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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Can’t imagine why

November 1st, 2006

BY JIM PATTON

Ah, smoking. “A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless,” according to King James I of England.

To which I could respond that nothing was ever less loathsome to my eye than beauteous Lisa Wilhelm smoking Gauloises cigarettes across a little table from me at a café in Brussels a few days before Christmas, many years ago; that plenty of people enjoy the smell of pipe tobacco and cigars, if not cigarettes (and a few enjoy even cigarettes); that Sir Winston Churchill lived to ninety-one despite smoking monster cigars (the type now known as Churchills) for decades.

On the other hand, one Lord Conesford said, “I have every sympathy with the American who was so horrified by what he had read of the effects of smoking that he gave up reading.”

What do I know? Until very recently I’d smoked only ganja, but as I hunt-and-peck at this piece I’m puffing on a seven-inch Churchill. I was working my new gig at the stogie shop yesterday, sold this baby to one of the regulars, clipped the end for him… and an infinitesimal piece of the “wrapper” unraveled, the leaf that holds the “filler” together to create a cigar. A professional smoker can’t abide that, so I clipped another one for him, wrote this one up as damaged goods and brought it home.

Ah, smokers. Their considerable number includes millions of potheads (probably the sanest of the lot) as well as cigarette-sucking teens trying too hard to be cool (unaware they might as well have STUPID stamped on their foreheads), cigar people (amateur and pro), and pipe-puffers (stuffy types who wear sweaters with patches on the elbows, or should).

Why do they smoke? Pot I understand. But given the facts about cancer, why does anyone — no matter how many Bogart or Bacall movies he/she has seen — take up cigarettes? If nothing else, why would he/she ever smoke if he/she has ever kissed a him/her who smokes?

Stogie-smokers… why? These people particularly interest me, in my new occupation. Do they think they’re doing something? “Smokers,” Colette opined, “inject idleness in their lives every time they light up.”

All right, some idleness is fine. Relaxation is fine, we all need some. And a stogie can be a fine complement to wine and spirits, other famous aids to relaxation. (My colleague Josh can tell you precisely which of our myriad brands goes best with which wine or liquor.)

But for relaxation, why not simply pound an extra glass of wine, or quaff a higher-proof booze, and skip the cigar? Cigars aren’t as harmful as cigarettes, but they’re not cotton candy either. Yesterday at the shop, where the regulars stand around and smoke every day, my man Josh wiped down the glass countertops, and I gagged when he showed me the brownish paper towel. “Secondhand smoke,” he said, and asked if I’d had my lungs scraped lately — though, since I’m new, he had to be wondering about his own condition, in light of his five years in the shop and the half-dozen hefty cigars he smokes every day.

There’s something in it for the pros, obviously. We’ve got guys who come in every day and buy a single and hang around for an hour puffing and talking football and telling jokes and guffawing, savoring this little macho subculture. Others pop in, buy a few singles and come back next week. Genteel types buy boxes of high-end “sticks” and then aren’t seen for a while. All types: hip-hoppers, D.C. power players, ponytailed post-hippies. Mostly nice guys, the occasional boor. Guys who don’t know one cigar from another and don’t really care, just want a smoke; and the prisses and pissants (so much like wine snobs and coffee nerds) who want a six-and-a-half-inch such-and-such with a 42-ring circumference (which may not be in stock) and can’t tolerate a six-and-a-quarter-incher, or a 44 ring, and have you running all over the store (no matter how many customers are waiting) looking for the most comparable smoke in the same size, as if that silly micrometer would throw their entire universe out of whack, and you’re thinking Jesus Christ, man, it’s a friggin’ cigar.

All this… why? Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a smoke.

Pipe-puffers, I dunno. I know they’re never any trouble in the shop. Not necessarily milquetoasts, but none of them stand around for hours talking sports and telling dirty jokes. They buy some tobacco, maybe pipe cleaners, and leave — go home and puff, I’m guessing, while the wife goes frustrated.

But that’s mean. I’m not being fair, I’m sure. I don’t know why anyone smokes, what any of it means.

Don’t know why I keep relighting this Churchill. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Smoking & Drinking Issue, Patton | Link to this Entry

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