Thursday, February 26, 2009

Going Completely Fishwife

This is the photo that accompanies a feature in my March, 1952 issue of Cosmopolitan. The 1950s is one of my pet decades for time travel. In addition to playing dress-up on my trip, I look forward to luxuriating in ignorance.

I will take up smoking and pills, drive a gas-guzzling, minty convertible everywhere, bake myself tan in the sun, and meet my decade-appropriate man at the door with a martini. He'll grill steaks; I'll concoct dessert from nothing more than petroleum by-products and artificial coloring. I'll be blissfully unaware of any ramifications and it will be grand.
I really feel that I have typed these exact words before. Here or elsewhere? Possibly the deja-vu is just a side effect of frequent time-machine use. Just indulge my repetitive story-telling as you would that of a beloved grandparent, please.

Anyway, Don't Stop Smoking-- Please! is exactly the sort of artifact that inspires such fantasies. Agnes Lynn Marshall writes that when her husband quit smoking:

"He snapped. He carped. He criticized with a virulence that had nothing to do with the fact that the eggs were too soft or the grass needed cutting. I wept regularly. I considered every form of suicide I had ever heard of."

Bewildered, Agnes went off to confide in her family physician. At his office, she took out her (mother-of-pearl, I presume) cigarette case and lit up, as one does. The doctor had the gall to demand she put it out. Turns out, he was quitting too!

"'How is your wife taking this?'
'Fine, fine,' he barked. And then, after a hesitation. 'She's in Canada.'"


Oh you know how quitters can be:

"So pleased with his self-denial that he lives under the illusion that he is a model of serenity. No woman with her first baby or her first mink coat was ever so irritatingly complacent."

Obviously if quitting makes people so intolerable, then quitting is a bad thing, right? Right. Ms. Marshall does allow that in a few special cases, quitting might be an okay thing to consider. Such as rare conditions of the gastric secretions. But otherwise people needn't:

"...subject themselves to the horrors of giving up smoking because of something they've heard. They have an idea it causes high blood pressure; it doesn't. They think it causes heart trouble; there is no foundation for this fear."

Agnes wants readers to know that she's not just being hard on the fellows. It is every American's responsibility to smoke for social lubrication:

"Women suffer personality changes during this experience just as men do. One gentle Boston woman, of a family whose name is known to every schoolchild, went completely fishwife. For instance, when, one day, she went to park her car on a lot attended by a friendly lad, and the boy said, 'I'm so sorry, ma'am, but the place is full,' she shot her car up the drive and shouted, 'You go to hell!'. 'And you know,' she told her daughter later, 'I could feel it coming out, and I couldn't stop it.'

Now, that behavior really won't do. So be a good girl and light up. And stay on that path to health and serenity by keeping your caramel color, caffeine and sugar syrup intake at adequate levels. Trust the nurse; it's good for you!