Quitting the sticks (Part I)
I am taking a break from my primary interest of travel to discuss something new. But there is a tiny connection to travel. I’ll explain later.
Allow me to approach what is considered a somewhat mundane social ill from a slightly warped perspective. I tried cocaine ONCE about 30 years ago. I allowed a Navy nurse talk me into a post-op injection of morphine ONCE. The emphasis on the quantification here is based on one simple truth. Anything this good has got to be bad. Thankfully, before the time I had executed these two decisions, I knew I was given a bit too easily to obsession. Sadly, by the time I dodged serious encounters with “hard” drugs, a more conventional, if not more insidious one had already struck me down. I was addicted to nicotine.
I was prideful in those days, looking down my nose at people pissing away life and treasure on drugs while I burned through a pack and a half of smokes every day. In today’s dollars, that runs between $200 and $580 per month depending on where one lives and the brand smoked. To some, that doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But I’m a simple man of simple means. To me, even today, that’s a damn fortune! On what I paid for cigarettes in a year, I could have had an island vacation…a nice one...every goddamn year! I could knock months off my mortgage. I could drive my car for five or six months including oil changes and inspections. All that and I didn’t even get the benefit of having my mind significantly altered. What a rip-off!
But money was not a motivator. Did I mention that this substance is insidious? By the time I finally got honest with ME (everyone else, including my dog, knew I was full of shit) I was really feeling the effects of the habit. Smoking for 40 years, I sounded like I had pneumonia. If I sat still for 20 minutes, it would take ten more to clear my chest of slime that had settled there. Mornings were a delight for my wife, listening to the hacking and gaging. And my doc told me he could see my lungs were elongating. If you know what that means you can see my future like a damn Nostradamus.
Truth be told, I had tried to quit several times. The closest I came was using the patch. A lot of folks I know did really well with it. I used it without incident for two weeks. On week three, day one I woke up with the urge to subject someone, anyone, to torture. I don’t know why. I went to sleep the night before on top of the world and woke up feeling like Hannibal Lector. Another time I quit smoking at work for almost a year. I still smoked at home on the deck, having convinced myself that I had won some kind of moral victory. That came to an abrupt end when forced to work with the slowest, goofiest electrician on the planet. I think I smoked 200 cigarettes that first day back.
Another truth: I enjoyed smoking. Each cigarette became a validation for the next. It was the toll cigarettes were taking on my body that I disliked. But not enough to simply walk away. There was always one more excuse to be made to buy one more pack or quit next week. At one point, I quit buying disposable lighters. I would only use matches. This, I told myself, would deprive me of the excuse that not using the lighter would be a waste of money. It would make it easier to quit. That bit of mental masturbation lasted a good 2 years.
I considered Chantix. Again, there are wonderful success stories out there. But there is a warning about Chantix and mood swings. Part of what makes me the colorful bastard that I am is my temper. It is, in a word, mercurial. Not to worry, it is nowadays directed entirely at the television when Barack Obama says, well…anything, and me. So I do worry that I’ll start popping those little pills and one day I’ll hit my thumb with a hammer. I’ll then burn down half of Thornburg before going to the freezer for some ice. Call me chicken-shit, but I believe my community is the safer for it.
Looking back on the years I’ve smoked, I find fascinating the things one has to put up with to continue the habit. For starters, there remain few places where smoking is acceptable. No matter where we are, smokers must absent themselves from company, sometimes ruining the flow of good conversation, and leave the building to have a cigarette. There is the need, if you wish not to be a pariah, for mints or gum before returning to the house or restaurant. I even carry travel-size spray cologne in order not to offend. On occasion, we get lucky and the establishment we’re in allows smoking. But after so many years of not being exposed to smoke, non-smokers can’t stay on these places for a full evening. And admittedly, these rooms can get to where even a seasoned smoker has to throw in the towel and go out for some fresh air! Ironical, ain’t it?
Things have surely changed. I think back to the sixties when my parents would entertain. Before a party, my mother would place ashtrays all around the room. My favorites were the tin trays with the beanbag base. Sometimes the tin would be a bright green, blue or magenta. Though we were supposed to be sleeping, my siblings and I would sit at the top of the stairs while my parents entertained. We’d listen to the conversations. They meant little to us. I was always fascinated by the way they would grow loud, then trail off and grow loud again. All the while, we didn’t even notice it; there was smoke. The majority of our adult relatives smoked, a few smoked cigars. Cleaning up the next day would include dumping many dozens of butts into the trash.
Spring cleaning always included washing down the walls. The amount of yellow goo that had collected was incredible. It was hard to believe how much it changed the color of the underlying paint. More incredible was the fact that, at the time, it was considered inhospitable to disallow smoking in your home.
Now it is uncivilized to smoke in your own home. I keep a bucket on the deck with a bit of sand in it. It’s my smoking area. Cleaning it is disgusting. I use a kitty litter scoop and the smell of the old butts is god-awful.
So this is where I came from. These things, along with my once youthful rebelliousness, have cemented cigarettes into my life. But for 40 years I have been responsible. It is time for a change. I either get rid of the smokes, or I start getting very sick very soon. In my next few installments, I’ll chronicle my progress and the path I’ve chosen. My point will not be to convince you to quit. It will be to inform. You can watch and see if you want to go with me. You may choose to come along or not with my best wishes.
The connection between my subject and travel is simply this: I want to travel without cigarettes. With the TSA and their badgering about cigarette lighters, smoking restrictions everywhere and a desire to sit in a nice restaurant with my wife and not walk outside to smoke, smoking while traveling has become a project in itself.
Matt Jordan is a travel writer living in Thornburg, Virginia.