I have a confession to make. I am (nearly) a life-long smoker. I smoked my first cigarette when I was five years old. My best friend “borrowed” two Camels from a pack his father left laying carelessly in the living room. I still remember that first taste of tobacco. It was rich, sweet, and powerful as all get out. Sometime later – I’m not sure how long but it couldn’t have been much – he managed to get hold of some rolling papers and we decided to try rolling our own.
This was in the Summer of 1952. Life was very different back them. Kids roamed around pretty much at will. I wandered from home once when I was even younger and the Police had to take me home, but they never considered arresting my parents for child abuse. It was a different time . . . and we really didn’t lock our front doors.
Our parents didn’t know we did this and I know they would not have approved had they found out, but we were determined to get some tobacco and, for some reason I have no recollection of nearly sixty years later, we had to “liberate” that tobacco from the Thrifty Drug Store in our local shopping center. We somehow managed to find ourselves a can of Prince Albert and were able to make it out of the store undetected. I guess they weren’t thinking too much about a couple of kids “kyping” tobacco.
We made our way to the East end of the parking lot, where there were bushes thick enough to provide cover for our cigarette rolling and smoking. We were excited. We got into the bushes, all a tingly, pleased with our success at shoplifting and looking forward to doing something truly manly, which was every five-year-old boy’s aspiration back then. It wasn’t long before our excitement turned to bitter disappointment; our plans for manliness dashed against the rock-like reality that the manual dexterity of a five-year-old just wasn’t quite good enough to roll a cigarette worth smoking. We didn’t have a pack of papers to experiment with, either. After a couple of failed attempts it was over. Of course this didn’t mean we stopped smoking. It just meant we went back to lifting them from our dads.
My friend’s dad smoked Camels, my dad Pall Malls . . . either of which was just fine with us. I used to wait until my father’s pack was just about empty, then take it. I don’t know what he must have thought. I assumed he would just figure he misplaced it. Probably not; at least not after I did it a few times, but kids are the purest of optimists. Back then the neighborhood boys would climb on the fences between our homes and walk on them to get to each others’ house. It was far more fun, and way more direct, than walking around the block on the sidewalk. However, the workmanship on those fences wasn’t exactly world-class and there was always a capstone or two that came loose. One of them became a hiding place for my tobacco treasure.
Unfortunately, luck was not my friend and my father somehow found that pack of cigarettes. What he did to me would likely qualify as child abuse today, but beating a kid back then was pretty much what discipline was all about. Even strangers could admonish, if not spank, a child who had clearly overstepped the bounds of respectable behavior in public. Needless to say, I got quite a beating over that one.
Now, despite my essentially life-long love/hate relationship with tobacco, I have gone for long periods of time without actually smoking. In fact, I once went for 14 years without smoking tobacco. In the last decade or so I have periodically smoked cigars – not cigarettes. However, I’m one of those people who doesn’t see the point in smoking if you don’t inhale and I get no joy from a cigar if I don’t inhale. Each time I started smoking I fairly shortly reached a point where I didn’t want to continue. It might have taken anywhere from a week to a couple of months before I would be able to stop, but stop I did . . . cold turkey. I have never suffered from withdrawal symptoms either, but I do have to contend with the constant habitual reminders of wanting a smoke. After meals, when getting in my car, during a commercial. There were lots of them.
Regardless, I’ve been able to do it. Stop, that is. The problem I have is, after I’ve gone for a couple of months without smoking I feel like I can have a cigar and generally do. This has always proven to be a mistake, the one cigar almost always turning into dozens more before I can yank myself away from what has by then become mostly a disgusting, unfulfilling habit. This is why I’ve never said I “quit” smoking. I always say I’ve “stopped”.
I’m only bringing this up because I finally stopped again. When I woke up last Saturday, March 24, 2012 (this will be the very first time I’ve actually recorded the day on which I’ve begun a bout of “stopping”) my desire to stop coughing and feeling kind of lousy – all at the mercy of those damn cigars – finally exceeded my desire to pump cigar smoke into my by now suffering lungs. Today is my fourth day and I feel great. I can already take a deep breath without coughing. I’ve suffered those disorienting moments when I would have previously reached for a cigar, but I’ve been able to redirect my desires quickly and it feels tremendous to be in control . . . very consciously in control.
It remains to be seen how long it will be before I seriously consider tempting fate and smoking another cigar. The end of the Summer is the most likely contender, as that’s when I will be spending a weekend at Pismo Beach with a sizable group of friends, one of whom always brings fresh, very tasty, Cuban cigars to share. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I’ve got to get over to Trader Joe’s and grab a fresh bottle of Scotch for later. Can’t stop every little vice now . . . can we?
Cigar photo by X it
Glass o’Scotch photo by chipgriffin