Tuesday, October 18, 2005


I was at a birthday get-together recently, celebrating the day my S.O. (here named "Tiger" -- not because he's a huge Spiderman fan [though he is] but because... hey, we've got a theme working here and I'm going to continue it) came into the world. And it was a fun little shindig, aside from the fact that we were the only non-smokers there.

Okay, okay. I know that a lot of non-smokers have the reputation for being self-righteous, arrogant, and generally unpleasant to be around. I know this. I've seen the self-righteous non-smokers, and, personally, I find them embarrassing. Kind of like when a member of your preferred political party makes a mortal idiot of himself and you wish for a second that you'd had the foresight to register as an Independent.

That said, I wish smokers would consider for a second how unpleasant it can be when surrounded by your least favorite smell, ever. Think about being trapped in an elevator with someone whose perfume gives you a headache. It's not necessarily a bad perfume; you just don't like it. I also hate the Yankee Candle Company "lilac" candles for the same reason: the scent gives me a migraine (though, thankfully, actual lilacs don't affect me at all).

I think this is the case with a lot of non-smokers. Cigarette smoke isn't a moral issue; it's an issue of (dis)comfort. A lot of non-smokers complain that the scent of cigarette smoke sticks to a person long after they've left the company of smokers. Okay, that's true, and I'll admit it's annoying; however, other unpleasant smells stick to a person, too. I, for one, hate frying food because the "fried" scent sticks to me, particularly my hair. The movie-theatre smell is another one that sticks; yeah, everyone loves the smell of popcorn, but who wants to smell of it three hours after the movie's over? Diesel exhaust, barbecue smoke, boiled cabbage... smells stick. And sometimes those sticky smells cause more than just passing annoyance. Sometimes they create a situation that's rife with discomfort.

For example, we were hanging out with partygoers for about two hours before I started getting a wild headache that would only temporarily be tamed by Tylenol. It started at the bridge of my nose, right between the eyes. A dose of acetaminophen beat back the beast for an hour or two, but not for long. Whether it was the same headache that came roaring back with a vengeance, or an entirely new headache, the result was the same: cranky Bunneh. The problem was it was too early in the evening to excuse ourselves gracefully, particularly since Tiger was the guest of honor. I didn't want to take another dose of Tylenol, which in all likelihood would have opened up family discussion for the frequency of my headaches. (I can tell you right now that, for me, headaches fall into three categories: stress headaches, eyestrain headaches, and olfactory-related headaches. I was in no mood to hypothesize about brain tumors.)

In the end, I tried not to think about the pounding in my skull. I told myself it was a case of mind over matter, and that my head hurt because I was allowing it to hurt me.

Did it work? Hell no.

Compounding this, my contact lenses started to itch like mad. (I know there are smokers who wear contacts, and I'm constantly baffled that they can and not get irritated by the fact that the light-as-air bits of plastic clinging to their eyes transforms into something that feels like onion skin.) Lenses that I usually never even notice started to feel like a layer of sand on my eyes, moving across my cornea every time I blinked. It's now three days after the party. I've been wearing glasses, letting my contacts soak. I wore them yesterday, and they still felt pretty uncomfortable. I'm hoping I can get them back to normal without tossing them out (they're disposables) and opening a new pair. I've only had this pair for about a week.

It's hard when you actually enjoy the company and it's all made unpleasant by the fact that when two non-smokers are hanging out with five smokers in an air-conditioned room (living in a tropical climate does not make going outside for air comfortable or practical), there comes a point where the non-smokers actually have to breathe less.

Yes, really. No, that's not an exaggeration.

It would have been rude to leave the party early, as I already said. But we were outnumbered, I think, three to one. It's always difficult when the non-smoker is invited to the smoker's house, because the smoker then loses home-field advantage, so to speak. We don't really have an option aside from not-going (not an option) or going outside (also not an option in a mosquito-laden tropical climate). So, Tiger and I sat there, taking shallow little breaths and trying that adapted "Thinker's" pose that allows the non-smoker to cover his or her nose and/or mouth in order to get a decent breath. It doesn't work, by the way, but whipping out one of those nifty little medical masks made popular and chic during the SARS threat would have been inexcusably rude.

Funny, but rude.

It may sound like an overstatement, saying I couldn't take a breath, but that's really not the case. I suffered a few particularly bad bouts of bronchitis in my younger days, and it's left me, for lack of a better term, bronchially fucked up. Basically every time I took a breath, my lungs were like, "You're shitting me."

So let's paint a picture here, shall we? Outnumbered and flanked by the enemy on every side. There's a blue-grey cloud hovering above the dinner table. Bunneh has, at that point, an army of angry, mutant miners pickaxing inside her head; all the sand from the Hawaiian Islands in her eyes; and the lung capacity of about a thimble. At what point is the non-smoker justified in her ire? Etiquette dictated I stay. Mosquitos and a tropical climate dictated I stay inside.

Was I cranky? Damned right I was.

Of course, Bunneh's manners outweigh just about everything else, so on top of the physical discomfort, I swallowed my frustration as well. I was pleasant, smiling through gritted teeth, all the while watching the clock for the moment we could vacate the premises with an iota of grace. Sometimes, yes, there are annoying, self-righteous non-smokers. And sometimes there are those of us who just want to breathe, dammit.

Several days have passed and both Tiger and I are still sniffling, wheezing, and congested. The simple solution, I realize, is to avoid the company of smokers. I'm sure it's what anyone would recommend. There's only one problem.

The smokers in question were his parents and their friends.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home