I quit smoking in January while hacking up a lung at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my brother's fiancée. Adam, my brother, was drooling away in La-La land on the couch of their house at the time, drugged up to the high heavens on pain killers due to a spiral fracture he sustained to his leg while he was white water rafting. The drugs made him constipated and boy did he let us know. He called his movements, “grenades” during this medicated time peroid. A steel rod, 2 screws, 4-6 pins and two surgeries later, his leg is fine and he and his fiancée are rock climbing again like champions, or more like Billy Goats. I haven't had a drag of a cigarette in over 9 months.
When I was a smoker, I liked to think that I was an incredibly good smoker. I smoked obsessively, almost 2 packs a day. I’d smoke the most on nights when I'd go out on the town, or days when I had something important to do that I didn’t really want to do, like breath. Smoking was the very first and the very last part of my day, everyday. I could blow smoke rings, great smoke rings. I could blow them across a large room, at people. I used to name my smoke rings when I was bored and smoking alone: Jan, Bob, Timmy, Peter, Oswald, Denise, Theo, Rudy. I enjoyed blowing smoke rings into things, kind of like target practice. I’d shoot smoke rings out of my mouth at glass table tops, or towards window fans, or through screens and watch them get ripped apart. I used to blow smoke rings over hot cups of coffee and watching them catch a "thermal" and float up to the ceiling. Coffee and cigarettes go incredible well together, just like crystal meth and more crystal meth. People would ask me how I do it, how I blew smoke rings and I’d try my best to explain. “Make an O with your lips, put your tongue in the middle of your mouth, open your jaw as wide as it will go and pop it half way shut.” Once I had explained this, the people that asked for directions would try in vain to make smoke rings. Mostly, they just looked like fools making fish faces while I pummeled them with puffy, billowing, perfect smoke rings to the face and chest. I could average about 5-7 good smoke rings per drag of a cigarette. The first two would always be the best; the thickest, fastest, and most accurate, and the last couple rings would almost always fall apart instantly. I dreamed of learning how to blow smoke X’s so that I could play myself in tic-tac-toe.
I always completely put out my butts when I finished a cigarette. I, to this day, hate anyone who lets a smoke burn out in an ashtray. I only set one trashcan on fire through all my 15 years as a smoker. In that same amount of time, I’ve managed to burn holes in 3 of my favorite winter jackets, 2 black tee shirts, a pair of parachute pants, a jump suit, a red silk tie (I hate red ties but I always seem to buy them. Maybe I’m a republican, maybe I’m a communist, maybe I’m a matador.) a green pair of Umbro shorts from grade school gym class, as well as countless pillows, couches and coffee tables. I play bass so I have thick calluses on my fingertips and could pick up burning embers and “cherries” without really feeling it. That being said, I burned myself quite often as well as my clothing. I never put a cigarette out on my tongue or hand, but I’ve accidentally burned my little Obsquatch after I dropped a smoke in my lap while driving. That wasn’t very much fun.
I could hand roll smokes perfectly, with or without a filter. I never used a rolling machine. I could roll a cigarette while driving down Mass Ave in my pickup truck (also know as The Deathtrap) in the middle of winter going 50mph, through the snow, surrounded by crazy angry swerving Bostonian drivers while listening to classic rock radio and not increase my car insurance premium or the deductible. I, only once, have raided an ashtray, unrolled the butts and rerolled the used tobacco into a new-ish cigarette. It tasted like pan-seared ass in a garbage reduction sauce with subtle hints of putrid plum and rat poison. Although I never did it again, I thought about it when I was poor and being seduced by he cigarette-butt-porcupine living in Swampthing’s ashtray/desk (see “The Bachelor Party”).
I have owned and lost a total of 5 Zippo lighters, two of which were gifts from very close friends, one of which was once my roommate. He gave me a red Zippo that I lost in a taxi a few months after he gave it to me. I chased the taxi for a quarter of a block until I was completely out of breath. I had made up a rule that all red lighters belonged to me because I had been losing lighters at an alarming rate. I decided to only buy red Bic lighters and I claimed all red Bic lighters I saw to be mine. My roommate, unknown to me, already owned a red Bic lighter before this rule went into effect. I stole his lighter with the annexing zeal of the British Empire. As to never have his lighters annexed again, he bought me a red Zippo, which I lost because I wasn’t fit enough to chase down a slow moving taxi to a stop light 100 feet away.
The first cigarette I ever smoked was a Camel Straight. I was 13. I smoked it in the woods behind my house with a friend of mine who lived around the corner. He had the pack of cigarettes locked up in a toolbox he hid under his bed. He had bought a combination lock for this toolbox so that his mother, even if she found the toolbox, would not know he was committing the eternal sin of smoking at the tender age of 13. We took extra precautions to sneak undetected out of his house, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon in the middle of summer, and secretly and silently crept through the woods for a half hour until we were sure we were under deep enough cover that no parents that might have trailed us would see or smell us smoking. I had two in a row and was so proud of myself for not coughing or barfing, that I went back to my friend’s house the next day to smoke two more of his smokes. I started bumming smokes the day I started smoking them.
I preferred Old Gold cigarettes to all other brands. If I couldn’t have those, I’d choose Lucky Strike Lights (with a filter), then Parliaments and finally Camels. I would buy discount brands with laundry money when things got tight; Basic full flavor cigarettes were known to be an appetizer, a garnish and a dessert to a meal made up of Ramen Noodles and “Processed Homogenized Cheese Food Product” sandwiches. The neighborhood shopkeepers knew my brand (depending on which odd variety they stocked) and would have them ready for me when I walked in on my way to or from work. They also knew that if I came in at 10:59 pm, one minute before they closed for the night, and I was laden with quarters, nickels and dimes, that I’d be buying 100’s.
Buying smokes by the carton was something I never did, unless I was in the south where you can buy a carton of smokes for the price of one pack in the north. Being a carton smoker requires the smoker to admit that they absolutely must have access to cigarettes at every given moment. At this point, one should also admit to not knowing why he or she would keep cartons of cigarettes in the freezer. That’s where carton smokers keep the packs they haven’t gotten to yet, in the icebox. For some unknown reason and by some unknown process, “it keeps them fresh.” The freezer is where they must go once you’ve bought them from a store that has kept them unrefrigerated for weeks, maybe months since they came off that unrefrigerated delivery truck which was packed at a dry storage facility, which warmly held onto millions of cigarettes made at some sweaty factory in the south, where it is almost always hot. Keep those smokes on ice, carton smokers.
I liked soft packs because I never really knew how many butts I had already smoked or how many I had left until I had to raid my laundry money again. I didn’t wear a watch for the same reason; I didn’t want to know how long it had been since my last smoke. To keep my smoking under control, I created rules for when I could have my next cigarette. When I was driving, I’d allow myself one cigarette per street, and I’d follow that rule to a T, even if it meant going the long way so I could make more turns and smoke more butts. What’s four extra right hand turns if those right hand turns are the scenic route through flavor country. At work, I could only take a smoke break if the computer I was working on needed to do an unsupervised process, such as restart (“I don’t know what’s wrong, but I think restarting with solve the problem.”) or print a piece of paper (thanks to a 1992 first generation laser printer which had a 4 minute warm up cycle). At a bar, I would only smoke if there were no cigarettes butts in any one of the many ashtrays sitting on the bar. I’d take it upon myself to put those ashtrays to work. Obviously someone put all those ashtrays out there for a reason, and obviously someone cleaned out those ashtrays regularly for a reason, and that reason was to support and encourage my smoking habit. I had no self-imposed smoking restrictions while watching TV, sleeping, shadow boxing, doing yoga, needlepoint or showering.
Being a non-smoker has been great. I hate the smell of smoke, and I hate the smell of me after hanging around smokers. Chicago has passed a smoking ban, which takes effect on January 1st, 2008. With only a few months left with the stink, I am as cynical as ever. I hope never to smoke again, but I might just slap on a nicotine patch once in a while just for fun. They give you really messed up dreams. For real. If you want my advice, which is awesome advice, then quit smoking and find some meaning in your life, ya’ filthy rapscallion.