Sometimes, I remember what my real purpose is in this world. It is to defy conventional thinking, standards and norms at all costs. I don’t trust in authority or people who think they know. In my estimation, a belief I’ve held since long before I ever knew I held beliefs, ‘experts’ exist only to be mocked and lampooned for thinking that I want to clap along with them or parade around in one of their approved sets of padding and proper helmet.. It isn’t, of course, the case that I’ve any brilliance to compensate for such a vacuum. I don’t. I make shit up, figure it out on the fly. I like that. That is the point of life – my life, anyway. I find a way. I may not have the best solutions or the best answers, but they are mine. Genuine artifacts of my life, which I don’t doubt once discovered. I forget this sometimes, and get swept up thinking that I should pay attention to the manner in which others conduct their own lives, wade through their own version of existence. I get lost there, trying to pay attention, make sense of it, trying to understand it, trying to conform to it. I never asked to be this way, yet I am. I’m not sure I can string together what that has to do with the following information, but I’m likely to try anyway…
I smoke cigarettes. To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only person in my close or extended family who does anymore or ever will… I guess that’s not such a strange thing – other than the fact that outside of a cigar, I’ve never smoked around anyone in my family, aside from my soon to be ex-wife, and I wonder if they know that I do. I’ve always been, pretty much a ‘closet smoker’ around them. They’re all very vocal about the displeasure and pointlessness they see in smoking – especially cigarettes. They’re all very rational, and logical in their approach to life and longevity. I’m not so much. As a result, I’ve always happily obliged in simply not letting them know how much I enjoy it, or that I do at all.
If I was capable of common sense, the fact that my mother died young of cancer should have me know better. I’m not. The way I’ve looked at it is, I never really imagined living past the age of 35. I’ve spent the last 11 years waiting for some shit lightening bolt to hit me. Perhaps, it’s the hallmark of losing a parent at an early age which, as much as I don’t want to admit it, only adds to altering the outlook one has on life. You live with no concept of gracefully growing old, or how to handle the prospect of many possible tomorrows. Not in one of those creepy Botox/I’m going to dye my hair a certain color sort of ways (frankly, I’m proud of my gray hair and wrinkles…), more that you find yourself living, at least emotionally, in the second grade, forever. Mostly because it was the last moment in time I ever remember feeling totally complete, or content or carefree.
They’re going to find out – I’m going to Europe with them (all of them!) for a 2 week trip next year. I have no intention of stopping. I can’t imagine being in Paris again, sitting at a cafe and not smoking. I can’t imagine going a day without smoking, really. It’s something I’ve just grown to love over the years. It isn’t that I couldn’t – I just don’t want to.
I’ve gotten over hiding it from others – most people who know me, know I smoke. The ones closest know that I’m, likely, the most enthusiastic smoker they’ll ever met. I can’t imagine ever giving it up or quitting. There’s little I regret or dislike about smoking. It’s a wonderful, beautiful pastime. A perfect pleasure that satiates me on so many levels; visually, olfactory, physically… It makes all other parts of life, almost, somewhat manageable, if not slightly silly and ludicrous… If there’s anything I dislike about smoking it’s this; it’s made me into a liar about it. It’s been a shameful sort of game really, being a ‘closet smoker’. A curiosity of seeing how long you can keep it up, sort of like a serial killer. I don’t know if I’ve gotten that good at the game, or if it’s like wearing toupee – a thing no one talks about or acknowledges for the sake of avoiding the elephant in the room.
My father smoked a pipe for a brief period when I was younger but he quit about the time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The only other people I knew of in my family who smoked was my grandfather, “Papa”, and my aunt Rose, the only other left hander in the family who eventually taught me to tie my shoes. Looking back, they were the only people in my family I ever really ‘got’ or who ever really seemed to understand me. Maybe they just intrigued the hell out of me and I wanted to be around them almost exclusively…
Growing up, I cant remember a moment in my life where I wasn’t completely smitten with the smell of cigarettes, observing the little rituals of lighting one up, watching the smoke curl off the lit end of one. I can’t remember a moment where it didn’t seem like the whole point – the one consolation prize – of being an adult. Speaking from experience, I can honestly say, I think it is. I knew I would smoke at the first possible chance I could get… I was the kid who, left unattended, would rifle through any ashtray nearby and begin putting spent cigarette butts in my mouth – even as a toddler.
I smoked my first cigarette in Batavia, Illinois in 1975 – a mere stones throw away from the West entry of Fermilab. I was eight years old, about to enter third grade. It was compliments of my girlfriend at the time – a sandy-brown haired girl named Hillary, who had freckles and was the same age. I’ve long since lost contact, but I’ll never forget her. She stole a couple of Alpine (menthols) from her parents and we sat atop a giant mound of dirt, two doors away from mine, behind a house being constructed.
I never coughed. I absolutely loved it immediately. It was better than I could have possibly imagined. I didn’t smoke for a number of years after that, though I never put it out of my mind. It was never a matter of if I’d do it again, merely when.
My next experiences were probably in the 7th grade, when through force of circumstance, I had to begin funding my existence on this planet. My mother was about a third of her way down her path of dying from breast cancer (a never smoker as far as I know), and my father was self employed. My first job was a paper route. I loved it, in spite of waking up at such an early hour. I found that the earlier I woke to deliver the papers, the more potential there was for going back to bed for a half hour before school. I liked the routine… I also noticed, after a while, that certain cars would leave windows open, doors unlocked, a pack of cigarettes on the dashboard free for the taking. I sometimes obliged, my first and only act of thievery. I wandered around the streets of suburbia, pondering the meaning of life like no 12 year old should ever have to, watching the sun almost begin to rise over the horizon, smoking pilfered cigarettes… It was beautiful to me. It’s no wonder I dreamt of becoming a philosophy major.
It was never a ‘cool’ thing to me. I never did it from peer pressure. I never did it to fit in with any group, I never felt ‘hooked’ and incapable of leaving it. It was and never has been that to me. It was, and still is, just sort of amazingly blissful. Utterly comforting. Beyond lovely. The perfect companion to thinking and dreaming and wishing. I wish I could describe the allure. I wish I could find anyone else on the planet who understands that, but in this day and age, I think I never will…
At the same moment, pretty much, I fell into the ‘jock’ crowd – played football, wrestled – no one I knew in my peer group smoked, and would have probably been horrified to ever know that I did or that I liked it. I can’t remember ever smoking during my high school years. Once I began college, though, the fractured life of working a job many miles away and living in a fraternity with absolutely no relevance to me, I found cigarettes all over again. I would always take the long way to and from work, drive around the lake, listening to music, smoking (mostly) Camels, not wanting to ever get to where I was supposed to be going. Maybe it was then, I realized exactly how much I just liked the interim more than anything – realizing it’s always been the only place I’ve ever really lived or found the most contentment.
I transferred to another college and eventually got into architecture school. In a short while, I fell into the routine of wandering off again, living on the fringe between worlds. It wasn’t studio or with professors that anything happened for me on projects, never in groups… I found myself working, sorting out ideas, under a row of poplar trees on the border between the mobile home park I lived in and a wheat field, smoking cigarettes, staring at the stars in the late hours of the night and early morning… It felt like life should be, the one place on earth I felt a sense of being complete…
I only ever dabbled with cigarettes until I was about 35… It was a 2 week experiment, still going on to this day; I quit going to the gym and started cooking and realized the allure of smoking was a part of me that was never going to go away. I started smoking for ‘real’ about that time. I suppose that’s strange too – to ‘start’ so late – to realize that it was something I just wanted to do, was a part of who I am, and how I will always see myself, and that I’d rather be around other people who smoke too…
I sometimes think it’s strange and silly what the world has become – life, culture, the ability to freely be who you are, partake in the things that please you and make you complete, to realize that these days they all come with a label, a scarlet letter, often. It puzzles me that cigarettes have become such a tool of polarity and manipulation. Honestly, I love smoking. I think there’s such beauty in enjoying something so much. It’s a sin to deny oneself of things that make you happy.
Of course, you can’t just say that anymore. You can’t admit that the sight of a woman smoking a cigarette, enjoying it, is sexy and beautiful and hypnotic. You can’t admit you find any pleasure in it whatsoever. As long as you’re an apologetic ‘addict’ you can smoke – if you like it – love it, even – you’re an outcast… That is, of course, because it’s risky and kills. I’ve come to think that all of that is a lie too. While it may not be overtly good for you physically (though actually, it is, in preventing Parkinsons, Alzheimers, IBS, increasing cognitive functioning, Rheumatoid Arthritis/Inflammation, alleviating allergies, etc…), most of the rhetoric about the dangers of smoking is little more than exaggerated lies. Does smoking ’cause’ lung cancer (or any cancer)? No. Not in a way that throwing a match into a puddle of gasoline ’causes’ a fireball to erupt. Most people who smoke never get lung cancer. Smoking doesn’t kill 400,000 people a year in the US. There’s never been a death solely attributed to smoking. The 400,000 number is one generated by a computer, SAMMEC, which is loaded with arbitrary data and spits out some alarming number. Does second hand smoke kill? No. There’s never been a single study which shows any correlation with exposure to second hand smoke and a risk of any disease. It’s all health driven propaganda. Are people allergic to cigarette smoke? No. There’s never been a single case of an anaphylactic reaction to smoking, ever. Maybe some people don’t like it – that’s fine. Other people love it and aren’t about to stop. I’m one of them.
Maybe it’s at the exact moment when the world turns and the ‘experts’ all take on some fetishistic zeal in claiming that something you enjoy is the scourge of all humanity once too often that you stand up and call bullshit. Because it’s easy to be polite – too polite – and get caught up thinking maybe it’s OK to give in a little. I think lately, I’ve given in too much, been too polite, sought to please others for too long. I’m tired of it, and I’m not going to play along so nice anymore.
As Kurt Cobain said, ‘I’d rather be hated for who I am, instead of loved for something I’m not’. You can be anything you want, and none of it matters or carries a label, or fully defines you. Other people may try to pin that all on you, but really, it’s their own weakness, not yours. Eat. Drink. Smoke. Live.