Years ago, when I was teaching at Boston University, I had the opportunity to visit Edinburgh for 3 weeks. Our students were performing in the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The long stay gave me the opportunity to thoroughly explore that extraordinarily beautiful city. I always like to bring a little something home with me, usually an antique; something small, easy to pack and that will evoke memories of my stay.
This Art Deco cigarette box is what came home with me. It’s simply gorgeous. I love the combination of metals, especially the copper with its beautiful blue patina. How elegant the flapper is, languidly sitting on that step while smoking a cigarette. The inside of the box is wood, buffed to a rich sheen. It’s in remarkably good condition and sits on our spinet desk in the den.
Ah, the days of cigarette boxes and smoking, when smoking a cigarette was cool and elegant. No one had any idea how harmful it could be. They were blessed with a sort of blissful ignorance.
We watched Jaws last night on TCM. One of the characters lit up a cigarette in the hospital. In another scene there was a plastic ashtray on the bedside table. Old movies, older than Jaws, are filled with smoking. Characters light up at the drop of a hat. Cigarettes are used, as they are used in real life, as a prop, a smoky wall of defense, as something to do with one’s hands.
My dad smoked for years and he smoked in the house. That astounds me now.
My grandfather smoked for most of his life. He rolled his own cigarettes and smoked a pipe. And he died from complications from Emphysema.
I smoked for about 3 or 4 years, from my late twenties into my early thirties. It seems ridiculous now that I took it up after years of not smoking. But I did. I loved lighting up my first cigarette in the morning, right after I’d finished my first cup of coffee. It gave me something to do. I loved the social aspect of it, especially during my first two years of graduate school, when my fellow acting students routinely took cigarette breaks during rehearsals – inside the building. A pack of cigarettes cost $1.25 then.
At the end of my second year of grad school, I decided to stop. I was about to pursue a career in acting. I had started teaching voice and speech. It seemed hypocritical to be instructing students about the care of their voices, while I puffed away on a known carcinogen. I waited until I went home for a visit at the end of the year. I knew I would be relaxing at my parents’ house, free from the stress of the academic year. They didn’t know I smoked (or so I thought.) It would be the perfect time to stop. And I did.
Don also smoked for years, longer than I did. Fortunately, he stopped around the same time I did, so by the time we met, we had been non-smokers for several years and it never figured into our life.
I remember being absolutely sure my parents had no idea I was smoking. Even when I was still in Michigan and living on my own, I would enter my parents’ home knowing they would never catch on. Now I think, who was I kidding? I can tell someone’s a smoker immediately. That smell clings to you. It never goes away. I hate the way it clings to clothing, to drapes, to fabric.
And I’m shocked at how many young actors smoke. We are armed with so much knowledge about the dangers of smoking, yet still they smoke. Young people think they are immortal. It’s part of being young. I’ve never been an ex-smoker who lectures others on the dangers of smoking. One conversation with a student or two or three? Yes, absolutely. But in the end, I can’t make them do anything they don’t want to do.
I stopped in 1985. It’s been 28 years since I lit up a cigarette.
Question for the day: Are you a smoker? Did you ever smoke? No judgment here, just simple curiosity.