Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Second Hand Smoke

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I've been casting about all day for what to write about. This steady blog thing for openbooktoronto.com is quickly becoming habit-forming, subject matter being the only problem.

I just went out to the grocery store to pick up a few things and tonight it's cold outside (well, cold for Toronto) and a bit windy and I needed to get out of the house, smell the air.

Now back inside and warming up, I have CBC Radio 2 on, listening to Manteca in a live concert.

(Where the hell is he going with this?)

Listening to Manteca brings me back at least 20 years when I was in some club downtown, dragged there by someone who hadn't been very forthcoming as to why we were going. I don't even remember the name of the club, but I do remember the music. It was Manteca and, boy, did they just melt the place!

It was also the last time I went to a club for a long, long time.

Why? Because of the smoke. That night was the last straw. I could barely breath -- and wasn't because of the excitement of the music. You see, I'd spent far too many nights in smoky bars, going back to when I was 14 and playing in them back in my native Mamaroneck, NY. (Never heard of it? Don't worry, not many people up here have.)

Back then, I was a real anomaly: I didn't smoke. As a matter of fact, I've always hated the smell of smoke.

So from that early time, I decided that while I really enjoyed playing in and being in clubs, I just could not tolerate the smoke. Fast forward about 8 years when I first came to Toronto. I was playing up to 8 nights a week in clubs (at least it felt that way) and man the smoke was killing me. Years earlier, back at the lush Canada Lounge in Mamaroneck, I'd come with the terrific dodge of finding the most smoke-free place in any bar, and that's where I'd camp out between sets. At the CL, it was in the kitchen with the owners' dad who did all the cooking. Nice old Italian guy, I found out some months into residency that he actually owned the joint and let his sons run it.

In Toronto, when the weather was not completely miserable, I went outside, except that people who were coming to hear the band I was in thought I was out there to talk to them. Sometimes I'd be interested in talking, but generally I just wanted to decompress, get away from the noise (Devotion was a very loud band) -- but most of all I wanted to get away from the smoke. Sadly, the people who'd buttonhole me outside were all smokers. Kind of defeated the purpose, didn't it?

Refining my technique, I discovered that the best place to be alone was in the beer cooler. They were generally big rooms, and other than the obvious drawback of being cold (not always a bad thing), they were quiet and blessedly smoke free. The rest of the guys in the band no doubt thought I was nuts or anti-social, but there it was.

Now, Toronto clubs are smoke free and I'm happy to go out again and (these days, at least), listen to some of the great live music this city has. I really enjoy it. Why didn't they ban smoking years ago?

(So where is this little meandering essay going, Blechta?)

Like I said, I'm out tonight as much for a breath of bracing winter air as going to the grocery store. What happens? I passed 4 (count 'em) smokers in the space of less than a block. Not paying attention, all 4 of them gobsmacked me with their smoke.

Sort of ruined the moment for me. Maybe sitting alone in a room and writing isn't such a bad thing.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Rick Blechta

Rick Blechta is the author of the novels Knock On Wood, The Lark Ascending, Shooting Straight in the Dark, Cemetery of the Nameless, and When Hell Freezes Over. A Case of You, his latest novel, will be published in the spring of 2008 with Rendezvous Press.

Go to Rick Blechta’s Author Page