Smoke signals

There’s a strange category of those being allowed to line up for vaccines against covid19. Our governor here in the great state of New Jersey has declared that smokers are in a preferred group. Smokers! How do they even prove you’re a smoker? A breath test? A smell test? A cat scan of your lungs? A lie detector test? Don’t ask me. I’m asking you!

I spent some days learning how to smoke; and then, much later, I spent many years trying to quit. It’s not easy and, had I known the inherent value of smoking cigarettes was in their vaccinability, maybe I’d have been less diligent. It’s like Woody Allen’s old movie, “Sleeper,” where the character, let’s call him Rip, wakes up many years after he fell asleep, only to learn those bad things are actually good for you. Like cigarettes! Hey, I never knew!

My own adventures in smoking were quite predictable. Smoking was cool and sophisticated, stopped you from overeating, and made you look elegant. Those were all things that I, a Weequahic Jewish teenager of 14, aspired to, so why not? In those days, the early 1950’s, the only thing we kids knew about smoking was that it purportedly stunted your growth. I was never a giant but at 5’2” I was tall enough. Little did I know that it would be old age that would eventually be the cause of my stunted growth. I’m now down to 5’, racing with the clock to try and stay alive while shrinking into oblivion.

Smokers may think smoking comes naturally. I’m here to tell you that it’s a discipline, like writing a book or training for a marathon. You need to work at it. You don’t become that sophisticated with spike heels, puffing away, glamorously, overnight. In my learning phase, I would take my cigarettes and matches to my bedroom where I’d take the first puff (known as a drag), inhale, start choking and feel so dizzy that I couldn’t stand, and then collapse on the bed. Not any more elegant than bronchitis. But I was a committed hard worker and eventually, I got hooked. It didn’t take long at all and the hard part was, many decades later, the weaning.

My family was all smokers, with the notable exception of my mother. She used to call it a “filthy habit” and she was, as usual, right. Especially my father’s smoking which was, luckily for his lifespan, cigars, not cigarettes. His clothes suffered the most since they all had holes in them from the ashes searing them at inopportune times like when he was driving. Finally, well into his 70’s, he suffered from the dreadful flu. He couldn’t even think about cigars. He told my mother, who had been nagging him about the habit for at least 50 years by then, that he was going to stop smoking. And they would even save money since his frequent trips to the Lyons Avenue luncheonette that sold every brand of cheap cigars known to man would cease. Every day Mom phoned me to praise Dad who, she swore, was not smoking anymore since his recovery. She even imagined that his clothes smelled like spring and they had no new holes. I congratulated her on a mammoth achievement. Until a certain day.

That day, I was driving near their apartment when I saw a puff of smoke hanging over a man walking down the street; the gentleman looked a lot like my father from the rear. But, it couldn’t be since Dad no longer smoked. As I got closer I became more suspicious. When I got to the smoke and the man, I jammed on the brakes, and this man, a clone of my father indeed, started stammering, “Don’t tell your mother! Don’t tell your mother.” Of course, I did. And then, he actually did stop smoking. Cheating was not his style. Until he left us at almost 98, he never smoked another cigar.

Meanwhile, sad to say, Dad’s cigarette smoking siblings were having heart attacks. This, plus my 12-year-old eldest child telling me that if I didn’t stop smoking she would start, convinced me that I needed to actually stop. Finally, a threat that had some sway. I painfully ended my relationship with cigarettes.

But, suffice it to say, those cigarettes may not have been so bad after all. They’d get me the vaccine. Who knows what the future holds for all of us? And 40 years after I puffed my last cigarette, I could start smoking again in a second. All former smokers know that feeling after a meal. Nothing is better than a cigarette with a lovely healthy vaccination as a chaser.

About the Author
Rosanne Skopp is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of fourteen, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and travels back and forth between homes in New Jersey and Israel. She is currently writing a family history.
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