Smoking, in most parts of the Western world, has become an illicit act. It’s surely not as bad as shooting horse out on the street, but one definitely feels as if the outsider label is applied. I relish it. I’ll be that one sad motherfucker smoking a cigarette in late November on a cold Montreal night, when the chill has just set in and the “game” is all over except for the score. I’ll be sitting out there, hopefully not alone, like some teenager who just won’t dress properly for the winter weather, freezing out in the cold for the sake of something totally gratuitous. It will keep me young, I’m sure. There will be others, and we will find our common bond in the utter futility of the act.
Perhaps that’s the draw…The frustratingly fruitless event…Doing something that nobody lets you do in mixed company. Like smoking your first joint with a bunch of people you don’t know. It will be cool and beautiful. We will shiver and shake like mice under the cold floorboards, making noises of protest and derision in our own little way. That will be the act of smoking…Juvenile, irresponsible, illicit. Utterly destructive. They will become moments of life affirming silliness, out on the fringes of acceptable behavior.
Of course, it wasn’t always like this. The archon of separation, Levesque, was know in legendary style as a man with a cigarette dangling jauntily from his lip, like some ancient hold-over from Orwell’s Wiggan Pier. A truly pointless example of wasted and undisciplined humanity. I feel as if Foucault were alive today (another dead one) he’d take up smoking simply because of the outsider cache it represented.
Most people won’t see it that way. They will ask “Why are you still smoking?” “What’s the point, really?” The only answer you’ll be able to give them is that there is no point. No purpose. It will become a totally surreal and abstract endeavor. The point of smoking becoming secondary to the act of smoking. Everybody will want to get in the game, be a part of this strange fringe group of people who just insist on getting up from the table, excusing themselves and walking out into the cold to bravely and boldly bear their burden…An elusive badge of honor that is at once both senseless and deeply purposeful. Most will be at a loss to understand the motivation, whether personal or political (or both).
Doubtless, there will be places where the downtrodden and the dispossessed congregate…Illicit spaces that accommodate the practice…It will be become a cultish endeavor.
Regardless, the true individual will continue in his solitary quest, excusing himself from all responsibility and rationality to enjoy a smoke, all alone, in the cold and uncompromising winter that comes only too quickly in this part of the world.
Ultimately, the great altruistic act of the smoker will be in his or her walk home — that last smoke, enjoyed lovingly and heartily in the company of one, the very act of breathing made diabolical…The demon within us all, becoming the worst and hoping for the best. The vitality of it is overwhelming. And truly beautiful.
N.B. More extensive and coherent ramblings on the changing role of smoking in our society can be found at the smoking section. Check it out.