Parliaments. Of all the cigarettes out there, Parliaments were my paramour. I loved the way they burned, they way they tasted and their color scheme. And 6 ½ years ago I said goodbye. It was like saying goodbye to a passionate love affair that is exciting and rebellious and fun because it’s dangerous and I love being part of a minority subculture. But it was unhealthy, I didn’t feel good in the morning and my clothes stunk. And for me, smelling bad in anyway is the kiss of death. Absolutely mortifying. So I quit. And never went back…
A couple of months ago, I auditioned for a film that requires smoking. No problem. I’m going get a pack of those tea cigarettes that they use on Mad Men. I can smoke and not worry about it.
Let me tell you – those tea cigarettes were nothing like my delicious Parliaments. They were disgusting. They tasted like dry grass and not the fun kind. But, I began to remember all the great things that came with the act of smoking, vs the smoking itself.
First and foremost, the 6+ minutes of stepping outside and smoking is a wonderful time of meditation and reset. I get to stop my busy life and mind and simply observe my surroundings. When I was “practicing” my smoking with my tea cigarette one night I watched life in action on the corner of Melrose and Beachwood. I saw a biker zoom by, the clouds gently pass by the almost full moon. I watched 2 elderly Asian women leave a dinner party, climb into their Cadillac and systematically dump pieces of garbage from their car onto the street and drive away. I saw a timed sprinkler turn on and watch the way the street lights reflected the water on the ground – red, then green, a quick yellow and back to red…I heard the corner store security guard speak to his buddy in a foreign language until they burst out laughing. These are simple moments of life and I witnessed them because I was standing out there with an activity that had a beginning, middle, and end. I had a reason to be out there.
The question then becomes – do I need a reason to stand out there? No. But it helps to have a purpose. It’s also a great way to meet people. I brought my tea cigarettes to a roadhouse in Joshua Tree and met a couple of fabulous artists because they needed a light. We talked through a couple of cigarettes and went our merry ways. I highly doubt we would have had that conversation if I had just been standing outside for no reason like a weirdo. Simply taking a couple minutes to be reflective outside of a bar in the desert socially is awkward even if it makes sense in theory.
I also have the choice to be social or not when smoking. There’s a built in permission to leave, because you’ve finished the cigarette, or stay by lighting another one. Also, I miss the tools and ritual. I love having a lighter, I love packing the pack and flipping the lucky cigarette, and I miss my classy cigarette case. The accouterment and activity around smoking I miss. The effects and health hazards I don’t. Not to mention the profound disgust I have for tobacco companies, their employees and corporate practices. They are right up there in bed with insurance companies and their shitty behavior.
I must say this: with so much of our lives spent on the phone, I miss the “life observer” I get to be as a smoker. People everywhere, in every environment imaginable are on their damn phone all the time. And I am one of those people too sometimes. As an artist, I need to witness life happening as it happens and the times I’ve been outside smoking my rose tea “cigarettes” I get to see it and be a part of it, with a purpose, unencumbered by the trappings of my phone. And in that witnessing, I am inspired to write and incorporate the details of what I’m seeing into my work. Though it’s working for me now, I wish I didn’t need this literal smoke screen to do it.