“Nobody inhales! That would be insane.”
Having heard about firefighters succumbing to smoke inhalation, I felt it was too obvious that smokers couldn’t be inhaling. Why would they do that?
I like the smell of tobacco. The rituals accompanying it attracted me. My Mom would have a friend over for Folgers coffee. I would listen as they talked, and watch the languid stream of smoke rise like a cool clarinet solo. Then, that ethereal jazz dance would agitate and disperse into cooler air currents. Still, tobacco’s allure was a mystery.
My parents were away for the weekend. My friend Toby and I conducted an experiment on “why people smoke?” The results would be anecdotal at best. And our procedures wouldn’t pass the most basic of musters. But we were dedicated guinea pigs, seeking the truth about smoking.
It was in the news. The surgeon general spoke out about tobacco giving you cancer.
Something had to be done. I was ten.
My folks smoked Pall Malls, in that very distinctive red pack. This was before filters were introduced. I filched a pack from the carton and met my friend at the abandoned culvert amidst the tall grass and cattails. Redwing blackbirds sang their song.
Divvying up the cigarettes, we discussed inhaling. It just made no sense to me. How could anyone do that on purpose? No evidence supported it. That would be crazy.
We lit up and attempted sophistication, mimicked smoker’s mannerisms, flicked ashes like pros, adopted tough guy attitudes, and practiced blowing smoke rings. It was a mystery.
After furiously smoking ten cigarettes, (but not inhaling), it remained obscure to me. What was the attraction?
Not long after that, my Dad quit. He said he was having lunch in a restaurant, when a man came in wearing a breathing tube and pulling an oxygen bottle behind him. “I won’t do that,” he said. And he quit cold.
My brothers and sister each took up smoking. After cajoling our parents to quit, they all heard the call.
I would flirt with it, but never let it become a habit. I didn’t want to take orders from a cigarette. I rolled my cigarettes to think about each one, rather than just lighting up another, and another, unconsciously. How many people blow through a pack and don’t even remember it?
‘Drum’ rolling tobacco was my brand. It was quality, aromatic, flavorful, shag, tobacco. I sound like a commercial.
After graduating from college, I went camping in Glacier National Park with my friend Paul. One evening, the neighboring tent was occupied by two women from the Netherlands.
Our foreign visitors kept exclaiming they were “scared of the beers!” After a few minutes puzzlement, we factored in their accents and realized it was the ‘bears’ from which their terror arose, not a bad case of Budweiser. They were terrified by the warning signs posted depicting the ferocious grizzly bears lurking in the forest.
The American grizzly cares nothing about Walt Disney. And Hanna Barbara’s Yogi Bear was nowhere to be found. Grizzlies are truly scary. Not one is named Whinny.
Desirous of exhibiting good old American hospitality, and of an opportunity to promote healthy habits of diplomacy and foreign cultural exchange, Paul and I did our best to salve their fears.
Initially we feigned bravado and spoke grandly about the bears being more afraid of us, than we of them. Wisely, they didn’t buy it.
Taking advantage of the language barrier, Paul made silly puns at their expense such as, “the saucy natives of the Netherlands are referred to as ‘the Hollandaise’”, going dutch, and vague references to Vincent Van Gogh cutting off his ‘bear’ for love. It was embarrassing, really. I wouldn’t have done that.
Then I hit upon the fact that bears are afraid of fire. I pulled out my rolling tobacco to defend against any rampaging grizzlies. When they saw my pouch of Drum, the women started exclaiming excitedly, “Droom! Droom!” It turned out Drum was manufactured in the Netherlands and was their leading brand. I became an instant hero.
Common ground was established. Cultural barriers melted away, and soon, a pungent haze of fine tobacco smoke rose lazily from the tent, while we chattered the night away.
The bears knew to keep their distance. And a mystery was solved.