The Smoking Section

Posted: December 31, 2008 in Miscellaneous


Some people have a bookie or a dealer for their habits; I have Mikey to supply me with books to read over Christmas break. That doesn’t sound as exciting, but books are arguably more dangerous.

I finished When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris yesterday. A few of my old Arkansas friends who, contrary to our upbringing have learned to appreciate essays written by gay atheists, spoke highly of Sedaris. And they were right once again.

Most of the essays are about ten pages long (just my size) and have nothing to do with being engulfed in flames. The showpiece of the book, however, is an eighty-page essay about Sedaris quitting smoking in Tokyo. Really funny stuff. Plus, it made me think about my dad.

I guess my dad smoked unfiltered Camels for about sixty years…well, he did quit for a little while a few years before he died. He never made family announcements, so I’m not sure how I knew he had quit (my guess is that my mom whispered it to me on the side, but maybe it was just so obvious that even I noticed it). I do remember he had been really, really sick – so sick that he couldn’t smoke, so when he recovered he decided to just run with it. It wasn’t long, however, until he was sneaking around to steal a smoke. Kind of funny now to picture a seventy-year old man sneaking a cigarette like he was a kid again.

Eventually I guess he decided to admit he didn’t have the willpower at the time, or more likely, that he was an old man and this was ridiculous: if he wanted to smoke, why should any of us care?

I didn’t care, though I always HATED the smell. Just hated it. I’m sure this confirms my prudishness, but I never even tried one. Prudish or not, I know it confirms my independent streak. I never did consider nausea a necessary rite of passage in spite of the popular perception.

But I simply cannot bring myself to dislike smokers. After all, smokers remind me of my dad.

The anti-smoking phenomenon has been pretty crazy. I doubt if smoking will ever disappear, but it is surely a different world than when I was a kid.

As Sedaris put it, “It seems crazy to cut smoking mothers out of textbooks, but within a few years they won’t be allowed in movies either. A woman can throw her newborn child from the roof of a high-rise building. She can then retrieve the body and stomp on it while shooting into the windows of a day care center, but to celebrate these murders by lighting a cigarette is to send a harmful message. There are, after all, young people watching, and we wouldn’t want them to get the wrong idea.”

I have no point, so if you’re looking for one I’m sorry to disappoint. I just enjoyed Sedaris and am feeling somewhat thankful for his making me think about my dad again.

  1. terryaustin says:

    Just downloaded the author-narrated audio version of this last night. Sedaris is a riot.

    Sad but true: I had one free audiobook download credit, and narrowed my choices down to The Message and Sedaris.

  2. alsturgeon says:

    Maybe you can wait on the movie of The Message? 🙂

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