Monday, February 13, 2012

Thoughts on Smoke

Today as I headed in to work, I walked behind a a beautiful young woman for a block or so. The scent of her perfume mingled with cigarette smoke in a decadent mix that completely scattered my thoughts and forced a coffee run to help me get down to work. I'm not a smoker, but I have smoked at times in the past. As I stirred my coffee, I mused for a bit on how powerful smoke is and how different smoke scents have their own places in my life.

If I am indoors, cigarette smoke is not something I welcome. It makes me cough and my eyes burn and I hate the smell on my clothes later. As a New Jerseyan, I was shocked to walk into a suburban Philadelphia restaurant/bar a few weeks back to be confronted with a stinking wall of haze from the 3 bar patrons cheerlessly puffing away. I had completely forgotten that there are exemptions to the smoking ban.  I walked out.

But, as noted earlier, my relationship with cigarette smoke is more complex than that. There is something about very intriguing about a woman who smokes.  I guess it's and example of the age-old truth of being drawn to a bad girl. (Right up until you kiss her after she's been smoking and then ... blech!) I have picked up a few packs of cigarettes in stressful times and have been calmed by the ritual of smoking, but ultimately I hate that I know how bad it is for me and I throw the rest of the pack away.

Cigar smoke I associate with my Grandpa Neely and golf and winning basketball games. It's a full, mature smoke that smells of accomplishment and relaxation.  In my 20s and early 30s, I smoked a couple of cigars a month, sometimes with Scotch, sometimes with brandy, sometimes with fine Bourbon, but always with good friends. I always woke up with the feeling that something had died in my mouth, but until my kids came along, it didn't stop me from firing up another a few weeks later!

There are other powerful kinds of smoke.  Nothing says 'suburban summer Saturday afternoon' like the smoke from a charcoal grill. Rarely smelled these days, I occasionally catch the scent of a good burger grilling the old-fashioned way and I am brought back to thoughts of my father obsessively fanning the Kingsford briquets in his Weber kettle, looking for the right mix of orange glow and gray ash before dropping the food on the grill.  While the smell of a streak grilling over a gas grill is just fine, the missing element of the charcoal smoke makes it just a bit less interesting, no matter how perfectly the steak is cooked.

Speaking of food and smoke, I am not really a big fan except for the aforementioned backyard grill. Smoked food (and beers or cocktails for that matter) always seems to be just a bit over the top with the smoke, hiding anything else going on in the dish.  Add to this the offense of 'liquid smoke,' and I think I'm just going to pass most of the time.

Even after all these years, when I catch a whiff of pot smoke, I still think back to college. The House 6 and 7 guys trying to keep the party to a 'dull roar,' the elicit smoke wafting though the house as Van Morrison and the Grateful Dead boomed. It's far more prevalent now that it used to be.  It's no longer unusual to smell pot smoke at a Phils game, and it's darn near unusual to be at a concert where someone doesn't fire up a joint.  Heck, it's darn near legal in some states!

The exhaust smoke from a diesel engine reminds me how hard work and life can be sometimes. Whether it's a tractor with its PTO engaged and driving a pump, a trackhoe digging a ditch, a SEPTA bus pulling away from a line of commuters or a generator keeping the air compressors running and work lights on, diesel smoke always makes me feel tired and gritty and desperate to get home and put my feet up.

I lived in a house in the woods for a few years and I swear I can smell the acrid smoke of a forest fire or controlled burn from 15 miles away.  Far nastier than the smoke from firewood, this stuff seems to carry with it the fear of everyone in its path.  I never had to evacuate, but I know a few folks who have and even the relatively benign amount of smoke generated by the controlled burning of underbrush makes me cringe a bit.

The smell of firewood smoke in the outdoor air is a totally different thing.  Woodsmoke always makes me think of family and home and all of the good, conservative values things that get Republicans elected. Never mind that I didn't have a fireplace growing up and don't have one now; this is a powerful scent and evokes these feelings instantly.  Oddly, the scent of woodsmoke on my clothes just makes me think of camping and makes me want a shower.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled day.  I'll bet you think the next time you smell some kind of smoke!


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