history is habit-forming
June 29, 2001 03:11 PM

When I drive to work I stop at a light and look on the ground, out my window. Sometimes. Some days I forget to look. Others, I take another, less dramatic route.

There's a column of cigarette ends stacked six inches wide next to the median. They never stack up tall, just spread wide. How often is the street swept? How many work-bound travelers does this account for? It could be a week, a month, a year's worth of cigarettes.

Whatever. It is not one person's dump of ends. It is. In fact. A sign of community. Of all the people who roll down windows and toss out variously smoked cigarettes as they round a corner towards the uber office park. Hoping, I imagine, to air car and self before walking in the office door.

That. That right there is what cannot be detached from smoking. Once it was a whole-community activity. A thing men or women did together. And now it's a smaller, sometimes tighter community. The people who still smoke after everything.

There is a difference between peer pressure and belonging. Belonging to tradition, particularly. It's easy to say no I won't to someone who says yes you will. But no amount of disgusting shots of internal organs, morbid commercials, or tragically sick people can kill centuries of salons and intellectuals and cowboys. The history of smoking is part of that community experience. And history doesn't look to be rewritten any time soon.

I'm sure there are many people who buy the "thing X is dreadfully bad for you" party line. Oh, sure. I'm sure that mode of thinking will keep plenty of easily indoctrinated children away from cigarettes. Which is, don't get me wrong, a good thing.

Still. Most everyone I know who smokes - or did - imagines art and wit and hands. Imagines a sort of group habit.

And I wonder if those who never smoke lack that imagination. Or simply aren't compelled to act on it.

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