Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What is it with Cigarettes?

My favorite line from anything that a certain friend has written is her ending for a story that consists almost entirely of a dialogue between two soldiers. At the end of the story, they discover that another friend, who they thought was sleeping in the trench, is actually dead. The line: "And then it was morning and they could see and so it was not so bad, and Werner asked Fredrich if he had any cigarettes."
Whatever. You may or may not like the line, and anyway, I think that I am quoting it worse than it was. The point that I am trying to make is that the line would not have worked with anything other than cigarettes. Try it. Try reading any other word there and it just flops. Cigarettes has the cadence, the aura, the context, the je ne sais qua. It just works.
And this isn't the only place. I find that when I'm writing stories, cigarettes always work themselves into it. For no particular reason. Example, the context of which is way too confusing to give: "The train stops for twenty minutes at a station, and he goes off and buys some cigarettes." or "...to lean against a red-brick wall and try to read his future in the swirling clouds of cigarette smoke." (Not from the same story.) Or take Simon and Garfunkel's "Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat. We smoked the last one an hour ago."
Don't get me wrong. I think that cigarettes are foul-smelling cancer-sticks. I would never think to smoke one and I think that anyone who does is dangerously unwise. I don't even think they look particularly cool. But something about the word...especially when you're trying to write about anything from the twenties through the sixties....it just works. Don't know why, don't know how.

3 comments:

e-kvetcher said...

Yeah, you're right. How the heck do you notice stuff like that?

Irina Tsukerman said...

Those guys definitely had fun with their oral fixation! ; )

Mike said...

Smoking is the only commpn action which signifies not only great stress but also meditation and a stop in the action. It worls better than drugs because cigarettes are viewed as not an escape from reality but an aid to dealing with reality.