Before it was usual for cars to have seatbelts, and up front in most cars was a big bench seat for three, it was common practice to have the smallest passenger seated (or squatting or even standing!) front and centre, on what was jokingly called the suicide seat. Placing your tiniest and presumably cutest and most precious cargo so decidedly in harm’s way seems counter-intuitive, looking back.
Although our dad was able to roll a cigarette and drive a car simultaneously, once I was eight or nine and just able to see over the dashboard, he would sometimes have me take the wheel from the middle seat. Not in traffic, of course, but out on the open prairie road, straight as a die, where properly aligned vehicles can cruise for days without actually being steered.
Once that cigarette was rolled and lit, I handed back control of the car, then sat back and enjoyed the smell. I am not kidding: I truly loved the smell of cigarettes. Not so much the big clouds that issued from someone’s face, but the seductive wraith that drifted from the lit end as if from a genie’s lamp. It was best if the windows were left rolled up, which they were, mostly, from September through until May. I inhaled discreetly and wondered how grown-up one needed to be to have one’s own cigarettes. The common wisdom seemed to be fourteen. That was too many years away, so, having decided that twelve would be the new fourteen, I got myself underway a few weeks before turning thirteen. Coincidentally, this was half a century ago almost to the day.
And now exactly fifty years of close and mostly trouble-free friendship with the cigarette is at an end, not for any health or social or moral reasons, but because it has become just too insanely expensive to carry on. I smoked my last cigarette five weeks ago, and am surviving cold turkey on a diet of anti-depressants and too much coffee. Also lollipops. These surprisingly needn’t cost a heck of a lot more than they did fifty years ago, if you buy in bulk as I do. This is all working so far, though the cruel and inescapable irony is that the number one most effective cure for nicotine craving is, well, a cigarette. In fact, if you’re a sufficiently well-heeled hitherto abstainer, I warmly recommend taking up the smoking habit as soon as possible, if only for the unallayed joy of making the craving go away twenty or thirty times a day. The more you smoke, the more of these magical moments you have. It just makes so much sense.
Anyhoo, I’ll make do with the above curative cocktail. The chemicals and the coffee I can take or leave as the need for them recedes. But after five weeks and a couple hundred of the things, I find I am now powerfully addicted to lollipops. And isn’t that, in a way, a metaphor for life? You know: it’s just one damned thing after another.