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#76 smoke out

I’ve quit smoking indoors.

I did it after reading about a new cancer study. Okay, I did it after my non-smoking girlfriend (both of whose parents came down with cancer last year) showed me the article about the new cancer study. Earlier studies said second-hand smoke could not harm non-smokers. The new study says it kills them. The simple phrase penetrated my denial. The decision was easy to make, if tough to follow. No more smoking at home. No more smoking in the studio.

Home is okay, work is a bitch. A smouldering cigarette has accompanied my every mouse move and keystroke since man first arose from the primordial slime. My addiction tells me I can’t create without it. I’ve got seven design projects going and a huge book to finish, and every sentence, every line of code, every new Photoshop layer screams, “light up.” And I don’t.

But I haven’t quit smoking. I’ve quit smoking indoors.

Every Christmas, for as long as I can remember, Santa’s brought me a sniffling, sneezing, holiday head cold and this year is no exception. Yet several times a day I throw on a jacket and descend to the windswept sidewalk for a quick, shivering fix. I feel exposed, not merely to the December wind, but to the censure of any passing bastard who chooses to feel superior because he never picked up the tobacco habit or because he once smoked and has since quit, good for him.

Quitting smoking is easier than quitting heroin. That’s the best you can say for it. I spent a week with a heroin addict who was kicking cold turkey. He trembled. He sweated through the mattress. He told me his eyelashes hurt.

In Iraq, if they don’t like you, they may apply electrodes to your nipples or genitals. That’s worse than root canal on an abscessed wisdom tooth, but neither is a picnic.

I quit smoking once. For two weeks I hated being alive. Eventually the rage abated. I gained 20 pounds and doubled my alcohol intake. Possibly the causality was reversed. Eighteen smoke-free months later, I picked up one cigarette. Bang! I was back. I still smoke the brand I picked up the day I decided I could have just one.

America is a free country. I’m free to buy cigarettes as long as I don’t smoke them in restaurants. Or pubs. Or elevators. Or airplanes. Or airports. Or subway cars. Or taxis. Or offices. Or train stations. Or hospitals. Or other people’s apartments. Or their cars. Or movie theaters while watching the actors puff away onscreen.

My home was my castle. My studio was my other castle. Now they are prisons in which I struggle not to smoke. Except that, in prison, you can still smoke.

Don’t, under any circumstances, write to me. Not even to offer a word of encouragement. Stifle your supportive impulse, lest I take a no-smoking taxi to a no-smoking airport, board a no-smoking plane, drive to your no-smoking house, and smoke your non-smoking ass. I’ve got nothing to lose, and a smoker-friendly prison cell to gain.

17 December 2002

previously: away