I’ve been a closet smoker for the past seven years. “Smoker” might not even be the right term. Every night after work, I’ll have 1-2 cigarettes before my roommate gets home, hop in the shower, and discretely hide this silly addiction from everyone I know. I may have hundreds of Facebook friends and a large family that, despite my chosen profession, loves me very much, but despite all these wonderful people in my life, I can count on two hands the number of people that know I smoke.
In fairness to real addictions, this is more of a habit. I’ve gone months without smoking during the past seven years. I’ve run a marathon and have a much larger, more dependent addiction to caffeine than nicotine. Still, I keep this nasty little habit secreted away.
I have a friend who is starting at Gibson this year. Smartest person AND best writer I know. Republican. Great guy. 0% asshole. He smokes. And yet, despite having a much brighter career ahead of him than me, he treats his habit the opposite. He can count on two hands the number of people who DON’T know he smokes. (His mom and dad, basically.)
At my firm, quite a few secretaries and two (as Matthew Richardson hilariously put it) Dirty Old-Man Partners smoke openly. At any point during the workday, the building’s back loading dock is populated with a couple hourly employees or guys with their name on the door having a smoke break. Afterwards, they re-enter the office—confidently—and resume whatever it is they do without anyone blinking an even slightly allergic eye. There’s no shame. None of them douse themselves in a courtesy cloud of Febreze in an effort to smell less offensive. No one seems to asperse them in judgment and/or patronizing concerns for their health.
So, I definitely didn’t think it would’ve been that big of a deal when one night I broke down and…smoked where I eat, so to speak. It was almost 9:00 PM, and the office was empty with exception to the three guys I was working late with on a ridiculous client fire drill. Wanting a break that didn’t include eating any of the florescent-orange, iridescent pizza one of the partners’ secretaries (a smoker, btw) ordered for us before leaving for the night, I headed out to my car for a quick smoke.
Given my erstwhile mention of how much I appreciate my habit remaining just between me, myself and I, I removed my suit jacket and dress shirt and put them in my car to keep the evidence off me as best I could. I stood in my undershirt in a corner of the deserted parking garage. No big deal. Til a female senior associate pulled in to fetch a file she forgot—her face immediately aghast through her Volvo window as if she caught me committing sexual assault.
She got out and shrilled, “I didn’t know you smoked!”
“I don’t. Normally. It’s just been a stressful night, and this seemed more satisfyingly destructive than cold pizza.”
Infuriated at how embarrassed I felt, put the cigarette out, tried more downplaying and prayed for the elevator to come so she could get on.
The next day, almost in perfectly timed increments, people would approach me to recite the same line I heard last night.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
The most vexatious part is that it’s always a statement asked as a question.
I quickly realized that the senior associate from the night before must have went into the office (after leaving me to stew in smoke and shame) and sent out a mass email of McCarthyism-like proportions to every person in the firm whose opinion I value.
Like any office rumor, my smoking was highly shocking and compelling—and all anyone can talk about. I hate it. Even more, I hate how much I hate it. Why can’t I just not care? I did nothing illegal or elicit. And I know I would never call someone out like that.
I get that it’s no longer cool or acceptable to smoke, but why the hell can’t people just mind their own damn business? FML.