Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Smoker's Fug

It's a rainy day, so I delivered the girls' lunch at the school. On my way back, I stopped to talk with the crossing guard. He's an old union man from Oshawa, and he's always got an opinion he's happy to share. He is also a committed smoker, and I surprised myself to realize how much I actually enjoy a little exposure to smoker's fug.

It's a mustiness that, strangely enough, evokes tremendous nostalgia for me. Strange, because no-one in my family ever smoked. It was considered a bad habit, but so many of our neighbors and their family members were smokers, we just politely endured their fug, and peacefully co-existed.

Now, I'll be quick to add I don't at all pine for those days when smokers lit up in elevators and airplanes. Genuine smoker's fug gets oppressive pretty quickly. But there's a qualitative difference between that first whiff of freshly-lit cigarette, and the fug that comes with polishing off the entire pack. A friend once told me the one aspect of family travelling he enjoyed was the smell of his father's cigarettes. My friend, just a little duffer in the backseat of the car, too small to see anything but the tree-tops, would hear the clink of his father's lighter, smell that newly lit virginia tobacco, and think, "Mmm - Dad's smoking!" (Don't ask me how my friend escaped the allure of cigarettes.)

It's a little more complicated than that, for me. I think that light-up whiff probably signifies an element of danger - the sheltered preacher's kid, commingling with unsaved society. Cigarette smoke conjurs memories of a crowded town arena, watching the local team of Mennonite farmboys play the French team from five miles down the road (veischa, but the fights!). Or walking with my dad, and dropping in at the local garage so he could chat up the grease-monkeys - smokers all, the kids of parishioners who were "concerned", if not heart-broken. These guys were a deliberately rough bunch, but friendly, and I collected more than a few good jokes and juicy anecdotes from these haphazard meetings.

In the early 70s, there didn't seem to be more than three brands of Canadian cigarette: Players, Export "A", and DuMaurier. No doubt I'm wrong on that score, but those were the ones I noticed when my eyes were roughly belt-level. Of the three, DuMaurier smelt the best, and still does. When first lit, it has a mellow, dusty smell to it - not as pungent and tarry as some of the others.

As a working adult, it was usually the smokers who had the best stories - or maybe they were just different stories from the ones I'd grown up with. At the bookstore, I finally accepted a proffered DuMaurier, and was disappointed. It made me dizzy, and gave me indigestion. Worst of all, it didn't taste anything like it smelled.

Smoking kills you in a million different ways, of course, and my crossing guard friend isn't prone to viewing the habit with my outsider's nostalgia. He'd quit if he could, but he's beyond trying. Still, he's got interesting things to say, and to my mind he and his opinions exist in a sort of romantic ether known as smoker's fug.

11 comments:

DarkoV said...

You're dangerously close to writing copy for RJR ( http://www.smoke-free.ca/filtertips_001/Expert-eh.htm ), in that your piece brought me back to Montreal, an old girlfriend, and a pack of Export "A"'s. They're still in the green box, aren't they? Smoker's Fug? Your invention? Quite catchy. I barely ever smoked, but it was more tempting to do so in Canada. The packaging was so different there, comparable, nowadays, to the way Dunkin Donuts packaged their wares in a shoe-box shaped box and Krispy Kreme packed theirs in a dept-store-shirt-for-Christmas-box. Having a Canadian girlfriend who loved blowing intoxicating smoke in my face didn't discourage the smoking matter either. Due to the size of the cig box, there was a completely different ritual with carrying, lighting, and offering cigarettes up north. Very tempting. I've stoppped smoking long, long ago, but now....now I'm thinking about that smoker's fug. As long as I don't act on it, I'll be o.k.

Whisky Prajer said...

Export "A" - thanks for the fact-check. Yes, still in the green box. My favorite packaging was Player's, with the sailor. I think Export "A" attempted something similar, using an apple-cheeked gal as mascot. If they'd put the girl on the blue box and filled it with DuMaurier cigarettes, I'd be a hacking, wheezy mess of a man right now.

Whisky Prajer said...

Re: taking credit - I'm not sure where I picked up "smoker's fug", but I'm guessing it was either Amis or Waugh (pères).

F.C. Bearded said...

I first began to smoke - along with all my pals - while at the benches learning to chip and file and cut steel as an apprentice. We were Sparkies, and never meant for that filing crap, and were all so bored we began to smoke to relieve the tedium.

Our trainer at that time was an old cove who smoked "Capstan Full Strength", Navy issue, made by Players. You weren't a man until you could drain one of those.

Women in the workplace we could handle (the year behind mine was the first to ever admit female apprenticeships) but Industry in general has never recovered from the fuming Health Fascists with their whiney lungs and too-delicate work ethic. P'tah!

F.C. Bearded said...

Oh - nearly forgot - smokers fug has long been part of the vernacular; nowadays however I am way more affected by teenage fug, which gathers most thickly about young boys.

Whisky Prajer said...

"teenage fug"?! Eeewww! If Darko's commentary at Bleak Mouse is any indication, I doubt I'll be waxing nostalgic about that, twelve years hence.

Would be a good name for a punk act, though.

F.C. Bearded said...

You don't want to know.
There is a section of our house where we had to put the cat tray to freshen it up.

DarkoV said...

FCB Well, with that comment, you've got me bitten cold. Is there an FCB Teenager Relief Fund set up to receive our funds? Kitty litter? Next, you'll be saying that you apply deodorant stick on the bottoms of the kids' feet as they snore away.

DarkoV said...

What does that too-little-sleep clown DarkoV mean by "bitten cold"? Is this some poorly constructed canine joke, a wag in your general direction? No, sorry, it's simply two fingers not knowing what a third one was doing. That should have been "beaten cold".

So, Bitte Baby....

Trent Reimer said...

Funny, I first appreciated a light whiff when working with the blue collars in British Columbia. When I was tree planting in the Northern bush I took up the habit myself on those occassions the black flies got too thick.

Dropped it immediately when they cleared up, who wants tar in their lungs?

Another fond memory was when we came back soaking from a cold rainy day in the bush and gathered 6 guys in a tent, hovering over the warmth of a single lantern and sharing a pipe. Looked around and wondered how many Indians did the same thing in that spot?

Whisky Prajer said...

Nice!