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  • Lance Mannion
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Interesting post, Lance. I grew up in a house of smokers. Mom, dad, and later on, my sister. Thinking back, I realize that I must have been so immuned to the cigarette odor, that I didn't even notice it. On the other hand, today I can smell cigarette smoke on a person's clothing five yards away.

As you mentioned, there are some sounds and rituals of cigarette smoking that I'll never forget. As a child, I was fascinated by my mother's Zippo lighter. I can still picture her removing the tiny red flint from the postage-stamp-sized yellow plastic case and inserting it in her lighter. (She always had her flint case rubber banded to the can of lighter fluid.) This was followed by drenching the absorbent material in the lighter with the lighter fluid. I still remember that smell.

I overcame my fascination with smoking when I was in high school and lit up my first...and last...cigarette and discovered it just wasn't for me. I'd never be the owner of my own personal flint case.


As a former smoker one and a half years away from the habit (and still huffing my nicotine nasal spray like there's no tomorrow), this was a dangerous post for me to read. David Lynch's _Wild at Heart_ has the most appealing depiction of smoking that I've seen . . . and that's why I haven't watched that movie over the past year and a half.

I miss the feeling occasionally; I miss the smell sometimes; and I miss the burn at the back of the throat every day, but I certainly don't miss the constant sense of self-hatred that went along with it, knowing that I was slowly killing myself as the major shareholders of Big Tobacco made a fortune off of my habit.

So, I say f*ck the romanticization of smoking. It's not a good thing . . . not a good thing at all. It looks nice on film, but if you've watched someone you care about die a long, slow death brought on by lung cancer, you know everything that the camera tends to hide.


I never learned to smoke either and yet my improv buddies said I was the best fake smoker there was... somehow I got the squint and plucking of tobacco off of my tongue right. I always liked the first smell of a cigarette being lit, but hated the rest.

I love how smells can just whisk you back... I remember taking an normally comatose el ride once when I was suddenly snapped into awareness and was transported back to my grandparents' house. I was trying to figure out what it was and the closest I could guess was the heat of the day warming up tarred roofs while someone was making chicken. It made me wish I had a scent scrapbook or that you could play scent "oldies" like your 45's. It would probably be more powerful than a photo album.

As a painter, I have incredible admiration for all people can accomplish with the computer. There are days when I wish my medium was digital. I would probably get more instant gratification, but then I take an excellent brush that loads well and put that brush to paper or canvas and that feeling alone gives me a buzz and I know the end result is worth the wait and the journey is the place to be.

Neddie Jingo

I smoked for 20 years -- early teens to early thirties -- and I'll confess to a love-hate relationship with it. I may pine for a long-lost boyhood ideal, but a book-lined, wood-paneled, leather-armchaired, leaded-windowed headmaster's study will never be the same without the sweet fug of Turkish shag. And that cane, that terrible birch cane waiting in the corner -- waitaminnit where the hell did that come from?


Lance, you write about plastic keyboards and smoke but you're talking about kissing and the press of moist flesh against flesh.

Funny, that.

David Parsons

Years ago, I used to take film pictures. I remember trying to do the darkroom work myself and ending up with prints of fuzzy orange bricks (that were allegedly Milwaukee Road H16-66s; if you looked _very_ carefully, you could see the dark scribbles that made up the road name) because my vision has always sucked and I've become very good at convincing myself that something is in focus when it's not. Eventually I did reach the point where I could take pictures of GG1s and H12-44s and they'd actually be in focus, but a long line of old Alcos and Baldwins passed in front of my camera and if it was up to me would have died an anonymous death.

Digital cameras, now those were a revelation. Being able to actually take the picture and not have to fight with a darkroom (which wouldn't have been a fight if I could have seen anything) or trust in the developing skills of a photo lab made all the difference in the world. These days I use a SLR, but even when all I had was a nasty Polaroid PDC3000 I was still able to actually do picturetaking well enough to break me of a 20 year habit of just not taking pictures because I'd miss seeing things and not even get good pictures to make up for it.

I'm a programmer, so I type on plastic keys every day (on an IBM model M keyboard, so it's not as if I'm lacking any sort of sensory feedback in my typing) and don't feel that I'm losing out there. What I do feel like I'm losing out on is that since I'm a programmer I spend every {bleep}ing day in a cube farm in a sealed office building, and in the dark of winter it's enough to drive me completely around the bend.

I think you can still get flashbulbs. Expensive little puppies, though, and I wonder how long it takes them to be more wasteful than spending $250 on a good electronic flash.

Gray Lensman

I smoked pipes for 20 years. I quit when I married and smelled the nasty smoke in my wife's hair. Smoking is a filthy habit with NO good sides.

Try a digital SLR. My new Canon 5D clicks and feels like a real camera. As a serious photographer for 50 years, and the owner of several pro-grade film cameras (which I love), I think digital cameras are better if you are a dedicated photographer. I don't miss the darkroom at all. Photoshop on a Mac is better in every way. The picture on the wall is the thing, not the smelly chemicals.


Mr. Parsons, try E-bay. Here's my experience hunting for a good electronic flash at a reasonable price.


Lance, I meant to mention earlier... nothing mixes with Charlie, not even skin!


Computer is just another medium for art, and just like anything done in paint, an image can take an afternoon or weeks to finish. Also like anything else it requires technique. It's impossible to go from canvas to computer without a long while in developing technique and style suitable to the medium.

I don't miss noxious photo printing chemicals. I too gave up photography when it became too expensive, sold the darkroom equipment, and am glad to have photography back.

I don't miss clacking away at typewriter keys. I used to have apartment neighbors complain about the sound of the typewriter after 11 pm. Don't have to worry about that with the computer.


I wonder if there's a .wav file of a typewriter carriage being returned; then there could be a macro for Lance to install that would be invoked when he hits the "enter" key.

Shakespeare's Sister

Mannion, you're trying to kill me.

That's the only conceivable explanation for writing such a lovely ode to my most irrationally beloved and deadly vice.

What? It wasn't an ode to my chain-smoking? Well, that's how I read it! Mama, don't take my nicotine away!

blue girl

I always feel bad for the cashiers at grocery stores. Lugging all that stuff over that little black window so that some computer thingy can read the UPC code -- well, how boring is that! The only challenge there is finding the dang UPC code to begin with. And then all you hear is a little scrawny digital "boop!" when it registers.

I was a cashier at a grocery store through my teen years. And back in the *olden days* you actually had to punch all the buttons on the register and those buttons had that great clackity, clack sound just like old typewriters. Talk about a challenge! I would see how fast and accurate I could ring everything up while little old ladies were just waiting for me to make a mistake.

As you would ring each item up, you could hear little cards spinning around, sounded like they were being shuffled and the price would pop up inside the window at the top. And as the final price came to a rest, those cards kind of *flapped* into the others.

And when the money drawer popped open -- it was dramatic! Kind of always slammed right out! And some registers had a bell that "dinged" (much more heartily than a dopey "boop") when the drawer popped open. Sort of violent, actually.

The receipt would cha-chunk, cha-chunk, pulsate out from the top.

And speaking of cha-chunking -- I always loved using those hand held pricing thingamajigs -- don't know the name of them. Where you'd set the price for an item and as you pressed down to stamp the item the little gadget inside would flip over and stamp (cha-chunk!) the price in ink...

There used to be lots of cha-chinking and cha-chunking and clacking and flapping sounds in a grocery store. Now all we've got are "boops."


I need a cigarette and a camera now. TYVM.


Oh. And I get to write about this tonite.

Uncle Merlin

I really miss the cha-chunking! I always wanted to stamp prices on goods with those heavy chrome Ka-Chunkers that pasted the purple ink on the canned goods. If your were really artistic you could smear the price down with saliva as the ink was solvent in that. But you had to hide your finger from the check out girl because it stained big time on skin!
When I first started at Magic Pan we had one of those big old National cash registers that you had to slam the buttons down on to ring up a drink. I once was cleaning the bar and broke a bottle of Kahlua which promptly fell off the shelf I was cleaning and flowed YES flowed right down into the cash register. ALL the keys jammed it took the repair shop over two weeks to get the mechanism all cleaned up and working again!
But I do have vivid memories of the smell of the first puff my grandmother took and the smell of lighter fluid in her purse and at the bar the smell of that first brimstone match. The smell of lighter fluid in her purse always comes along with the smell of her lipstick and kleenex and the feel of her black seal coat between my fingers.
The love of my life used to tell of how he and his brother would come home late at night from revelling and try to slip into the house. They always thought by the time they had crossed the living room to the stairs that they had made it ,when in the dark would come a bright glow for an instant across the room. And they would know it was their father puffing up his cigarette, silently watching the whole thing, never ever saying anything. He never did say anything he just puffed at the right moment to make his point. The glow of that cigarette told them they were caught.
By the time I came along my father had given up cigarettes and switched to pipes,they smell much better through the whole smoke. But then in High School he switched to cigars and he was banned to the closed upstairs bedroom.
I tried my first cigarette in Jr. High School, Middle School for most of you now a days. It never took, for some reason I expected the smoke to be sweet! WHAT a dissappointment!
But in college I had a run in with my totally psychic mother that was TOO WEIRD! I was 155 miles away at school in Boston! I had been out on a very cold night in November and in Back Bay you can get some very cold nights with that River Wind! So my group of friends decided we would head up to the Top of The Hub for an Irish Coffee to warm up. Well we got up there and the smoking dare went around the table so I took up a cigarette and smoked the whole thing very elegantly I might add. It was fun as we decided to do things that were opposite to our regular nature, Monica dropped her East African accent and tried to t alk direct American all night,Iwish I had a recording today!I became the elegant chain smoker waving my cigarettes around and hitting the waitress up for clean ashtrays like I had been smoking all my life.
The next morning I get awakend by a phone call in my dormroom . It's my mother, she was almost frantic to tell me this vivid nightmare she had had that night. She dreamt I was smoking cigarettes like the dickens with my friends and she was screaming at me to stop and I paid no attention like I didn't even hear her. I never told her that I was ,that was Too Weird!


LM--Your musings on noise struck a note (so to speak). For awhile now, and very haphazardly, I've recorded sounds in danger of extinction--Underwood typewriters, the jarring ring of old rotary phones, the pop-top on a beer can, things like that. I entertain hopes it'll interest my kids someday while knowing it will really just embarrass and bore them. Assuming I can even find a cassette player.

When reading history, and here and there writing it, I'm always conscious of the fact we really don't know what past eras sounded like. Or smelled like, for that matter, not that I want a whiff of 14th-Century London. But the senses were and are a huge part of the human experience. Facts, no matter how artfully presented, can't help but fall short, can they?

By the way, Smithsonian Folkways offers a weird trip along these lines at Sounds of the Junk Yard, High Altitude Sounds, and if you dare, "Square Dancing with Soul." Available in small samples, too. Sure my kids may ignore my cassettes, but pray God they'll dig on "Lead Belly Sings for Children."

Kevin Wolf

I'm with Jennifer. I love the smell of a newly lit cigarette - especially if it's outside on a brisk morning. (Other than youth experimentation, I've never been a smoker. Maybe one pack total, in my whole life.)

What gets me about smoking is the ban that has spread nearly everywhere. As much as I can understand the impulse, I agree, Lance, that we're losing something. In this case, it's the treating of adults as children and telling them what they can't do - even in a saloon for crying out loud. (If you can even call a place without smoking a saloon.)

You're right. Things have changed. Just yesterday I walked by someone taking a photo with their phone. It had a built in sound clip to make the sound of a big ol' camera shutter when she pressed the dinky button on her dinky phone to take her dinky picture...

Beautiful post, Lance.

Rameau's Nephew

Took a week in the hospital with a serious pneumonia 8 years ago to break my 25 year habit. Cold turkey, and I never really wanted to smoke another cigarette, but from time to time I wish I could play with one.

blue girl

I kind of like the sound a camera phone makes when you take a picture. But you know what I can't stand? All these ring tones! Why can't a phone just ring like a phone?

I was in a meeting a few months back and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" starting blaring from my purse...

I..I..I --!

My son had changed it without me knowing it. It was bad enough that my phone rang in the middle of a meeting, but if it would've been a simple *ring* -- it would've been a lot less embarassing.


Bad things that kind of smell good... jet fuel. We were picking someone up at the airport and I took a big wiff and thought of how the outside of the airport smells like excitement. What it really smells like is jet fuel, but it smells like adventure to me.

One other odd smell... anyone who has taken the Indiana tollroad/Skyway into Chicago will know that at some point you hit a odor that smells like french fries or potato chips. There are no potato product factories anywhere near that odor, only big industry. I've always wondered what that odor really was and am guessing that the McDonald's on the toll road must do a booming business due to that sensory cue.

Elayne Riggs

*shrug* I think this is one of those things that's circumstance-dependent. I don't miss the sensual aspects of cigarettes at all, since that was what fed my revulsion of them (frankly, I think people ought to be allowed to ingest anything they want as long as it doesn't affect me, and ciggies do). I'm married to a comic book artist who can draw right onto an art board or use his Wacom tablet and, really, it's just all different tools. It's easier for me to type than to hand-write, but I still hand-write lists and sign holiday cards and such. My office windows may be non-opening but it's not that far from the inside to the outside, and this is the season where I spend a lot of time outside. Anyone who huddled in front of their computer in a dark room or whatever isn't having society doing it to them, they're doing it to themselves.


Kurt Vonnegut once wrote about smoking:

"Cigarettes are a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide"

Funny thing is, he pretty much summed up the allure in that once sentence.

Night Bird

Lance, did you delete my comment? I could have sworn I left you a comment when I read this in school today.

Been really busy with school meetings but we have 10 days off so I can come and read you daily.

Uncle Merlin

The smell of Fresh mimeographs off the machine! Especially tests! Inhale deep off the wet blue stamped paper as it cooled in your hands!!

Now thats a smell from the past to remember.

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