I most recently quit smoking the day before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. As with the secular New Year, many a resolution is made for the Jewish New Year – to lose weight, eat better, to pray with more kavanah (concentration / focus), or even to take a class in improvisational comedy. My personal resolution was that I really was going to quit smoking this time.
Being a Quitter
The key phrase in the first sentence, “most recently,” is a good indicator that this is not the first time that I have attempted to quit smoking. Embarassingly, I can’t remember how many times I have tried to quit. The number of cigarettes that I have declared to be “the last cigarette I will ever smoke” is great, possibly numbering over half a pack. The sad thing about this is that I’m fully cogniscant of the dangers that smoking brings with it. I’m well aware that millions of Americans have lost their lives to lung cancer, Andy Kaufman being but one of them. I have had members of my family succumb to this as well.
The father of the building owner whose building housed the apartment I recently stayed in for a short spell of time suffered immensely because of his smoking habit – as he so gently told me one day last summer when he saw me smoking on the stoop. To think that I thought he wanted to make lighthearted conversation! In all seriousness, though, it could be worth looking at the history of my smoking to get some idea of why it keeps on coming back, as it were. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t think about wanting to have a cigarette at least three or four times during the day.
The Family Background
My grandmother told me that when she was in her early twenties, the company that she worked with had board meetings, at which it was the habit of most people to smoke while talking about business. Indeed, today’s various smoking bans are a far cry from those days, when one could smoke just about anywhere one wanted to. Not that it’s exactly an authoritative guide to the early 40’s, but witness in Annie Hall, where young Alvy Singer is at the doctor’s office, and he is smoking. The doctor in Forrest Gump smoked, too. It wasn’t uncommon. My grandmother told me that she smoked for awhile, until she found it to be unpleasant. Then, just like one might flip a light switch, she stopped.
Next in order is my father. I have a great number of memories involving my father and smoking, chiefly because he has been a smoker for the bulk of my life. He, too, started smoking at around the same age as my grandmother, and right around the same age that I started smoking. When I was growing up, my mother would try to persuade him to quit – she was more of a social smoker, having a smoke at a party or other such gathering of friends. (As a side note, that was the source of some upset as a child as well – it bothered me that either of my parents smoked at various points in my life.) I remember a series of homemade greeting cards that I made my father to attempt to convince him to quit. How funny that I would later be the one smoking as well. Unfortunately, the cards didn’t prove to be all too effective.
Hunter S. Thompson
I remember when I was in high school, at The Peddie School, I took a course in photography the same year that I was good friends with a boy of my year named Ravi Murugesan. I have absolutely no idea where he is now though I would love to find him somehow as he was quite supportive despite my bizarre personality. I was also enormously enamored of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and his writing – so much so that I wrote an eight page paper for my history class that year about him. I asked my photography teacher if she thought that there would be any possible problem with me taking a self-portrait with me in a pose similar to one that was on the cover of The Great Shark Hunt which involved him holding a cigarette. There was one day when, on a whim, I went with some of my schoolmates and tried a cigarette. There were other times when I would hang out with Ravi after I graduated and smoked with him. It wasn’t so much of a choice as it was him putting it in my hand and telling me to smoke it, more or less. I have a difficult time saying no sometimes. I hate to disappoint people.
Back to Thompson – he apparently started smoking while a sophomore in high school. While I didn’t exactly really start at that age, it probably had a strong impact on me. I believe that this could be one of a number of reasons why I associate smoking with intellectual discourse. The other major reason for that, of course, relates to the fact that my father and I would often have lengthy conversations while he was smoking.
While in the early stages of the spring semester of my sophomore year, the first significant relationship that I was in came to a screeching halt (seemingly “out of nowhere” as it were) and I fell into a significant spell of sadness. I largely did not recognize this, and chose to pretend that everything was okay with me. One of the ways that I coped with having been left was to decide that life officially ended around the age of fifty, and so it was okay to smoke and drink until then, and everything else was fine after that. I don’t quite know where I would come up with such an irrational idea. I ascribed to it, though, and so I started smoking regularly, starting with a pack of Time brand cigarettes (Israeli brand – not related to the magazine) and going with such brands as Camel, Kamel, Dunhill (The cigarette of choice of Dr. Thompson) and of course, Nat Sherman. The latter costing $5 per pack in 1997 when a pack of Camels cost less than a dollar and change. That summer – 1997 – it got worse, this depression of mine. I was put on academic probation because I failed a few of my courses, mostly owing to this depression. I regularly would get together with a group of friends and smoke so heavily that I would regularly have on me two packs of cigarettes, in case one would be finished.
This was, more or less, the root of my serious smoking habit. On and off since then, I have smoked – though thankfully it is off now. Off I hope for it to remain, though it is a challenge I face every single day. Tonight, for example, I’m going with my girlfriend to a casino in Yakima, Washington, where there will indubitably be a lot of smoking. I initially asked her if smoking in a casino counted as smoking and after some light chuckling, she sternly told me that it was just as bad as smoking outside of a casino. One can tell that she cares for my welfare thusly. As a side note, the weather is quite peculiar here. It seems to rain in bursts of about thirty-six milliseconds. I’m not sure exactly what methods or techniques I can use to have this strong daily craving for a cigarette to go away – perhaps you, the reader, can suggest something?