrid, and so smoking reminds me of black coffee in cafés, train rides, and coyly asking the nearest attractive man for a light. "Tienes fuego?" "Do you have fire?"
Both my parents smoked when I was a kid, but quit. I succumbed to peer pressure because, hanging out in nightclubs and cafés in Spain I looked even more Californian /American as a non-smoker. I remember people proffering cigarettes from their packs like sticks of gum while standing around, drinking "copas." I had a lover who smoked "el tabaco negro." He was from Cataluña, and is probably dead now, or very sick, he smoked so damn much.
So, smoking recalls my mis-spent youth. I imagine it confers an erotic elegance to my persona, and is my comfort when the old hand to mouth thing kicks in when I'm sad or nervous. I should have kept sucking my thumb instead. Then there's that subversive urge to say, the hell with it, who wants to live a long time anyway? Old movies were also my downfall. Watching them now I marvel at the complete abandon the actors have in smoking (and drinking.) Lucky sods. Until they got old and had to breathe out of a tube.
In Japan, it seems the population's longevity adversely impacts the universal health care system. Hence, the amusing tobacco warning on packs there—"Please, try not to smoke too much." Long, lonely drives in my car were always a problem, the siren call of the cigarette louder than usual. Plus I have probably risked my life digging about in my purse (while driving) for a mint or a stick of gum immediately after smoking, to "cleanse my palate" so to speak.
I'm of the tobacco smoke screen school, using it to shut down feelings, and gather my thoughts instead. Like any addiction, it's being intimate with a habit instead of with myself or other human beings. Having a smoke is just so much damn easier than that.
Sometimes I take tiny cocktail straws, those itty bitty ones, and breathe through them, since someone once told me the experience mimics emphysema. OK, OK, so I'm quitting again, this is the point of this post, to really "grow up," bust myself on this nasty, secret habit and come clean for good.
Let's take a poll: Will I succeed this time? What will the last cigarette be like? Will I have a ritual and burn that last pack, or ask a friend (again) to store it in her kitchen drawer, 40 miles away from me? Will I lament losing my sense of immortality? Will I keep one or two hidden ones back, to enjoy without guilt when I find them weeks later? I've given up on my Birthday, and on New Year's many times over. I've pondered that last cigarette, infusing it with all kinds of meaning. I will remember everything in that moment. I'll be like the Indian (on the American Spirit package!) smoking my peace pipe one last time.
I'll tell you a secret: what works for me now is not concern for my lungs, but for the skin on my face. I love my face, and as I approach (finally) maturity (the half-century mark is looming) it is falling, just a bit. Smoking....get this...causes WRINKLES. This cannot be. I will fight crow's feet (which I can see) harder than polluted lungs (which I cannot.)
I smoked my last cigarette last night on Highway One, driving home after enjoying a cocktail with a girlfriend in Monterey. When I pulled over to heed nature's call (hey, it's something we Big Sur girls do discreetly outdoors, one of life's lesser known pleasures) I looked up to see something I haven't seen since before the fire: the glorious Milky Way. YES! The Moon and the Milky Way, the real reasons I live on this coast.
You know the problem with the "Armageddon cigarette" approach? I always smoke that damn last cigarette before Armageddon, which of course is always just around the corner. But I'm going to make a public commitment here, to really stop. So Mom, if you're reading this, that was my last cigarette at 10:30pm last night, driving over Bixby Bridge. For real.