My best friend has always been a little disappointed in how easily I give in to certain types of peer pressure - in particular, smoking. Primarily a problem after I've had several cocktails, I've always been tempted to have a smoke with the others. Usually a cute boy would say, "Join me for a smoke?" and I could never resist. Sometimes I'd just like to hold it in my hand, occasionally bring it to my lips and pretend that I was Lauren Bacall. I was one of those kids who puffed on her Popeye cigarettes, creating a fanciful imaginary character for herself. (The most recurring character was a harried single mom carrying her baby on the subway, late for an appointment with my editor. I was seven, the baby was my dog. I was also an only child.)
Working in the service industry has only heightened my exposure to cigarette smoking. As a general rule, it repulses me. It also annoys me that these smokers have the privilege of disappearing periodically for a smoke break. The fact that they disappear is the key. I can't sit around in the back with a bottle of mineral water, going, "Back in five. I'm on a Pellegrino break." I would also look ridiculous standing outside with the same bottle of water, taking swigs alongside their puffs. So I'm always the one to watch the section while they go for a smoke, given the job of running to fetch my coworker if the table starts to leave. I'm never in the position of frantically spraying Axe or choking down mints before dashing back to say goodbye to the customers.
But the other night, I decided that I was going to have a cigarette. It had been a busy, stressful week, and almost everybody lights up after work. "Hey, give me one of those," I said to the hostess, who looked at me suspiciously. "I'm serious. Please?" She slowly handed it to me like she was about to corrupt my virginal innocence. I don't see how it's any worse than blowing into my face half the time, but of course I smiled sweetly and said, "Thanks, got a light?" And I smoked the whole thing. I didn't even pretend to inhale like I normally do. The next day I kind of wanted another one and kept asking my roommates, "Do you think it's the nicotine invading my body already? Should I have another one?"
I did resist - smoking is an expensive and stinky habit. But for some reason, imaginary or not, that one cigarette was enough to calm me down as we sat around and made fun of certain customers and rehashed the pace of the kitchen. But I sipped my wine and smoked my cigarette and realized that it didn't make me any cooler. I thought of my roommate, who sounds like he's hacking up a lung in the shower and drank catnip tea for a week to try and break up the phlegm. I thought of boys I'd kissed who really did taste like ashtrays. I thought of the way my clothes and hair smell after a night out with smokers. And I put that darn thing out and super-sized my glass of wine instead. We all have our vices.