Understanding the Hollywood Smoke

I WAS REMINDED by John J. Kochevar’s comments in An Artisanal Author Confronts His Pencils of how many traditional skills are fast disappearing these days. Here is another.

Montgomery Clift shows the classic cowboy roll on the set of Red River.

How to Roll a – uh, a Cigarette like a Pro.

The intent here is not to skirt Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to ban public smoking in New York City , but rather to address the high cost of a pack of cigarettes as well as record some ways of working with one’s hands once glamorized by Hollywood. 

Rolling  a smoke is a two-handed operation (see inset). Remove the cigarette rolling paper from its pack. Gently spread the paper horizontally,  and delicately grasp it between the tips of both index fingers and thumbs, roughly at the paper’s midpoint. The gummy strip should run along the top facing you. Carefully—yet  confidently—roll the paper back and forth three or four times with your thumbs and index fingers until it forms a U, with the gummy strip higher than the un-gummy side.

Gently now, gently, very gently, grasp the paper by one end. Remove one hand and take a pinch of tobacco. The tobacco should not be lumpy (and chewing tobacco should not be substituted. Nor should hamster food or your grandmother’s loose black tea—you will be discovered and publicly humiliated).

Lovingly spread the tobacco evenly along the channel. With extreme care, roll the tobacco-filled  paper back and forth with thumbs and index fingers to even the tobacco distribution. You’ll want the tobacco’s diameter to measure less than a pencil—at least until you master the process. Lick the gummy strip, then roll it with your thumbs and forefingers until said gummy strip adheres to the rest of the cigarette. It should at least resemble the filterless cigarettes rolled by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon and African Queen. Not sharing it is known as “Bogarting,” for the actor’s constant smoking in his films.

NOTE: Make sure it’s dry before smoking.

Here are some frequently asked questions, (aka FAQs):

Q: If you’re planning to smoke or share a, uh, hand-rolled cigarette after sex, how far ahead should you roll it to allow time for proper drying?

A: Before sex.

Q: Must I get special cigarette papers or can a square of toilet paper or Kleenex be substituted?

A: Depends on how desperate you are.

Q: Why can’t I form the paper into a tube – say, around a pencil – lick the glue, and then slide it off and pack the tobacco into it? Wouldn’t that be better?

A: Please. What would Bogey do?

Bacall helps Bogart to a smoke in Dark Passage. Let his be a cautionary tale.

 Q: How do I light such a cigarette in the wind?

 A: Okay, say it’s gusting 20 knots. Turn up the collar of your belted trench coat. Face into the wind. Hold the cigarette firmly in your lips — just don’t get the tip wet. Cup a book of matches (and this will only work with matches) in the palm of the hand that you‘ll also hold over the end of the cigarette. Strike a match with the other hand. As soon as the chemical reaction begins, press the match head on the cigarette’s tip and breathe deeply — and prepare to inhale some sulfur. Repeat as necessary until you’ve got a good burn going. Otherwise, a blow torch will work.

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