Wednesday, March 8, 2006
I am a smoker. For 10 years I've been a smoker. I smoke, and I love it. At last count, I've tried to quit six times. Each time I've exponentially increased the number of days I stayed off the cancer sticks, but always I seem to find my way home. After a few weeks sans cigarettes I would find myself coveting a friend's smoke and would stop at a store to buy a pack. Wracked with shame, I would thank the Sweet Baby Jesus that living in Mississippi at least meant the price of them wasn't killing me.
In college, inspired perhaps by "Absolutely Fabulous," I would put a cigarette in my mouth as I lay down in bed to go to sleep. My sense of humor vibrating, simply hoping ... nay, praying ... that someone would ask me why I had placed the Marlboro in my mouth right before sweet unconsciousness overtook my brain. I did all this just so I could deadpan, "That's for in the morning." Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I am definitely a smoker, besides being a smart ass.
I'm also ashamed of it.
I won't smoke in the smoking sections of restaurants if parents have deemed it fit for their children, although I admit I've broken this rule. I once sat in a smoking section while a mother wearing a sombrero had her 10-year-old light a shot on fire and the other two children and the dad sang "Cumpleanos Feliz" while the waiter took a picture of the family holding margaritas. I smoked next to her children. For some strange reason I thought she probably wouldn't mind.
I have other "rules." I only smoke in a restaurant if I've cleared it with the entire table and there isn't someone sitting around me who looks like a Smoke Nazi. There are quite a few of those. Smoke Nazis are the people sitting in the smoking section who have decided any fight with a smoker is a chance to make a "political statement." You know, those people who give you dirty looks, cough into their hands, and wave their arms in front of their face but never really speak to the offending smoker? I hate those people. I'd rather someone walk up to my face and say, "Do you mind putting that out? You're killing me." Because that is a sentiment I can respect. I'm also quite a wussy at heart, and that would probably scare me. So yes, this means that most of my smoking is currently done in my car and a small closet in my home where I simultaneously suck and pray for redemption.
Last year, while traveling to California, I bought a package of nicotine patches in preparation for an entire state supposedly filled with Smoke Nazis. I knew walking into a plane of existence where smoking wasn't allowed in any public structure would be difficult for me. It wasn't. What they don't tell you about the state is that everyone there smokes, too. They just go outside. All of them, at the same time.
There are a lot of smokers in California. In fact, there are so many of them the state Legislature subsequently passed a bill outlawing congregating within two hundred feet of the entrance of any public building. The smokers were gathering. Growing strong in their meeting places and cubbies on the street. The Arnold was having none of it.
I sat outside the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard sucking down a Camel I'd bummed from the bouncer, with 14 hipster kids and five women who looked like they were desperately trying to "make it." I've met some interesting people simply smoking. Some of those interesting people were hanging on Sunset Boulevard that night. (One of them might have been me after I decided I wished to lie on the concrete sidewalk in the exact spot where River Phoenix collapsed.) After deciding to let the "California" thing go and buy my own pack to keep from bumming, I wandered down the street. There is an all-night liquor store next door to the bar that sells cigarettes 24 hours. Meandering up to the counter, I asked for some Marlboros. The subsequent transaction appeared normal until the attendant stated the final total for the purchase. My Southern twang reverberated down Sunset as I screamed "seven dollars?" What they say is right—you do have to be rich to make it in LA. I left the pack of cigarettes on the counter. I came home with a bottle of wine instead. My overwhelming need for a mood-altering substance was filled that night by a cheap bottle of wine instead of a pack of cancer whose list price was somewhere in the vicinity of a brand-new kidney. In my quest to fulfill the human need for an external coping skill, I will always choose the less expensive of the two evils.
A week later I was back home to cheap smokes, and the world was a better place. Or rather, it was a place a lot more conducive to letting me slowly kill myself while keeping inside of my budget and under the roof of an accommodating bar. There's nothing like the sweet smoky smell of Good Ole Mississippi.
Since writing this column, Ali Greggs has quit smoking ... again. Watch for her high-speed, late-night chase with police as she rushes to the gas station for more.-
You can still quit, Ali. "Live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse" ought not be an option for you. You have too much to give the world. Without you who will write the articles you write. We need you. Allow me to sing you a Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes hit song. "Don't leave me this way. I won't survive. I can't stay alive." The key is to find a happier option. Do you need suggestions? I'll give them upon my return to the office this afternoon.
- Ray Carter
Ray I'm sitting at home right now on day FOUR of "no cigarettes". I am eating sunflower seeds, cross-stitching, typing, and chewing gum all at the same time. If I had other hands, I'd ask for other suggestiong. ;) Other than that, I think I'm going to make it this time. Monday, after the whole "abortion ban" thing I decided I could no longer rationally support Haley's Butt Boys....so I threw the smokes out the window on the way to work. I haven't had one since. This is, hands down, the hardest thing I've ever done. I'm not allowed to leave the house today because I might buy cigarettes. But, I WILL NOT BUY CIGARETTES. Dear MS Legislature Bite Me Love, Ali
- Lori G
Ali, it's good to see that you still have your sense of humor in the middle of a nicotine withdrawal. :-) I wish you success.
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