Today I'm substituting in a school near High Park. I usually supply teach at a school on Bathurst near Bloor, where my lunch includes a walk to a café with ashtrays everywhere and smoke in the air. I enjoy the freedom I feel there. The illusion of freedom is the same as freedom itself, right? I smoke for the entirety of my lunch hour - one butt followed by another.
There's no café like that in High Park. The place I'm heading to is non-smoking, so I smoke one on the way. I'm three-quarters of the way there when stupid me thinks, "I can't smoke in there, so I'll light another."
I smoke the rest of my cigarette standing on the corner looking like I'm waiting for my man. I almost wish the weather outside were unbearable. It would've saved my lungs from the smoke of half a cigarette.
I walk in, get a coffee and sit down. The elevator music isn't really loud enough to listen to, so I take my laptop out. I recall the advertisement that stared at me on the train just a few hours ago: "Step inside for a breath of fresh air on June 1, 2004." It seems to make so much sense.
If I were at the other place that I love so much, I would probably be on my third smoke by now. I'm happy about the city's smoking ban. I'll keep on going to my spots, but I'll have the chance to seriously curb my smoking. I figure it's like breaking up with the love of your life: at first it's hard to envision, but once you get used to it you'll feel so much freer.
I know that smokers, if they're not pissed off blind, are thinking, "I'm going to give quitting a go on that day." Why not? I'll bet you most of them won't kick. A simple fact of addiction. I would be willing to wager, though, that most smokers who frequent bars will smoke a lot less. Wow, that prospect seems nice, wouldn't you say?
I'm also a bartender in a place in Kensington Market full of young people where everybody smokes. I'm not exaggerating. I swear that I sometimes can read, "Smoking is the price I pay in the name of freedom" on their lips.
I smoke about 30 cigarettes a shift. We are free.
I sometimes dream of having control over my smoking, on my way to work, on my break and on my way home. I realize that I'd savour those smokes much more. I'd enjoy it instead of abusing it, as I pollute every inch of my soul. Three cancer sticks a shift, instead of 30.
I can hardly contain myself as I sit in this smokeless establishment, take another sip of my coffee and dream of what is about to be a certain improvement in my life.
I notice an elderly woman. She's fumbling with a sugar packet. I watch her until she finally manages to drop the contents into her coffee. Then I notice that she has a stroller beside her. I watch her cough a few times. It sounds like me during my morning showers after a night out or working at the bar. My chest starts to hurt.
Then I realize that she has a hose going from her nose to her "stroller," used as a cart for the oxygen tank she can no longer live without.
I click a few icons on my laptop and find myself staring at the pages of my work. But I can't concentrate on the screen. I decide to go outside for a smoke.
Coffee in hand, I smoke. The elderly woman and her stroller are facing the street. She's people-watching, dreaming. It occurs to me that she has just watched me smoke.
We look at each other. I try to see past the hose in her nose.
Once, while bartending, I was emptying ashtrays into a tin container. At one table, five people filled three ashtrays with butts in less than an hour. I felt so sick that I almost threw up. Not long after, I sparked a cigarette.
There was a time when people smoked in business offices, university classrooms and public school staff rooms. That reality is so far gone that it's hard to even fathom any more. Imagine breathing air thick with smoke for hours. Now imagine smokeless bars.
On June 1, I will celebrate, perhaps by making my apartment smoke-free, or maybe not. But I will surely celebrate the advancement of our society.