Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I wrote this in the early part of 2006, so anywhere I say "34 years", make it "40 years". I linked to its original posting in the body of my Monday piece, but it occurs to me now - from re-reading the relative lack of comments on this piece during its 2006 incarnation - that many (perhaps most) of you have never seen it before. It is excellent background, given my recent travails concerning smoking, and I consider it one of my more well-written pieces, period, so you'll probably find it entertaining as a stand-alone.

Also, I'm still incapable of concentrating for any appreciable length of time without having had a cigarette, and that limits my ability to write anything both new and good.

(New? Not a problem. Good? Problem.)

So, without any further ado - since you adon't need any of that - see what I mean about 'good'? - here's...


My Mother says that since I started doing this blog she's found out things concerning me that she never knew before, with the implication being that she didn't want to know them. Uh, Mom? Turn back now!


I've been a cigarette smoker for 34 years. That's a long time. 34 years. I should probably be dead by now, huh?

I smoke about a pack a day, usually Kools. If Kools aren't available, I'll take any menthol. I sometimes think I might be as hooked on menthol as I am on nicotine. The odd times when I've bought packs of non-menthol smokes, I find myself smoking more. It's as though my body is saying, "Hey! Where's that minty stuff that makes me breathe easier? Smoke another one and get me some, NOW!"

What has smoking done for me? I almost never go more than 5 minutes without coughing. I hack up lovely greenish-brown phlegm after any sort of exertion. I can't run more than the distance between home and first base without feeling as though I'm going to pop a lung. My right hand smells. My breath probably stinks. I'm sure my clothes aren't springtime fresh. My bedroom smells like a particularly vile ashtray - even I can smell it, after I've been out of it for a couple of days. I've probably spent more than $35,000 on cigarettes; the sort of money that could have bought a very nice house, at the time I started. I have a continually nagging worry about some sort of disease eating away the tools of my livelihood - my tongue, my throat, my lungs. I know I'm not doing my heart any favors and, considering the history of heart disease in my family, I could just as easily be dropping dead in the middle of this sentence as completing it. When I wake up, I have to have a cigarette before I feel normal. I spend extra hours out in the snow in winter and the broiling heat in summer because I can't smoke indoors where I work. My teeth are at least a couple of shades darker than they should be - even my implants. And, when I get down to two or three left in a pack, I plan my itinerary around getting to a store to buy more.

Other than that, it's been good for me and I really enjoy it.


I had my first cigarette when I was 14. It wasn't a Kool; it was a Marlboro.

I had been playing hockey on the Neponset River in Dorchester, Massachusetts, with a bunch of my friends. The game actually took place on a small inlet of still water off to the side of the main body of the river. We called it "the lagoon", and I guess that's what it was. It was surrounded by grass, dirts and reeds on three sides and a railroad bridge, under which the river itself flowed, on the fourth. You gained access to the lagoon by following some train tracks from Central Avenue, going as far as the beginning of the railroad bridge, and then climbing down the bank. The lagoon froze solid much sooner than the river itself ever did.

Except, this time, it hadn't quite frozen solid enough to completely handle the weight of eight teenage boys in skates. I was playing goal. After we had been on the ice for about three minutes, there was a rush towards my end. As the teams battled for the puck in front of my net (that is, the two rocks I had set up on the ice and between which I was standing) there was an ominous creaking sound. Anyone familiar with frozen ponds or rivers knows that sound and knows that it isn't good. We all looked at each other with alarm in our eyes and then started scrambling for shore, but the ice gave way and we took a dip into the frigid water beneath the ice.

Everybody made it to shore safely, none the worse for wear aside from being sopping wet. I was soaked from the waist down, but had been close enough to the riverbank to gain shore, among the reeds and dirt, without going deeper than my waist. It was the same for everyone else except the other goalie. Being at the far end of the ice, he had gone in up to his chin.

After we all caught our breath, we took off our skates and exchanged them for the boots we had left on the bank. We walked back up the railroad tracks, wondering what we were going to tell our parents. Most of us were under orders to NOT skate on the river. Looking back, this seems like a reasonable enough request for parents to make of their kids - don't drown yourself - but to us it seemed silly. We knew enough to not skate on the actual river, for goodness' sakes, unless the temps had been below freezing for a month solid. Anyway, the lagoon was shallow enough that, even if we fell in, we wouldn't be in any real danger - so long as we weren't right out at the edge where the current might sweep us under the railroad bridge, down the river to the falls, where we would go flying over, dropping 20 feet onto the rocks and discarded shopping carts in the water and getting mangled beyond all recognition.

Still, here we were, all wet. We were all facing at least a tongue-lashing, if not an outright beating for those of us with less-enlightened parents than myself. We had to figure out some way to get into our houses without our folks finding out how dopey we were. We figured the best way to do this was to stay out until our clothes dried and then go home.

The problem, of course, is that wet clothes do not dry when you're outside on a freezing day. What they do is freeze. We were now not only in peril for our lives (sort of) but in extreme discomfort. Our pants, our socks, our underwear were all starting to become stiff and causing us no small discomfort. This was especially true in some places that teenage boys really don't want discomfort of that sort, having not had the opportunity to use the affected equipment to full advantage yet. I, personally, had visions of my stuff freezing and breaking off.

(Even so, I was still more concerned with what my parents would say. I imagined myself standing in front of them, a tragically underused pink popsicle in my hands, and my father telling me, "Well, let that be a lesson to you! The next time you've got a dick, you'll think twice before disobeying us and skating on the river!")

At the other end of the railroad tracks, back by the Central Avenue station, was the Hendrie's Ice Cream factory. One of us remembered that there were these huge industrial exhaust fans that blew out from the factory and he got the idea that maybe we could sit in front of these fans and actually have a shot at drying off. This sounded reasonable. Just about anything, aside from facing our parents or having our nuts freeze, would have sounded reasonable just then. So, we headed for Hendrie's.

Thing was, the fans blew out from the second floor of the factory. In front of the fans there was a ledge where we could sit. However, to get to the ledge, we had to climb onto the roof of the station, make our way over to the edge, and then hop onto the ledge. What the hell. We were already wet, freezing, facing the prospect of frostbitten genitals, and we had parents waiting for us at home who might or might not lop off our heads, so what was the additional risk of a broken neck to that? Luckily, it was a Sunday afternoon in Massachusetts during a time when the blue laws were still almost wholly in effect. There was almost no traffic on Central Avenue and nobody at all in the station. We hopped up onto a couple of newspaper boxes and from there boosted ourselves up on top of the station. From there, we clambered across the roof and hopped onto the ledge in front of the fans.

The fans weren't blowing particularly warm air, but it was warmer than we were so it was better than nothing. We didn't give any thought to what sort of noxious gases the fans might be expelling. It was an ice cream factory. What could be unhealthy for you there? We sat, shivering and miserable, and I didn't know if I was actually getting drier or if I was just losing the feeling in my extremities.

After we had been there for about an hour, and as the sun was beginning to set - bringing the temperature down a bit more as it did - Ricky Feeley pulled a pack of Marlboros from the inner pocket of his coat. He had taken his coat off prior to the game, leaving it on the riverbank with his boots, so it wasn't wet at all. He took a cigarette out of the pack and, with a pack of matches advertising the exciting possibility of earning your high school diploma at home and never having to attend school again, he lit it.

This was something new and astonishing. We stared at him with unbridled admiration. Until now, none of us had ever seen anyone but our parents smoke. His stock continued to rise as he blew out huge white clouds, occasionally making a ring appear. He appeared contented beyond belief. The rest of us were now not only cold and wet, but envious as well.

To Ricky's everlasting credit, he saw our looks and decided to share his joy. He took out the pack again and extracted seven more cigarettes, handing one to each of us. One or two of us were hesitant, but he assuaged any fears we had by explaining that it would make us warmer. Well, this made sense! It was something that was on fire, after all, and if we sucked it into our bodies, we'd have to get warmer, right? So, we all passed around the educational matches and lit up.

Of course, none of us knew the actual mechanics involved in really smoking, except for Ricky, so we puffed a bit of smoke into our mouths and blew it out, the smoke never reaching our lungs. Ricky saw this and got mad, explaining that we were wasting his cigarettes by not getting the full advantage of the experience. He showed us how to inhale the smoke, saying that you pulled the smoke into your mouth and then, before blowing it out, you inhaled sharply, propelling the smoke down into your lungs. Then, you blew it out of your mouth - or your nose, if you were really cool and which he demonstrated.

We all tried this. And we all hacked our heads off. Looking back, it's amazing to me how anyone ever gets hooked on these things. You have to make a concerted effort to poison yourself; it doesn't come naturally at all. We coughed, and our eyes teared up, and if we were getting warmer it wasn't without the added excitement of feeling as though we were going to upchuck, but we soldiered on, learning the intricacies of such things as French inhales and generally feeling very sophisticated and grown up, even though we were sitting on a second-story ledge in wet clothes avoiding our parents.

As it turned out, we never completely dried off, but we got dry enough to not drip all over our floors and carpets when we finally went home, so we avoided whatever punishment we so richly deserved. An added benefit of sitting in front of the fans, of course, was that we also didn't stink of smoke when we went home, otherwise we would have no doubt received a punishment even more severe than that we would have gotten for falling in the river.

As I lay in a warm bed that night, a good dinner digesting in my belly and my folks watching Mission: Impossible downstairs, I made plans to acquire my very own pack of smokes the next day. And, here I am 34 years later, not one hell of a lot smarter than I was then. The only difference is that I now smoke menthol cigarettes.

I've come a long way, baby.


Update for September, 2010 - I'm still averaging around 6 cigarettes a day since last Thursday. I've been able to lay off of them, while at work, much more so than I initially thought I might. And thanks for all of the prayers, encouragement, well-wishes, advice, and other heartfelt missives. I've truly appreciated each and every one.

Soon, with more better stuff, I hope.


Julie said...

keep up the good work - you can do this!

Anonymous said...

Down to 6 a day from a whole pack? Kudos to you - keep it up eventually you'll be able to cut down the 6 too.

Maggie May said...

Nicotine patches? Chewing sweets? Taking up interesting new hobbies?
I hope it gets easier.
I expect your mum is proud of you!
Maggie X

Nuts in May

slommler said...

I remember those days of having my first cigarettes. Amazing! You are do we ever think it is cool to smoke?? Great story!

Mushy said...

The Kool pack brought it all back...those were the first I ever smoked.

You got to quit just got to!

Daryl said...

one hour at a time ...

Hilary said...

I remember buying menthol cigarettes when I had a cold.. as if they were easier on the lungs than the regular brands.

Very amusing tale.. your poor Mom!

Be strong, my friend.. you can do it. :)

Craig said...

So, in the four years from 2006 until now, you've squeezed in six more years of smoking? ;)

And I see now that I just wasn't persistent enough - if I'd just been more stubborn to persevere thru the choking and hacking, I might be a smoker today. Now you tell me. . .

Jeni said...

Well, you're doing a hell of a lot better than I am, Jim. I made it a little over 18 hours from 6 p.m. Sunday night till shortly after noon on Monday without ANY nicotine. Since then, well let's not go there right now. Gonna have to reprogram the old girl and start all over -again. And probably again after that, and well, you get the picture. But, one of these days, we'll each be nicotine free -or dead. Hmmmm. Hell of an alternative there isn't it?

Crazed Nitwit said...

My dearest Suldog, I work in a place where I see the consequences of people who have smoked for many years. In love I say you do not want to be like them.

Hugs and love.


Crazed Nitwit said...

Last post was meant to be a kinda pep talk like Vince Lombardi used to give. Snickers.

Jim said...

Craig (and other math majors) -

2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and... uh... well, see, it was WINTER then, and it's FALL (almost) now, so it's like near to another year and stuff???

Anonymous said...

"Other than that, it's been good for me and I really enjoy it."

I can't tell you how much this made me laugh (in a sad sorta way).

And what a story! Makes me glad we don't live in a cold place, so my boys will never be tempted, right?

Yeah, right.


Jinksy said...

Keep up the good work - think how rich you will be soon!

Teacher's Pet said...

Continue your progress with cutting down and then cutting them out. You see you have a large number of people who are pulling for you....truly.

Ananda girl said...

Good for you Jim! I think about you off and on all day and hope it gets easier soon. :-)

Pam said...

Way to go! Keep up the good progress, Jim!

Buck said...

The post was new to me and a good'un, too!

I agree with ya about the persistence required to begin smoking and think everyone else who smokes does, too. Hang in there.

Karen said...

Good job :)

Kathryn Magendie said...

I remember smoking Kools when I was a teenager - thank you thank you to whatever made me decide not to become a smoker - smoked here and there from teen until I was 20, then put them down ...for good.

But you know, I still dream about it every now and then! Weird - I'll dream I'm smoking and enjoying it and feeling really stupid for doing it but ... ..huhn.

My brother quit after about 30 years of smoking - dying a couple times in the emergency room of a heart attack did it for him . . .ahem.

YOU ARE STRONG! I BELIEVE IN YOU ..WHOOP WHOOOP *cheerleading cheer here*

i beati said...

Ice skating memories- I skated in the country on any patch of ice river, pond, puddle- loved it - fell in love on the ice

lime said...

i'm sitting here freezing my ass off just thinking about those wet clothes in the dead of winter....what a tale! keep up the weaning. it's great that you've cut down so much. keep going and you'll get off them completely.

btw, i've tagged you, not for an award, for a meme.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Jim, it doesn't much matter what you write do it all brilliantly...You have such a strong voice, and easy-to-read style. I feel I am there with you! I love to read your writing!!! So glad to be back!!! Hugs, Janine

Michelle H. said...

Read this before. An exciting tale and always a wonderful post, MLGF!

Mariann Simms said...

I think, since I've been reading you (since the it's not been long) this is by far the best piece. Not to say you don't have others which are brilliant as well...but walking out the whole length of the frozen lake in Jersey where I lived as a kid...and then also smoking my first Marlboro when I was about your age...well, it brought back memories. And I felt as though I was up there on the ledge with you - I went on your adventure with you guys...through your eyes.

For that, I thank you.

And, I smoked Kools for a couple months until some rumour went around that they had fiberglass in their filters. I think it was probably the Marlboro people who started that. ;)

I quit in the middle of the day, cold turkey, after about 10 or so years...and my father quit after about 50 years (because the doctor told him he had to) I have every faith in you - that you can do it.

Keep up the good work...and the good writing as well.

Land of shimp said...

Jim, did you ever read the short story by Stephen King The Body? The movie Stand By Me was based on it. This piece reminded me of it a great deal, and I do consider that a compliment. I don't read much King, in fact, I haven't read anything he's written in the last twenty years but that's partially because having read a couple of things by him that were really well done, his other stuff looked crap in comparison.

Anyway, long way of say, what a great tale. I love the imagery conjured with tale of the giant fans, blow god-knows-what on you at the ice cream factory.

I think going from twenty a day to six a day is something of which to be proud. Hang in there, keep trying! Really, consider trying that "no more smoking in the house" thing because as winter creeps ever closer, standing in snowbanks is really unappealing on a regular basis.

I'm pulling for you. You can do this. When you do? Just think what a god of Softball you shall be! Pitchers will tremble. Basemen will cast an eye skyward, asking for divine intervention to save them, save them please! And you, fleet of foot, shall round the bases with so little effort only the surprise of that will leave you breathless :-)

Mariann Simms said...

I was thinking the same thing LOS...the exact thing. :)

Uncle Skip, said...

I think, sir, you could give Jean Shepherd a good run.
It's probably a good thing my brother and I were raised in a much more temperate climate. We probably wouldn't have survived the first winter.
We learned to smoke in a tree house.

Tim King said...

Your experience with getting off cigarettes, reminds me a little of my current experiences getting off caffeine. I decided to cut back on coffee at the suggestion of my father-in-law, in order to deal with the awful headaches I suffer from. He completely cut out caffeine in order to find relief from his headaches, and it worked. As it is, I might have a cup in the morning, or a cup or two of tea, but mostly I'm drinking decaf (the high-quality stuff, not the cheap crappy decaf), for the flavor that I still love. I've also been keeping track of the headaches, and they seem to be progressively less frequent and less severe. -TimK

Shrinky said...

That's one hell of a tale of how you came by your first hit of nicotine, and confirms my belief that the less parents know of what their off-spring are REALLY getting up to, is probably just as well (nervous twitch)..

You seem to be doing fine, my friend, I knew you were serious about this quitting lark, and you're proving me right!

Anonymous said...

Always love to read your writing. I will continue sending good thoughts your way.

gayle said...

I really do understand what you are going through trying to quit!! It is so Very Hard!!

Joy Palakkal said...

With All Best Wishes...

Ericka said...

yay! congratulations on the reduction!

TechnoBabe said...

This is extremely tough. People I know say it was harder to quit smoking regular cigarettes than to quit pot or other drugs. Hubby and I are rootin' for you to win.

Ruth and Glen said...

Oh, your poor Mom! LOL. Always enjoy reading stories of the adventures of your youth.