Sunday, April 08, 2007

Smoke and Mirrors

I am miserable. I do not smoke, but our new neighbor seems to be a chain smoker, and the entire building, including Our Apartment, stinks. My hair stinks. My clothing stinks. I am coughing from second-hand smoke, and I am mad as hell.

This fire-breathing dragon goes in and out, dangling a cigarette from her thin, puckered lips. She looks years older than she probably is, and the wake she throws makes me gag.

Does she think it's sexy to smell like a burning dumpster?

When I was young, everyone smoked. It was a second-hand smoke world. Movie actors looked really cool, dangling ciggies sexily from the corners of their mouths.

I sneaked into the bathroom with a stolen treasure and got up the courage to light a match to something so close to my face. I gazed into the medicine chest mirror, expecting to be transformed from an eleven-year old innocent to a mysterious woman of the world. Did I mention sexy? That, too.

The thin white cylinder in my little hands with chewed fingernails was going to instantly morph me into a screen siren, a breaker of hearts, a woman who could purr, "If you want me for anything, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? Just put your lips together and blow."

That kind of woman.

Instead, I coughed. And kept coughing. I sneaked glimpses of myself in the mirror through bloodshot, teary eyes, still hopeful that somehow, the incredible mutation had taken place.

It hadn't. The smoke kept curling back into my eyes. I blew it away, then quickly took a puff. I wasn't quick enough. It snaked around and burned my eyeballs even as it was choking me. My eyelashes got singed.

I did not look sexy. I looked sick. Bilious has never been the new sexy.

I gave up smoking at age eleven.

My mother had warned me that smoking would stunt my growth. Since my short father smoked, the argument had some merit. But all my friends who smoked got tall while I did not. It's amazing how little it took to do that.

I've left a voice mail for the apartment manager asking if it is, as I suspect, illegal in California to smoke in common areas of a multiple-residency dwelling.

I don't think they will be happy if I take to entering and exiting via fire escape. It could lead to a law suit if I fell. Of course, I'd still be dead. But my family might get something out of it.

I sprayed the hallway mightily with Ozium, including my neighbor's door and keyhole. I opened the hall window and the door to the backyard stairwell. I crammed a draft dodger under our door. The noxious fumes still pervade everything.

If people want to destroy their lungs, it is their right. But they do not have the right to destroy mine. I could do that myself if I wanted to.

My whole world is going up in a carcinogenic haze.

Oh, where is that smoke-free planet when I need it?

I do understand how difficult it is to give up an addiction. I once counseled a woman at the domestic violence shelter I managed who was a serial smoker.

She had already had cancer, while her five-year old daughter suffered from emphysema and needed to spend eight-hour stretches hooked up to oxygen.

The child was unable to attend school because of this, but her mother refused to give up smoking.

"I've got 20 years invested in my smokes," she said. "Nobody's gonna tell me what to do."


yinyang said...

Hello! :)

1) Have you tried talking to her (the smoker) about it?

2) By "draft dodger" do you mean fan? Probably not; but, if you do, disregard this: You should get those big, cheap box fans.

3) I don't know... you could wear doctors masks around. Or, just hope that the apartment manager replies to your voice mail as soon as possible.


meno said...

Well that really bites. No advice from me. I's already practically illegal to smoke anywhere in California. Maybe you could ask her to only smoke in her car. Just imagine what that smells like.

Travis said...

I live on the third floor. My downstairs neighbor smokes on his balcony. It rises up and blows directly into my apartment.

Luckily I'm moving in three weeks.

I emphathize with you. It's a fine line to walk between their "rights" and ours.

Pickled Olives said...

I think its hideous. Personally I hate the smells others create and nothing is worse is worse than cigs. Ick. I hope this resolves for you soon.

QT said...

Just so you know not all smokers are so inconsiderate, back when I did smoke, I only did so outdoors. I also never smoked in my apartment when I lived in one, mostly because even as a smoker,the smell of stale cigarette smoke was horrible to me.

I really feel for you - I recently quit smoking and the smell of cigarettes is nauseating to me right now.

EsLocura said...

ewwww, nothing like smelling an ashtray at every turn. Sadly, you may have to start packing.

urban-urchin said...

I am speechless regarding the woman who had 20 years invested in her smokes and a 5 year old with severe lung disease as a result. Unbelievable.

There must be something that your landlord can do (maybe call the tennant's union?) I'm sure you've already thought of that though- good luck.

thethinker said...

I hate smoke, too. My grandpa died of lung cancer. I'm not exactly eager to sit around waiting for secondhand smoke to kill me.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for your suggestions. I have not spoken to her about it. Since she moved in, she has refused to return a simple greeting and even turns her head away so she won't have to make eye contact with anyone.

A "draft dodger" is fabric stuffed with straw in the shape of a snake which, when placed against the crack under a door, helps to keep drafts out.

How nice that you came by. Please come back again.


I don't feel that I can ask her anything. I hope the management company will be willing and able to help.


I'm glad you're moving. These people can't be so stupid as to believe that their smoke stays in their own vicinity, so I have to assume they don't care.


Thanks for your good wishes. I hope so, too. It's way up there on my list of least-favorite smells.


I do know that not all smokers are inconsiderate. I used to have a good friend who smoked outside when she visited me. Sometimes I would keep her company, and we both made sure that I was upwind of her cigarette.

I know that some of my favorite bloggers are smokers. I hope they don't think I'm putting them down because it IS possible to smoke w/o offending those who don't.


That has occurred to me, but I hope it doesn't come to that because it would be very inconvenient right now. Of course, living with this situation is also not convenient.


I was shocked by her behavior and still am. You would think that her child would have been taken away, but it was in North Carolina, a tobacco growing state, where nearly everyone smokes.


I'm sorry about your grandfather. My father smoked both cigarettes and pipe, even in a closed car, so I grew up with constant secondhand smoke. My brother had asthma, and I have had pneumonia 5 times.

Both the smell and the smoke make me feel ill now.

Jocelyn said...

As usual, your writing elicits about seventeen reactions from me--ranging from amazement that you recognized, at age eleven, that you didn't look cool smoking (your eyes were clear even then!) to my dumbfoundedness over the woman who was killing her child out of selfishness.

It's all very sickening. And I'm sorry you're having to live with it.

monicker said...

Good luck. I gotta say, in all my dealings with smokers who refuse to make their smoke behave, I was the only one to come out burnt every single time. Why someone's right to kill themselves trumps my right to breathe boggles my mind.

My advice: move or buy a respirator.

Laurie said...

I don't blame you for being annoyed. I hope this gets resolved soon.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for the comforting thoughts.

At 11, I thought my inability to smoke was just another of many indicators that I would never be cool (or sexy.)

The woman who was eating her young was selfish and stupid beyond comprehension.


I'm trying to stay positive in my thoughts. It will depend on what, if anything, the management people do about it.

As for moving, frying pans and fires come to mind here.


Thank you. I hope so, too.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Sorry that you are facing this problem. I hope the management will take some action. As a last resort, you can get air purifiers or ionizers to at least keep your apatment air quality breathable.

Liz said...

I hope for your sake that it's illegal to smoke in a common area. It sounds like it should be. One of the hardest things about being in New Orleans a few weeks ago was that smoking was allowed everywhere. I forget how lucky we are here in California to not have to endure smoke being blown across our soup and salad.

When I was 19, I smoked an entire pack of unfiltered Marlboro's as part of a dare and I thought I was going to die afterwards. I got physically sick for about a week after that, and I became forever convinced that anyone who did that would stop smoking because they'd feel so sick. Unfortunately, none of the smokers I know have ever tried it as part of a cure.

Pendullum said...

How horrible for you!

I truly do not know what I would do living next to one... I just hate the smell...
and there was a European study just in about parents who smoke outside and never indoors... When they come inside they are still carrying the residue so children are still affected/effected by the cigarette smoke...

Lee said...

Oh I'm so sorry you're having to go thru this. Stale cigarette smoke is horrendous and one of the big reasons I quit myself. I used to argue with a friend who is a smoker about smoking in bars. It's still legal here, and that's fine because I can make a choice to not go, but if I had the choice, I would choose to have the guy on the next barstool shootin up instead of smoking cigarettes. He has every right to pollute his body, but not mine.

I've got no my experience, smokers usually consider their habit a "right".

The story of the mother is disgusting and abusive. She doesn't deserve to have a kid.

Anonymous said...

I feel for you, HinSF. I too have never smoked, gave it up as an eleven year old. I was short enough already, I thought, I didn't need to tempt fate.

When one's home is no longer pleasant, for whatever reason, it is a very bad thing. I know I have never really had this problem, but when we had a mice problem, it really pissed me off that my home was no longer "homey." Those damned little mice had taken that feeling, that restful and warm feeling, away from me. I suspect there is that feeling, in a big way, with smoke seeping into your home that way.

Good luck, HinSF, I hope it is resolved very, very soon.

Kevin Charnas said...

"INVESTED"??? Yeah, that's the bright thing to say.

What about dousing her with rubbing alcohol?

Odat said...

Damn..I hope it works out for you...(from an ex smoker who used to not care what others thought or smelled)...but I've changed my ways, i tell ya!!!! I swear!!!

Thailand Gal said...

I can't stand smoking indoors. Admittedly, what bothers me more though would be neighbors who play loud music and I hear the continual base for three hours. When my ears are ready to bleed, I end up having to call the police.

Living on this planet with other people just plain sucks sometimes. :)



heartinsanfrancisco said...


Gettng ionizers is a good idea. I think Sharper Image makes them. I'll look into it. Thank you for thinking of it.


Oh, you're a dare taker, too. I'm glad you surivived the "cure." It sounds ghastly.

Smoking is rampant in many states. Personally, I'd rather take my chances with global warming than cancer.


Second hand smoke is just as dangerous as smoking. I have a big thing about fairness, and it is not fair to expose others to danger in this way.

I think that smoking must dull ones olfactory sense because the odor clings to hair and clothing as well as upholstery.


That child didn't have a chance. The thought of smoking as an investment was staggering.

I'm glad you quit. You'll be healthier, and your boys will be less likely to smoke.


Yeah, we runts can't take any chances.

I'm glad we don't have mice. I can't kill things, and they are hard to get rid of. My cat might get some exercise, though it's more likely that she would just tell me to do something about it from her command post on the bed.


You raise a delicate point. It's kind of frowned upon to abuse the clients in a domestic violence shelter. (Even if they deserve it.)


I'm glad you quit, and also that you commented. None of my smoking blogger friends has so far, as they're probably mad at me.



I have the loud head-banging music on my other side with the bass thrumming monotonously for hours. Luckily, that neighbor isn't home much because you can't call the police until 10:00 p.m.

(I've never called them on her because this is s small building with only 3 apartments each on 3 floors. But I have spoken to her about it several times.)

furiousBall said...

My wife and I both quit when I knocked her up. So just get some guy buddy to go have sex with her, once impregnated, the smoking will make her nauseous. And if she doesn't stop, she'll have an easier delivery with the low birth weight and all.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You and your wife behaved responsibly. I know it isn't easy to quit, but kids deserve to be as healthy as possible.

I once worked with a woman who was 6'2" and weighed about 300 pounds.

She continued to smoke heavily throughout her pregnancy, and her full term baby weighed less than 3 pounds. The child had lung disease and didn't survive.

There is no excuse for that. There was no punishment, either, beyond losing her baby, which, under the circumstances, you have to wonder if she cared.

MsLittlePea said...

yeah. I used to smoke. But not very much-I too wanted so badly to be sexycool. It never happenned. Started at 12-13 and I quit when I was 20 because I kept getting getting sinus infections and my doctor said, 'you know you really shoud quit smoking,' and I thought,'yah, I should. This is stupid.'

Just a couple weeks ago my husband and I were at cafe waiting for an outside table when a lady asked if she could share our bench. I said,"you can if you put out your cigarette." She looked at me strangely but I said,"Ma'am, I've just been treated for one kind of cancer and I don't want to be exposed to another kind, sorry." I didn't want to hurt her feelings or make her feel bad about smoking and I totally understand that it's an addiction but...I like fresh air :o)

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Sweet Pea,

I'm so very glad that you're still with us.

And good for you for not being afraid to protect yourself. Anyone who would get offended by such a request would have to be a sick individual.

Ian Lidster said...

That's very inconsiderate of her, addiction or not. You were so wise to have decided that smoking wasn't for you at age 11. Wish I had done so. Quitting later in life is genuinely brutal.


Cece said...

Man that sucks! Ugh. Have you looked into our CA laws & housing? Wonder if you might find something online.

Or you can do what everyone else does, sue her. lol

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You give me far too much credit. It wasn't a decision so much as an inability to coordinate dragging on the cigarette with blowing smoke the other way.

Although I had noticed yellow stains on my father's fingers and thought that would be yukky on a girl.

Sorry you didn't have clumsiness going for you.


I wasn't able to find anything online, but could have been more thorough. Since the management company has not called me back, (no surprise,) I should investigate further.

Michael C said...

I know it's addictive, but I'll never understand the compulsion to turn one's lungs into tar burned sacs.

I've got two friends at work who both finally gave the habit up and we support and encourage them daily.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Nor do I. But I don't really understand heroin addiction, either. Or jumping off bridges.

I hope the encouragement helps your friends to give it up for good. Their own, and everyone's around them.

Lex said...

I hate smoking too,not smokers. Smoking killed two of my favorite aunties.

I have proudly stood out in front of the Maryland state house with my candle demonstrating in favor of a smoke-free Maryland. We won this year!!! Yay!

I don't know what that means for apartment buildings.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I'm sorry about your aunts. But happy for Maryland. Congratulations on your big win!!

velvet girl said...

Oh, Heart, that's awful!

Y'know, everyone talks about all the pollution that cars give out, but how come nobody ever figures how much pollution the smokers of the world are responsible for? It has to be significant.

If only California had a law about second hand smoke and rights to smoke-free living spaces. Some states do.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's surprising that California doesn't have such a law. I think it was the first state to outlaw smoking in restaurants.

Incidentally, I have not had a response from the management company. Nada. Zilch.

We may have a new address soon.