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Tag Archives: Camel

I Didn’t Quit; I Just Stopped

I smoked my first cigarette when I was five years old. That’s right. Five. I didn’t inhale; didn’t even know that was an option back then. My best friend, Jim, had “liberated” a cigarette from his father. It was either a Camel or a Lucky Strike. This was in 1952 and the first filtered cigarette to be successfully marketed – Winston – would not be available for another two years.

Jim and I sat on a merry-go-round similar to the one below, though nobody bothered to paint them back then. We used to hang out at Panorama Park, just north of where I attended Kindergarten, Chase Street Elementary School. A couple of weeks later, Jim managed to snag a couple of rolling papers from his dad.

Playground Merry-Go-Round

Round and Round and Round We Went

We went to the Thrifty Drug Store on Van Nuys Blvd., in “downtown” Panorama City, and walked out with a can of (“Well . . . let him out!”) Prince Albert tobacco, then absconded to the east end of the parking lot, where there were lots of bushes to hide out in.

Five-year-olds do not have the manual dexterity to roll cigarettes by hand. I’m not sure we could have done it with a machine. We were unsuccessful and, dejectedly, had to settle for “borrowing” cigarettes from our fathers; his the Camels or Lucky Strikes, mine Pall Mall.

Filterless Cigarettes

All Three in One Photo!

It would be another three years before I actually inhaled my first cigarette, an act from which I would not look back for quite some time, and which I now look back on with some remorse.

Look. I’m not trying to justify or celebrate smoking. When I first set out on that path, the only negative thing I can recall hearing was that it stunted your growth. Nobody mentioned cancer, emphysema, bronchitis, etc. Nobody! Smoking was permitted everywhere, at any time. And it was so cool! Cooler than Elvis’s sideburns, which I could not grow at nine years old to save my life.

It wasn’t until I was 15 and, through a combination of teenage hubris and stupidity, almost burned down our modest suburban home, that my parents gave up and decided it was better if I smoked in front of them, rather than had to continue covering it up and, maybe, killing everyone.

By then I had become, like my father before me, a Marlboro “man” and within a few years was smoking about a pack and a half a day. I cut down somewhat when I started smoking pot in the late summer of 1966, mostly because tobacco tasted funky on top of the taste of weed. I didn’t stop.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I managed to stop smoking for fourteen years. During that entire time I never said I had quit smoking; only that I had stopped. I knew I was a hopeless addict and, in the intervening years (I’m now 70), I have stopped and started numerous times.

Each time I stop I go cold turkey. Generally, it’s only taken me a day or two, at the most, to get over any physical craving for tobacco or nicotine. Unfortunately, I never get over – only manage to control – the ingrained rituals and habits of smoking.

I’m bringing this up because last Friday, after over a year, I stopped again. In a few hours it will have been a week since I last inhaled tobacco smoke. I took advantage of a trip to the Bay Area for a memorial service and didn’t take any tobacco with me and I had no plans of purchasing any while there. I was traveling with my oldest daughter and wouldn’t dream of smoking where she could breath it second-hand. In fact, in the last twenty years, of which I’ve probably smoked for about six or seven, I have either not smoked in the house, or did it under the stove’s exhaust fan set to high, very carefully blowing my exhaled smoke into the updraft created by the fan. And that was only on the bitterest and coldest of days, which are few and far between here in SoCal.

So, after a day or two, I had no cravings at all for nicotine. I do still have to fight the habitual affectations that went along with my smoking; the numerous breaks one takes in the course of a day to grab a couple of “hits” in between whatever you might be doing. I’ve also gained a couple of pounds and my next challenge will be continuing not to smoke and still get back to the weight I believe I should be to be as healthy as possible.

I don’t ever want to smoke again, but I’m aware of my proclivities toward tobacco and just can’t honestly rule out a cigarette or cigar at some time in the future. If I’m strong, I can probably make it through what remains of my life without shortening it even more. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself.

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You Do What With That Cigar?

Cigars & Ashtray

Can't Help it. Love the Aroma!

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”.

Glass o'Scotch

Mmmm. Mellow and Peaty!

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


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