Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Smokey McSmoker

"When did you quit smoking?"

It was said in a tone that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Accusatory ? Condescending ? Definitely not "YAY YOU FOR QUITTING !" - no no, that was definitely not the tone of this comment.

What was this all about ? For the record, I haven't been a "smoker" in a long, long time - and by "smoker" I mean someone that purchases cigarettes and smokes on a regular basis. That is not me. It used to be me, absolutely.

(This is where my mom should stop reading.)

I have no idea why I started, but I remember when. I found a forgotten pack of my dad's cigarettes in the pocket of an old yellow rain jacket one day when I put it on to go get something outside. And I couldn't stop thinking about them. So one afternoon, I sat out on the front steps with a pack of matches and a single Merit cigarette, and lit up my world. I was 11. Maybe 12. It was autumn, with crackly brown leaves skittering along the step behing me, and a squirrel chattering (lecturing ?) in a tree branch overhead.

Oh, I loved smoking. Loved it. The smell, the taste, the warmth in my chest. No coughing - I was a natural.

I would ride my bike over to a local restaurant with a pocket full of quarters, and buy cigarettes out of the machine. Camel Lights, usually. I switched to Marlboro Lights later on.

For about 10 years (10 glorious, wonderful, romantic years) I smoked. I was never addicted to nicotine, because I would stop smoking for months on end with no thought. And then I would be at a party, or a bar (because god knows I spent more time in bars BEFORE the age of 21 then after) and someone would be smoking and the next thing I knew, I was bumming a cigarette and lighter and I'd be right back in the groove, hard pack of smokes with a small lighter tucked inside and a hair elastic stretched around the box to differentiate mine from everyone else's.

I imagine that my smoking gave added years to an already mature appearance, which would be why I was able to sit in bars starting at the tender age of 12 without raising an eyebrow. That, and I drank like a fish with no noticable consequence.

I spent occasional weekends in New York City with my beloved cousin, riding subways and buses late into the night, sitting in CBGB's listening to loud music and talking to men (MEN !) with tall purple mohawks and interesting jewelry. Sipping cappuccinos at sidewalk cafes, or even better, the cafes in the basements of old brownstones, with dim lighting and italian music and FLORIO prints on the walls, and we would laugh because it was the family name and that made us feel so sophisticated to have our name emblazoned all over the walls of this uber-cool hideaway. And always, a cigarette gently held between two fingers of my right hand.

Eventually, I got bored with the smoking. The smell on all of my clothes, in my hair, my very pores were saturated with the smell of smoke, tar, tobacco.....I was developing a little callous between my second and third fingers where I seemed to always be holding a cigarette.

And then it started to get expensive, and you weren't allowed to smoke in bars or restaurants, and as I got older people didn't want me smoking in their cars or their homes and eventually it just got INCONVENIENT.

So I just stopped.

The day after my wedding, I had a lovely cigarette, lying in the sun with the smell of ripe tomatos on the vine and the blooming stargazer lilys and crashing surf all polluted by my Marlboro. And that was it.

I have, in subsequent years, purchased cigarettes now and again. But those moments happen so infrequently, with years between them, that I don't think they qualify me as a smoker.

So what up, cranky health clinic doctor ?

Apparently, I told some nurse at some check in god knows when, that I smoked occasionally at parties - and she labeled me as a smoker.

And I was. Oh, I was.

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