Yesterday's News

By Scott Snyder

The office building wherein I am employed is, like nine tenths of the indoor free world, smoke-free. You can confirm this for yourself by driving past it and observing the knot of nicotine fiends huddled around the back door, cast out like the pariahs they are.

I should say, "like the pariahs we are," but the admission comes with some difficulty. I hesitate, I suppose, to reveal aspects of my personality that invite judgment. So I don't exactly advertise my habit, any more than one would wear a sign around one's neck reading, "I rarely brush my teeth," or "I tend to say the wrong thing at social gatherings."

This is not to be a smoker's-rights tirade, however; I have no desire to get up on my cigarette case and rail against the witch-hunt. The government in Victorian England passed a law requiring railroads to allowpassengers to smoke, which I imagine speaks to the caveat populi Victorian priorities. And I suppose that the government has more business defending the abstainers than championing those who indulge.

No, this is to be a different sort of account. I sat once on the porch of a friend at four o'clock in the morning, smoking clove cigarettes. I was huddled in blankets, as it was February, and upstate New York, and snowing. My friend was reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory out loud. Sometimes she did the voices, sometimes not. It's a fond memory, and it wouldn't be the same without the cigarettes. They were the crackling fire in the hearth, the cherry glow of warmth that protects one from the cold more than any electric heater.

I also have sat, more than once, in parks in autumn, after closing, gazing through dusk at a horizon of trees, in their prime of hue. The wisps rising from a cigarette in my hand have always been an integral part of such scenes -- aesthetically. I don't suppose I can explain this. I suspect that other people who smoke might already know about it.

Cigarettes have given me an extra layer of security at difficult parties, in auto-mechanics' offices, and on the streets of New York. They've seen me through high-pressure writing assignments, awkward conversations, and long drives. I owe a lot to cigarettes -- and I suspect they will eventually collect on the debt. But for now, at 25, I'm okay with that.

I suppose my intent here is to take back any apologies I may ever have made for smoking -- except the one to my grandmother, whom my smoking causes much distress, I know. To you, I am sorry, Grandma. To everybody else: Hath not a smoker eyes?

Now, kids: I don't recommend you take up smoking. It gives you bad breath and smelly clothing, and no one will want to associate with you except other smokers. And you know what they're like.

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