When I was a kid, everyone smoked. I’m young enough not to recall people smoking in movie theaters or supermarkets, but I do remember the tall canisters at the entrance to every department store — those alluring mini-sandboxes my mom would always utilize, but never let me play in.
Back then, ashtrays were art. The best were glass and had a matching tabletop lighter, so all of ones’ friends could light up in style. The coffee table ashtrays were made for the cigarette to casually rest, perfectly balanced within one of the deep, wide V’s ringing it. The cheap plastic ones (more often seen about my house because of the convenient portability) had those narrow channels my mom would — on the rarest of occasions — be forced to crumple and bend her cigarette into. It would tightly hold the burning remains hostage while she attended some urgent matter (usually involving me, and yelling). More often than not, though, those little depressions remained unmarred. I never saw a party where a cluster of my parents’ friends gathered around the ashtray, propping their individual vices in the slots provided. Instead, they clutched them (in all the various styles that gave a spark of individuality to a common habit), or swung them about as they spoke, or forced them to share space in their hand with a drink.
It seems to me smokers like to be close to their smoke. Never once did I see my grandmother put hers down. Not even for a photo. Throughout our family album, she’s there in her chair, one leg slung over the other, right elbow on the armrest. Her hand is lifted casually to the sky, cigarette nestled between her fingers like a miniature, glowing extension of her very being.
All of this reminiscing brings me back to the main inspiration for this bit of fluff — the Smokeless Ashtray by Ronco. For those who are too young to know of this invention, it was the Yuletide equivalent of the Chia Pet — marketed heavily once Santa made his way along the Macy’s parade route, only to disappear from television ads the minute the Ball fell in Times Square. The Smokeless Ashtray’s intended purpose is clear in its title; a canister positioned over an ashtray that sucked the smoke up into itself, purportedly relieving everyone else in the room from the negative effects. But, unless the smoker stored his cigarette in the ashtray after each puff (which — by my grand, worldwide observations noted above — is doubtful), it couldn’t have possibly done much to stop a roomful of people from suffering from the effects of someone’s smoke.
Obviously, the most smoke escapes when a smoker exhales. The rest of the time, it’s just a tiny little chimney sending curls of smoke straight up into the air. In order for the smokeless ashtray theory to be properly implemented, the smoke would have to be curtailed when it’s being put out at the highest volume. And here is where a brilliant idea is born — The Smoker’s Helmet. An umbrella-like creation affixed to the head of the smoker that would pull up the exhaled smoke, sucking it into the top of the helmet where it would be disposed of via the Smokeless Ashtray method.
If people could be convinced the Smoker’s Helmet was fashionable, the glorious heyday of my youth could be restored. There would be smoking in the malls, in bars and in restaurants. Moviegoers could again enjoy lighting up in a theater (although there would have to be a Smoker’s Helmet section, because sitting behind one would be like sitting behind Darth Vader). The decorative ashtray could return from its exile and once again grace coffee tables everywhere. And I might just get a chance to play in that sandbox, after all.
Many thanks to Squeaks for making me laugh hard enough to want to write about the Smoker’s Helmet.