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.