Lighting up for literature

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April 17, 2007

2:53 AM

Maybe it’s the nicotine talking, but I could really go for a cigarette. Scratch that — I need a cigarette. Smoking is a habit with few benefits and a whole slew of consequences. But there’s something about cancer sticks that I can’t get enough of: you look so cool when you’re smoking them.

p. I blame my fascination with smoking on the existence of modern literature. Everyone in any of the great novels smokes like a chimney. It’s as though smoking is just a natural human process, like eating or breathing.

p. In almost any scene in a work by Ernest Hemingway, there will be at least one strike of a match. Waiting for a train? Well, if you’re a character in one of Hemingway’s novels, you ought to occupy that time with a few puffs. Just finished having sex? Have a cigarette. Just washed the dishes? How about a cigarette? Just smoked a cigarette? That means it’s probably time for another cigarette.

p. I was talking to a friend about the coolness factor of smoking. He mentioned a picture he’d once seen of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In it, Fitzgerald stands amidst the chaos of some roaring party. He is cool and composed, the kind of person we all want to be. In his hand he’s holding — you guessed it — a cigarette.

p. What’s wrong with wanting to idolize someone like Fitzgerald? Sure, he, along with many modern writers, suffered from alcoholism and frequent bouts of depression. But have you ever read “The Great Gatsby”? The man was a genius.

p. So yes, I not-so-secretly want to be a writer. Not a great author, but I’d like to write a few good words. I should probably devote myself to honing my craft. But that seems like such a nuisance. Especially when I’ve got equally important endeavors to worry about, such as sleeping. While I might not be able to write like a great author, with a cigarette in my hand I am one step closer to looking like one.

p. People might have smoked profusely in the time of Fitzgerald, but the act has a negative connotation these days. It seems that most people have chosen to weigh smoking’s hipness factor against its death factor. As we all know, cigarettes are called “cancer sticks” for a reason.

p. As a result, smoking has become a habit relegated to porches and back alleys. The hassle of finding somewhere to smoke almost makes a person want to quit. Almost.

p. The other night I did something I’ve never done before. I bought a pack of cigarettes. Parliaments to be exact. Up until that point, I’d only bummed my smokes from other people. My friends Virginia and Joe were with me as I bought them at Wawa.

p. It was raining outside, but I desperately wanted a cigarette. I could have suppressed my urge. It would have been pretty easy to just wait until we got back to Virginia’s house, where I could smoke on the porch. But, really, what would Fitzgerald do?

p. If you were driving by Wawa at 4 a.m. Saturday, you might have seen me. I was the fellow hunched under an umbrella having a light. I was shivering uncontrollably and soaking wet. But judging by the cigarette in my hand, I must have looked like some real cool guy. A writer perhaps.

p. __James Damon, a sophomore at the College, is a staff columnist. His columns appear on Tuesdays.__

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