Thursday, May 6, 2010

Scarlett Made Me Do It!

The difficulty in life is the choice.

~ George Moore (1852-1933)

My name is Brian, and I am a smoker.

A damn good one, I'll readily admit. Nothing cuts short a harsh, early-morning phlegm-letting like a cup of French Vanilla coffee and a Camel Turkish Silver. Thirty per day is my average, though if I have nothing better to do besides sit in my garage and write, I can easily polish off two packs plus change before hitting the hay. Type. Take a drag. Repeat. I will smoke more than half a pack before this post is finished.

In the car, my trusty 1987 bright red Honda Prelude with the Pioneer 10" pumps in the back, I smoke one after the other to a soundtrack loud and aggressive, scattering ashes and butts out the window with an authoritative flick of the wrist. I am badass. I don't care what you think.

I started late in life, the result of a perfect storm of circumstances. First there was the Roux-en-Y, a radical rearranging of the innards that led to both the shedding of an enormous number of pounds and the upsetting of long-established habits. I was a Type A grazer with more than enough storage space, my fingers constantly stained with Cheetos dust. Each bag or box of this or that was not only symptomatic of my tendencies toward insecurity and impatience but also a convenient, logical stepping stone between meals. I was a damn good snacker. But when I traded in my industrial-grade forty-six cubic foot stomach for one the size of a medium egg, my snacking days went the way of the dinosaur. Suddenly I needed something else to do with my hands.

And then, on the heels of Bill Murray's embarrassing loss to that overrated putz Sean Penn, I rented Lost in Translation. Here's this guy whose life is shit. His marriage is shit. His career is shit. Everyone is shorter than he is. He's reduced to hawking overseas whiskey. And into the winter of his discontent walks Scarlett Johansson, this pensive, leggy, mildly-effervescent tonic, with just enough bubbles to smooth the edges of his hacksawed existence. And into the dorsolateral prefrontal association area of my brain camped a three-dimensional image of what it would take to be cool. All it needed was time to become a fourth-dimension reality. A choice.

The clincher? Philosophy. Scarlett's character was a philosophy major. I am a philosophy major! What do philosophers do? We sit around in our Cartesian armchairs and think shit up. And we smoke. Roughly half of my fellow philosophy peers are smokers. We get together twice a year at The Chair's house, sit on his deck, drink German beer, talk about how much we hate Wittgenstein, and smoke. Sartre, the great existential atheist philosopher I've become quite fond of in recent years, was a smoker. As one reviewer of The Faber Book of Smoking put it, "[t]he cigarette, for Sartre, is a means of possessing the world: an entire way of being is crystallised in the "little crematory sacrifice" of his chubby Boyard. For the smoker, the universe exists as something to be experienced while smoking." And then there's this timely little nugget of wisdom from the New York Times, originally published February 15, 1866, in which it is claimed that the Reverend S. W. Bailey endorsed the use of tobacco, for it "makes youth manly, refines taste, excites emulation, and engenders self-reliance." He concludes that smoking may also possibly, one day, should you ever visit a remote and savage land, save you from the cannibals as well. Shit, I'm all about not being eaten.

So I smoke.

I've tried to quit several times. I'm new(ish) here so you don't know all the details. But regular readers of The Cheek know. They've read it over and over and over again. I didn't even bother writing about my most recent attempt at quitting. It lasted two weeks. An eternity in which I walked nearly sixty miles around my rural haunts, listening to books on .mp3, marveling at all that glorious Indiana corn, fighting with every fiber of my being the urge to swing by the local trading post and pick up a pack. In a moment of weakness I bought some snus, but my wife threw them away. Said I was compromising. Her and the kids rejoiced that for a time my butts didn't litter the driveway, or her little garden filled with bright orange marigolds and purple zinnias, where I usually flick them as I sit and write. My wife hugged me more. Said I didn't smell like an ashtray. And that my breathing seemed less congested as I slept. And my kids, all four of them, liked that I didn't buy any Camels when we stopped at the gas station for Slushies. I played catch more often. We went swimming. And I passed more days indoors, playing Guitar Hero with the boys, reading with and to the girls, instead of hiding away in the garage.

I didn't post anything of significance for those two weeks. Didn't visit the blogs of my friends. Leave comments. Check in. Instead, I languished, decidedly checked out. Distanced from all the things I usually do while smoking.

Why am I telling you all this? I don't really know. Shelle always says, "Be yourself!" And I write for me. Always. So maybe this is therapy or sorts. With listening to one's own bullshit comes a modicum of ownership. I see through the haze of smoke I blow. I am not cool. Far from it. And trying to think that I am is becoming more difficult with each passing puff. Now it's just something I do, for lack of an equally-appealing alternative. Or maybe I'm just being passively stubborn. Raging internally against all the mistakes I've made and the circumstances I've failed to confront with each flick of my Bic. I am a narcissistic, fucked up little man.

I am Brian, and I am a smoker . . .

I wrote this for a different website several months ago, but there isn't much cross-traffic between the two so I thought I might share it here. As it relates to relationships, do you have any nasty habits that you often feel the need to justify? Any habitual thing that holds you back, or comes between you and your spouse/significant other? Or are we all simply human and this sort of thing par for the course? Your thoughts are welcomed and appreciated . . .


Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

I remember reading this post, it is how I found you. I didn't follow you because you smoked and at the time weren't ready to kick the was your eloquence in writing in such a way that you made me empathize with you by twisting my own bad habits into perspective.

I suffer from the bad habit of abusive self image. I'm serious. It's a habit and a bad one to turn a compliment into something negative. What comes with that is my inability to say no and not have cheetos dusted fingers because I love food that much. I would hate myself for eating what I knew was no good, yet I couldn't prevent myself from eating it. It was an instant feel good, a best friend, and it's absolutely pathetic.

We all suffer from some bad habit...the struggle is doing something about it.

Awesome post. I love your writing because it is you.

Anonymous said...

Well it sounds like anyone with an addiction to me. Maybe you can kick it!

T said...

I do love your writing... and at the same time feel bad for your family and the fact that they probably miss that guitarhero playing, book reading, mom hugging dad that they had so briefly.

And yes - I've got a pile of my own bad habits (I'm starting to think that blogging is one of them... or at least the excuse for my laziness)... I have the constant goal of a cleaner house and healthier eating... but each day at 5 pm I realize I've snacked a little too much and that there is no reasonable explanation for that pile of papers on my counter that just doesn't seem to throw itself away...

Homemaker Man said...

Hi. Found you via Shelle. Really liked this. I have the bad habit of expecting people to be more than I should and holding it against them when they're not. Also, I bite my nails. And fart.

TK Kerouac said...

Great post!

Smokers usually have addictive personalities, and when you give up one habit, if you don't replace it with a better one, you'll find another addiction/compulsion.

And many smokers are really masking anxiety.

My drug of choice is the internet. Its compulive, intefeers with relationships and time consuming.
My drug of choice.

Anonymous said...

You are an amazing writer, encompassing humor, pathos, self-confidence and self-deprecation all in the same post.

Truth is, I would guess we all have habits or addictions that we would prefer to do without. For some it could be shopping, compulsive exercise, **cough, cough** smoking, alcohol, sexual addiction, food addiction, gambling, porn, internet, etc.

For me, I like to claim that I work well under pressure, but sometimes I tend to put off those less desirable tasks. I always seem to get them done when needed, but sometimes cause myself unnecessary pressure and stress. And chocolate...I could probably eat less of that, but like you, I don't feel I'm ready to give that one up.

I think the key thing is to try to keep these habits from controlling us, instead of the other way around. Or failing that, choose a habit that can produce positive results or at least less damaging ones.

For your darling family's sake though, I hope that someday you are ready to kick this one to the curb. I just lost a friend/former co-worker to lung cancer. It was hard on him and his family that is left behind. Sure, we all have to go sometime, but that wouldn't be the way I'd want to go if I had the choice.

The benefits of quitting smoking are many. One of my friends who is an ex-smoker for many years now said that it was nearly as hard as stopping breathing, but somehow he got through it. Best of luck with whatever you decide to do, whenever you decide to do it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks eberyone for your amazing comments I do love it here, and y'all are the reason . . .

Anonymous said...

I know addictions are so hard to beat - we all have something that is hard to say no too but I truly hope you will consider quitting smoking for good. Just spend time with someone who is dying of lung cancer and I guarantee you will see cigarettes in a new light. A year ago I lost my father in law to lung cancer and he had smoked for 30+ years. From the time he found out it was cancer, he lived for four months! And they are painfully agonizing months! He sadly left behind four sons, a granddaughter he adored and a grandson in the womb that he never got to meet. And for what? Smoking! He was only 54 years old. Just think about your beautiful family!

BabyMan said...

Sugar (my wife), with my help, quit smoking at the beginning of the year. And it's been great. She greets me with an unashamed hug when I come home and is less tentative of coming "close" for fear of the smell of smoke. It was a very subtle interruption to our day to day, hour by hour affections that was not noticed until she quit.

heelsnstocking said...

The husband quit smoking 14 yr ago and he considers it his greatest achievement (wonder where our marriage is on the list).

Im one of the annoying folk that can smoke one day then not for months. Sometimes I just enjoy the social aspect of it all as most of my friends smoke.

~Kenny said...

Interesting I had Roux - en Y but now I am addicted to exercise...although I do chew nicotine gum even though i dont smoke..I crave it sometimes. I wonder if there is some unknown side effect of the surgery. Still seems a shame to to go through all that effort to save your life and now find a new way top cut it short.