Scarlett Made Me Do It!
~ 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 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 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. Jason said, "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 . . .