Sunday, June 21, 2015

BUS STORY # 450 (Part 4: Born Again)

This photo was ubiquitous several years ago.  This particular image downloaded from

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1 (“You Smell Like Cigarettes!”)
Part 2 (A Portrait Of The Smoker As A Young Man)
Part 3 (Thou Shalt Not Smoke)

When I quit smoking, I made a vow I would not become a born-again non-smoker. There were few things more irritating to me than the tsk-tsk-tsk of busybodies telling me I was ruining my health, or those melodramatic displays of air hunger or fanning whenever I lit up.

So I took it as a personal failure the first time I found myself feeling physically revolted by the smell of cigarettes.

It happened years after I’d quit, on a weekend I’d taken off to visit my mother. Mom was a chain smoker and was subject to our teasing when we’d discover she had more than one cigarette going at a time. Over time, she became a militant smoker. Few things outraged her more than the anti-smoking movement. It was beyond the time she could have labeled it a communist conspiracy, but she knew it was some damn kind of conspiracy, and she was fighting it ceaselessly, cigarette by cigarette, pack by pack, carton by carton.

Bumper sticker seen in the parking lot of the Sandia Casino.  Photo by Busboy.

On this particular visit, we spent the better part of the day in her apartment talking, as we always did on these visits. Sometime during that visit, I became aware of the cigarette smell that saturated the room, followed by a progressive revulsion. I’d been sensitized, and there was no going back.

Now I understood.

I’d learned how to avoid prolonged contact with that smell until I began riding the bus. Most of the time, it’s not there, and when it is, it’s tolerably low grade. But I carry that second-hand reek in my clothes and into the house at the end of the workday.

My wife’s sense of smell is far more sensitive than mine, and she has a personal history that has conditioned her reaction to the smell of cigarettes. She taught me to put a new bar of soap in my laundry hamper to offset the old cigarette smell seeping from the growing pile of workweek clothes. Later, we moved my hamper to the guest room. Now I keep a pack of those incense matches (French Vanilla! Oriental Blossom!) on the dresser in the guest room and celebrate warm weather Thursdays with a ritual burning.

There are days, though, when the odor asserts itself as an oppressive, inescapable assault that neither nasal fatigue nor a good read can make go away.

One hot summer afternoon, I rode the No. 140/141 San Mateo bus -- one of the 300s -- home from work. It was standing room only from back to front, and the smell took me back to my mom’s apartment that weekend I became sensitized. I actually considered getting off the bus and waiting another 20 minutes for the next one, but I was in a window seat with my backpack piled on my lap and completely blocked in by riders. I knew there’d be movement at Lomas, and I elected to tough it out.

That was not the day my wife pulled away from me when I got home. She was the one working late this time. When I got home, I undressed, dropped my clothes in the hamper, and moved the hamper out into the garage till the weekend. Then I showered. The smell still lingered in my nose.

The next day, the thought of getting on that bus again induced a brief, mild wave of nausea. Mind over matter, I thought. But I worked late an extra hour before walking to the bus stop. The bus was only half full now, and I didn’t smell any cigarette smoke at all. Same for my Lomas connection.

My wife wanted to know why I was so late getting home, but this time, I got a kiss.

PSA on ABQ RIDE. Photo by Busboy.  Translation: One day your world will be a more beautiful place. Stop smoking and blossom.  Free help to quit tobacco [at] 1-855-DEJELOYA. (Sponsored by the New Mexico Department of Health).


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