I know it is a modern sin, but I absolutely love to smoke. I love the taste, the way a cigarette’s aroma permeates my lungs, the chemical/sexual thrill of nicotine’s grasp as it envelops my sympathetic nervous system. The slow, subtle arousal of both the body and the mind, combined with the relaxation of the muscles, the suppression of anxieties. It is delicious and decadent and absolutely one of my favorite vices, coming in third behind sex and alcohol.

There was a time before society in America became so health obsessed and puritanical when cigarettes were sexy and cool. I understand the reasons why this has changed, but I must admit I miss the days when I could render a man speechless just by casually drawing a fag and lighting up. Men have always been obsessed with women’s mouths and cigarettes always provided such a straightforward and powerful prop for seduction. The simple act of asking for a light, eyes wide and bright, lips full and inviting- in that moment, I own him.

The Second World War, what a delightful time for a girl who could handle a smoke! Red hair, green eyes, everything momma warned her boy about, I loitered alternately between the East Coast and the West Coast, fulfilling the dreams of soldiers and sailors and especially Marines. Oh, I had a special place in my heart for Marines- always first to fight and first to die. Always so polite, at least in the first few minutes- it seemed to me that Marines never failed to understand exactly what I meant when I asked for a light. They would proffer a match or a Zippo or even a brand from that night’s fire from the luau on the beach and I would draw with my mouth pursed just so, and the smoke would curl upward and I would breathe out, sighing in delight, my gaze meeting that of the young man who might die just a few weeks hence, gazing in to his eyes through a curling haze of blue smoke…

“You would die to defend me…”

“That’s what this war is all about…”

I forgive the hyperbole and invite him to my home and the night is an exquisite expression of my appreciation writ in the art of tangled sheets and bodies desperate from lust and fear and hope. A single night; sometimes two, or three or perhaps even a week, then goodbye and a promise to write. Then after a few days; I ask a sailor, or a GI or a Marine, “Got a light?”

It was all I had to offer, and I gave it willingly, eagerly. The War was beyond my control and the Peace was something only mortals could create and define, but for a few hundred boys in those terrifying years I could fulfill some dreams, relieve some fears, instill perhaps an extra ounce of already abundant courage. Most of all I could remember. I remember them all…

5 Responses to “Cigarettes”

  1. Too bad most American men would be turned off if they saw you light up today. Nothing like stinky cigarette breath to turn a guy off.

  2. The seductive beauty of cigarettes has been forgotten.

    I predict it will come back. Within 100 years, we will be able to medically correct the damage that cigarettes do, cheaply and easily. When that happens, watch for most of the world to become smokers again.

    You haven’t long to wait, Methuselah’s Daughter.

  3. Those were the old days, Peter. As I noted, I understand why cigarettes have fallen in to such disfavor in America. Still… there are large swaths of this world where your final statement is categorically false. Of course, I would hardly choose to live there…

  4. I share your sentiments about the vices, but I’m impressed with the wherewithal Peter has displayed by amassing his smoking survey of the U.S. in such short order. Of course, I’m sure that every actual correspondent he polled (if any) has the same issues he does.

  5. The above comments were written on 03/03/2003 and 03/04/2004 before re-posting here.