Everyone, gather around and get ready to wish me a good old fashioned HOORAY!
It was 10 years ago today, Dec. 29, 1999, that I sat at the bar at a neighborhood pub in New Orleans called “The 19th Hole,” lit up a cigarette, smoked it, crushed it out, and left the bar. And I haven’t had another smoke since.
Smoking was a pretty big part of my life back then. While friends like Kayla and Nancy and Jen from New Orleans and college roomie Missy might find it difficult to believe that I ever quit (Missy was there when I was smoking two packs of Marlboro Reds a day, but by the time the late 90’s came around, I was down to a mere pack and a half of Marlboro Lights a day), but a lot of people are sometimes surprised to learn that I was a smoker. And man did I SMOKE. Like a chimney.
My sophomore year in college, you could smoke in your dorm room. Missy and I were the only roommates who BOTH smoked, so EVERYONE gathered in our room at 1218 Wetzel Hall at Western Illinois University to smoke. We didn’t always realize it at the time, but we smelled like a speakeasy. Not a tavern or a pub, but literally, a speakeasy. A basement bar with no windows or ventilation. Yummy. I sometimes wonder if the girls who currently live there can still smell it.
In December of 1995, I smoked a few cigarettes on my way home from college, but I was home for a month for the holiday and didn’t feel like stepping on the porch in sub-zero temperatures for a smoke. After a month, I didn’t feel like smoking again, and thought I had quit. The following June, I started again.
When I lived in Rockford, I worked really hard to burn off those college pounds, and I did a good job. At that time, I didn’t quit smoking all together, but I did not smoke regularly. I would take a week to go through a whole pack, go out and buy another, smoke it all in one night, get another pack, and have that one laying around for a good two weeks — and the cycle would repeat. I did manage to lose a lot of weight (a predicament I find myself in ONCE again, but one vice at a time here), but I never actually stopped smoking.
When I moved down to Baton Rouge, I started smoking more again. I was quickly back up to a pack and a half a day, or more. I managed to quit for a short three month period, but found myself one night again watching smoke swirl into the air as it exited my lungs, and I was back to a pack and a half a day just like that. This went on until I left Baton Rouge (when they asked me to) and continued as I moved to New Orleans, until December 1999 rolled around. I was working for WGNO, which at the time was located on the 28th and 29th floors of the World Trade Center building at the foot of Canal Street. The building actually had a smokers lounge on the 18th floor, which was small and stinky and disgusting and we visited it about once an hour. When we would hang out at Ernst’s Cafe later in the evening, I would easily put four crisp dollars in the vending machine (that was terribly expensive then, I can only imagine what it costs now) and smoke that entire pack that night. Sometimes, girls scantily clad in some type of referee uniform would come to the bar, get us to sign up for t-shirts and stuff, and in return, hand us a few packs of Camels — and I even smoked THOSE (eewwwwweee). Then, one day, I was headed out to my car, which was parked on the third floor of the parking garage. Since the parking levels were staggered, the third floor was truly just a flight and a half up. And when I hit the landing, I was completely winded. I was a just about a week from my 26th birthday, and a flight and a half of stairs was killing me. I decided then and there that I would quit for good. I went out and bought one more pack, swearing it was my last. I swore I would be finished with that pack before the new year rolled around, so that I would be able to say that I never smoked in the new millennium. Good thing that Y2K thing never happened, because I certainly would have fired one up for that!
I ended up smoking my last three cigarettes — including the lucky skag — at the pub down the street from my house, walked home, and went to bed. The next day, on my way in to work, I stopped at Walgreens and got some nicotine patches. And let me tell you, DO NOT sleep with one of those things on, it will whack out your dreams!
It’s a hard thing, quitting smoking. There is not a single smoker out there who doesn’t know that smoking is bad for them. Every smoker knows that smoking contributes to or all together causes cancer/emphysema/COPD. Smokers know they stink. Smokers know they are social outcasts, forced to go outside and brave the elements to enjoy their vice, while their non-smoking friends remain content in their seats at work/a restaurant/the bar/the party/the game/anything that is taking place indoors. Smokers know that smoking does not LOOK good. Smokers know that other drivers are giving them the stink eye when they smoke in the car, especially if there are others in the car, even more so if those others are children. Smokers know their breath is not always minty fresh. But there is one good reason why they continue to smoke, and I don’t mean to make light of it when I say this:
Honestly. I loved smoking. I sometimes joke that I am going to start smoking again at 66, my reward for 40 years of not smoking. Sometimes, I up that to 56 and 30 years. And the sad part is, I kinda mean it. I think that when reformed smokers like me get on current smokers about how important it is that they quit, it’s not because we wish them better health. It is because we are jonsing for a cigarette and the jealousy of watching them smoke is killing us. I’ve actually found myself watching a smoker, and as he puts the cigarette to his lips and takes a drag, I inhale myself, as if I can somehow recapture the feeling of smoking. And I know that is gross. But it’s also true. I want a cigarette!
I don’t know if this desire will ever leave me. I believe that in my case, being a smoker is very much like being an alcoholic. I cannot ever touch a cigarette again, lest I be back to a pack and a half a day after the very first puff. I’m not a former smoker. I’m a recovering addict. My drug just happens to be nicotine.
I have managed to resist this urge for ten years now. Here’s to another ten, and 20 more on top of that, and a few more to boot.
Happy Anniversary to ME!