March 10, 2005

Hey, buddy, you got a light?

I am a reformed smoker. I quit the day after I took the NY Bar exam, some 12 years ago. Sometimes I miss it, sometimes I hate even walking behind someone smoking. Sometimes, though, the feelings I associate with tobacco go from mild missing, to nostalgia, to craving to being really sorry I gave it up. Those feelings usually sneak up on me. Like today.

There was this nasty, beat up van waiting to pull into the street from a gas station as I passed by. I took it all in -- the dents, the multihued exterior from original paint to bondo to rust, the driver with the predictable lit cigarette. And then, whoosh. Damn, I wanted one. I am not going to have one, clearly. But I am going to write about it.

At its best, a cigarette was a sensuous experience. Every part of it.

First, you'd pack the pack. The smack as you slapped the top of the pack against the palm of your hand and the little sting you'd feel. You'd do this several times until all the loose tobacco was packed firmly into the cigarette. Then the crinkle as you took the plastic off and the smell as you opened the pack and pulled the silvery paper out of the top.

You'd take the cigarette out of the pack then and put it in your mouth. You'd hold it loosely with your lips as you pulled out the fire. Loosely so you wouldn't get it wet.

Then, fire. Flame came from several possible sources. First, matches. The scriiitch of the match head against the strike paper, the quick attempt to cup the match if you were outside so it wouldn't go out, or the even faster attempt to light the smoke right off the flare as the match ignited. This was the least satisfying but had some appeal anyway. No, I really liked the zippo lighter, the heft of the brass. I had my initials engraved on mine. The sound of the top as you popped it open, that metal snick. The roughness of the wheel as you engaged the flint. The smell of the lighter fluid that just seemed to make the Camel Lights (my preferred brand) taste better. The solid thunk like the door of a Mercedes as you closed it. It always stayed lit in the wind, too.

Then there was the sound of the cigarette as it took the flame. The crinkle noise of the paper as it caught at the end. The change it made as the tobacco started to burn.

Then the smoke as it finally hit your lungs. That part was really quite excellent. Quite excellent.

Of course, I also liked the holding of the cigarette, the gesturing with it for emphasis, the flicking away the butt when I was finished, the quick tap or flick to knock the ashes off the end. All of this I liked.

I liked a slow smoke. I also liked a fast smoke. Like one of my classmates said in law school, in con law, when asked by a professor whether the cigarette boxes still had the Surgeon General's warnings on them: "I don't know, Professor, I just rip 'em open and smoke 'em."

I also liked pipes and still take, maybe a couple of times a year, a good cigar. But this post isn't about that. It is about missing my little pack of smokes and my snazzy zippo.

As I've said often to my wife, the thing I regret the most about ever starting to smoke seriously is that I can now no longer have the social cigarette if at a bar with friends. Nope. I'm done.

But I can still miss them from time to time. And I do.

Posted by Random Penseur at March 10, 2005 03:48 PM

Man, you are jonesing for a 'moke.

It's going on more than a month for me. I've quit a number of times. Hopefully this time will be the charm.

I find now I don't miss the tobacco so much as the idea of smoking. Old movies bring it on -- High Society, for example, or that movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Everyone's smoking all of the time.

I think that in heaven you can smoke whenever you want, without consequence.

Posted by: Mark C N Sullivan at March 10, 2005 08:50 PM

Well, the urge passed very quickly. And as you said, it wasn't the smoke as much as the idea, as everything that surrounded the smoke.

Good luck, Mark!

Posted by: RP at March 10, 2005 09:19 PM

Man, I can understand the jonesing, I get that way about beer and/or dark rum sometimes, remembering the good ole days back in college and univerity, partying with my friends.

Unfortunately then I have some and the friends don't come back and the party doesn't appear, and... it's kind of a let down. And then my body goes "what are you drinking this for?" and gives me a headache, and I regret it all.

Funny how smells and touch can bring back vivid memories though, and how those memories are usually better than the actual occasion.

Posted by: Oorgo at March 11, 2005 11:36 AM

Good for you; glad you quit. I smoked for about 3 months when I was 18, then quit. However, for many years afterwards if we were drinking socially with others who smoked, I would cage a cigarette from them.

Always gave me a headache the next day,, not the booze, the cigarette, because I wouldn't have a headache with the same amount without one.

So how powerful is this addiction that even though I only smoked a half a pack for 3 months it affected me for many many years afterwards. Powerful stuff. I hear it's harder to kick tobacco than heroin.

Posted by: Amber at March 11, 2005 04:28 PM

Amber, Yes it is a harder addiction to kick than heroin. I've quit so many times it's rediculous. And I still have a ciggie burning in my ashtray right now.

Don Imus was hooked on cocaine, booze, cigarettes and Gawde knows what else. Someone once asked Imus "Which was the hardest to give up?"

"Cigarettes," he said without pause. Imus still chews Nicorette gum to this day.

I envy and am so proud of my friends who've successfully quit smoking. But, I have a friend who quit for two years and then went back to it. I was so proud of her when she resisted offers of a smoke, but now she's hooked again. It's mostly our creature-of-habit nature, not the nicotine itself, I think. But, nowadays, I'm more certain than ever that I'll die of a smoking-caused illness.

Oh well. A short(ened) life is better than none at all! :)

Posted by: Tuning Spork at March 12, 2005 12:35 AM

I smoked a pack a day during most of high school and college. I quit my last semester of college without much trouble. I do cheat now, although it's only when I'm either back in my hometown with friends or when I'm out drinking.

I definitely miss a smoke with coffee.


Posted by: C at March 12, 2005 02:14 PM

I've smoked a Dunhill in your honor.

Posted by: Andrew Cusack at March 12, 2005 08:42 PM

I just kept inhaling deeply as I read that. Oh, I can so relate as I struggle along in my brave endeavors to quit. Worst of it is I keep remembering two things that were said to me years ago. #1 "I quit years ago, but the longing is still there." and #2 was something my boss once said. He told me, "When I see that cloud of smoke above your head I know you are writing something really profuse, interesting, and worthwhile." I love to write, so quitting for me is very tough and I just don't appreciate puffing on a celery stick the same as puffing on a smoke. Still I'm glad you shared these thoughts -- there is hope for me if you could have had that kind of 'love relationship' and still found the strength to leave it behind.

Posted by: Roberta S at March 13, 2005 03:42 AM

Might have guessed Andrew Cusack smokes Dunhills. Reds, I trust.

Posted by: Mark C N Sullivan at March 15, 2005 02:51 PM
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