Title quote from Groucho Marx.
Fashion Park was our hood, but we came of age just over the cement block fence, where Holy Family Cathedral & private school could be found. Here, we learned about life and vice. The playground was for “scamming”, the rooftop for talking about sex and boys, and the grassy field for smoking GPC cigarettes. I was 13 years old, drunk off two Zimas, and I decided I’d smoke a whole pack of cigarettes so as to get a mild high. I’d have to puff fast and I’d have to smoke a bunch if I wanted that light-headed feeling that all the older kids were talking about. On these holy grounds, torn out pages from porn mags were always strewn about, and here I was, the daughter of missionaries – a heathen – "puffing the hell fume in God's clean air”. Little did I know that this occasion would mark the beginnings of a enduring and volatile lover affair with cigarettes.
Smoking urchins bode well in those day: It was never hard getting an adult to buy my cigarettes, and they were so cheap then - a mere $2.75 a pack. I could bum that money in a few minutes. Plus, I didn’t smoke much then, so a pack would last me a couple of weeks. And if I didn’t have my own cigarettes, well, I could always take drags, puffs, hits, off of others’ cigarettes. I’ve now been smoking for what seems like a lifetime; my comically long Capris – a time line – marking the different stages of my life. My memories unfurl through clouds of smoke.
I suppose I was rebelling in those days and to some extent, I still am. In Jr. High, I got caught smoking in the girls’ bathroom. Mr. Leon, the school counselor, who never, otherwise, scolded me and, in fact, always seemed to find my antics amusing, dragged me into his office, and this time he was irate. “Do you have a death wish?” I felt awful but his disapproval didn’t outweigh my desire to smoke. Did I believe in the virtue of vice even then?
In my teens, I quit smoking during my “straight-edge” phase, an ideology I had really only embraced as a means of meeting cute boys. And I may have quit for a boyfriend or two. But real conviction cannot remain steady on the shifting tides of pubescence.
During my roller derby days, my coach asked me “Do you want to be a smoker or an athlete?” I wanted both. I loved to announce my desire for a cigarette after a particularly grueling practice, hoping to intimidate my opponents. Similarly, I haughtily rode my bike from London to Paris smoking a good deal of the time. I was not a statistic. I was a smoker and more fit than most.
And were not the first flickers of love’s fire ignited on account of my smoking habit? Had I not burned several cigarette holes into the interior of my rental car and called Pete seeking his expertise, would we be together today?
Let’s get real here: The other day, I spent damn near $8.00 for my “luxury” brand Capri 120s. In 2012, all cigarette boxes will feature a heinous picture of cancerous black lungs. Smoking is frowned upon more and more, and I find myself drifting alone, further & further from the scene that I am in, just so that I can have a smoke. I am starting to feel like a leper. And then the desperation – like the frantic search for a lighter when I want to smoke while driving. Crooked fingers desperately probing every crack and crevice – the mad sweaty life-threatening search. After 31 years, I am compelled to quit smoking once and for all, and the day of reckoning is January 1.
I invite personal growth, and I expect to learn a lot about myself when I quit smoking. When I can’t retreat into the shadows to smoke, maybe I’ll find that I’m not as social as I think I am. And think of the strength I will gain when I finally engage my will-power?
It ain’t going to be easy, that’s for sure, which is why I have a plan. I’m going to start cutting down on the number of cigarettes I smoke daily, read “The Easy Way to Quit Smoking,” get hypnotized, go to more yoga classes, and cut down on driving for the first couple of weeks that I am cigarette-free. I suppose I’m telling ya’ll this because it’s been on my mind lately, and I also want to hold myself accountable.
Thanks for reading along.
Images from an art deco textiles book (I forget the name) & Life.com,