Sunday, October 02, 2011
It’s been eight years since New York’s anti-smoking laws drove cigars, cigarettes and Tiparillos out of the bars and restaurants and sent smokers out into the streets.
You won't hear me complaining. I don’t miss the smoke stench that would take root in your clothing after a night out on the town, or that smoker’s cough you’d get, even though you didn’t smoke, you didn't chew and you didn't go with girls who do (or did).
I grew up when smoking was still acceptable, when cigarette commercials ran on TV, and movie stars didn’t hesitate to light up.
Some of the stranger, more personal, artifacts from that distant era have been turning up in my family’s house in the form of ceramic ashtrays that we made as children.
I had forgotten how my fellow Cub Scouts and I used to make these things for our arts and crafts projects.
Now let’s think about that for a moment: children making ashtrays. Kids were actually aiding a deadly and disgusting addiction by making one of its more important accessories.
My dad used to recite a parody of the Boy Scout oath that went “On my honor, I will do my best to smoke cigars and cigarettes.” Maybe it wasn’t such a parody after all…
We’ve found two of these ashtrays so far. One is the simple coiled clay model that just about every kid made and then there’s the ingenious ceramic house one of my brothers designed.
The idea was that you put your cigarette through one of the windows and the smoke would rise out of the little chimney. I remember my parents--who didn't smoke--marveling at my brother’s ingenuity while visitors to our home complimented his handiwork and made full use of it.
All of that is behind us now. I don’t know what Cub Scouts are making these days, but I would hope ashtrays are off the list.
Full Smoking Jacket
There is, however, one thing I do miss from the Tobacco Age and that’s the smoking jacket. I suppose it’s a little strange to miss something that you never had and was out of style long before you were born, but I miss smoking jackets nonetheless.
Maybe it’s because of all the old movies I saw as a kid, but I associate smoking jackets with class, dignity, intelligence…and money.
Yes, all right, I admit it. The characters wearing smoking jackets in those old flicks weren’t exactly living on Skid Row. They had mansions or palaces, or really cool flats like Sherlock Holmes.
Basil Rathbone often put on his smoking jacket and fired up the old calabash pipe before cracking his toughest cases. (Of course the contents of the pipe might have helped, too, but only Mrs. Hudson knows for sure.)
Smoking jackets were intended to protect the wearer from falling ash and absorb smoke from cigars and pipes, though I suspect your lungs did the yeoman’s work on that count.
A 1902 newspaper editorial declared that smoking jackets were “synonymous with comfort” and Fred Astaire, who sang about putting on his top hat, was so fond of smoking jackets that he was buried in one.
I recently learned that my great Uncle John on my mother’s side of the family had actually owned a smoking jacket factory in Manhattan during the Twenties.
Details are pretty sketchy, but I do know that the business, like countless others, was wiped out by the Great Depression.
People weren’t particularly interested in purchasing silk smoking jackets when the cupboard was bare and the landlord was pounding on the door.
My dad’s father was also in a rather exotic line of work at the time of the stock market crash. Grandpa Lenihan, who had been everything from a barge captain to an honest-to-God cowboy, was cleaning Turkish rugs when the stocks went south. And like great Uncle John, my grandfather saw his enterprise go under.
I thought that smoking jackets had gone the way of straw hats and walking sticks, but they seem to be on the comeback trail.
While wasting my time on Facebook, which, of course, is redundant, I came across an ad for an actual smoking jacket. It goes for $195, which I’m sure is a hell of a lot more than what ancestor charged, but that’s inflation for you.
But it’s kind of interesting. Great Uncle John had a smoking jacket factory just before the stock market crashed. So is the return of the smoking jacket a portent of another financial meltdown? Will we be ground out in the ashtray of fate while we're heedlessly puffing away?
Let’s hope not. But just in case, I think I’ll treat myself to a smoking jacket and a Turkish rug. If we’re going to hell, we might as well go in style.