Smoking

I haven’t smoked in three years. I started smoking in high school –  I think I was 13 when I had my first cigarette. I wanted to be “cool,” of course. That’s why everyone starts. In high school, I hung out with the theater people – “thespians” – and we wore black, and were totally into set design, musicals and drama. When I moved to California when I was 16, I discovered Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” in the Los Gatos Public Library that summer — and morphed from a Midwest theater geek to a Beat geek. I read everything by Kerouac – all his novels, his poetry, and then when I moved to San Francisco when I was 18, I discovered all the other Beat authors. When my college friends wanted to go shopping or drinking, I was a complete lit dork, and wanted to hang out at City Lights Books instead. …

So, the smoking in college intensified. Not too much, subtle. I was a journalism major, and it seemed appropriate. I usually had a pack on me, and would step aside for a smoke. I remember when some bars would let you smoke inside — the smaller bars in San Francisco and Oakland. But after mid-2000s, they started cracking down on smoking in bars. My girlfriends and I had to step outside to smoke. Put the coaster on top of the drink as a symbol to the bartender that, yes, we would be coming back. …

I didn’t smoke that much, either. Not compared to others I’ve seen. But when I was stressed out or needed a break — and particularly when I worked on deadline in the newsroom — having that “smoke break” that 5-minute stepping outside with a co-worker was a much-needed solace, and outlet. The meditative rhythm of putting the cigarette into my mouth, and inhaling, again and again.

When I moved to Oakland, I stopped. I didn’t want my apartment to smell. I was starting fresh, I wanted to be healthy and clean. I had a pack of Marlboro Lights in my desk – and then one day, I threw them out. … That was three years ago. Last week, I bought a new pack. And a six pack of Sierra Nevada. I came home from work – turned off my phone. I went out on my patio, lit a cigarette, opened a beer, and sat down. I felt like time had slowed down. That it was the year 2000 all over again. That the past 15 years didn’t matter. That Facebook, the tech implosion, the economy “rebounding” and all the other bullshit that has been going on in the outside world could keep going on, but I wasn’t a part of any of it.

I sat down on my patio chair, put my sunglasses on, took a sip of beer, and smoked a cigarette. And when that one was done, I smoked another one. I didn’t care about anything or anyone in that moment. …

And then my head began to spin from the tobacco. I put my head back, closed my eyes, and took a break. That’s really all I needed after all – a break. I haven’t smoked another cigarette — well, not since four days ago. I know they’re bad for me. So is a lot of other stuff. I am fully aware of the dangers of smoking. Yet, I can’t throw away the rest of the cigs that I have in my kitchen drawer now. Isn’t that funny. Three years later, and I’ve got half a pack in my apartment. Let’s see how long I can make them last.

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