Saturday, February 10, 2007

My last pack of cigarettes

I dreamt about cigarettes last night. Dunhill reds. I could feel that box in my hand…

I started messing around with cigarettes in October 2005, for a very stupid reason. I wanted to write a scene in a script that took place in a hookah bar. Hookah bars are kind of hip in L.A. … or used to be. I intended to go to a hookah bar and smoke some, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself by coughing, the way I’ve done in the past when handed a joint.

So I bought a pack of Marlboros to break in my virgin lungs.

Guess what? I never did go to that hookah bar, but started smoking four or five cigs a day. Which eventually got up to eight or nine a day.

I enjoyed it.

And what I told myself was: Hey, if you start messing around with it at 44 years old, how strung-out can you possibly get? The danger is when you start in your teens, and smoke for like 20 or 30 years. Those people are stone-cold drug addicts!

Indeed, several months ago I caught the flu bug; it laid me out for a week. The first week I’d gone without smoking since I took it up. And, gee, I wasn’t climbing the walls for a cigarette! So I thought: Hey, if it’s this easy to stop, it’s not really a problem.

So I strolled over to the Armenian liquor store and bought another pack of Dunhill reds.

(Yeah, I used to think I was intelligent.)

I had also told myself: Hey, I’ll mess around with it for a year, then quit. How much damage can it do in a year? People don’t sprout tumors after smoking for a year, right? They don’t keel over from a stroke after a year. It takes decades to kill yourself with cigarettes.

Maybe. But a year turned into 16 months… and I wasn’t wanting to lay those bad boys down.

Here’s the ridiculous part: I’m on high-blood-pressure medicine already. I’m a good 50 pounds overweight.

And I had cancer in college. Hodgkin’s disease.

Only if I had a death wish should I be smoking. And I’ve got a lot to live for. You can’t blog when you’re dead. Or play cards either.

So the time has come to quit. Mainly because I’ve been dodging my doctor for the past year, and my prescription refills are about to run out, so I need to make an appointment. This woman gives me enough shit about my weight, I don’t need her to know that I’ve been puffing. If she can figure it out from my urine or bloodwork, God bless her. I’ll deal with it then.

Anyway, I finished my last pack of cigarettes on Tuesday (February 6). I read somewhere that three days is all it takes to get the nicotine out of your system. So I’m cool. I even went to the Commerce Casino this morning to play cards. Didn’t even come close to buying a pack of smokes, and they sell my all-time favorites: Nat Sherman’s Cigarettellos. (Swear to God, those things are like chocolate-coated crack!)

It’s not the chemical addiction I’m worried about, it’s the habitual thing. Your arm gets used to making that motion. I had also worked smoking into the rhythm of certain activities. While playing poker, it’s often good to step away from the table for 10 minutes. Perfect amount of time for a cigarette.

Writing a script, same thing. I’d step away from the computer, go and pace for a while on my back porch, get a nice hit of nicotine. Then back to work.

I liked certain social aspects of smoking. When a stranger asks for a light, or even bums a cigarette, it’s an occasion for a brief, civil interaction in this otherwise cold, hustle-bustle world.

But I vividly remember how it felt the first time I smoked in a dream. This occurred within four or five months of taking it up. Oh shit. I’m smoking in my dreams now! It’s like I had crossed some psychological boundary.

Well, last night I dreamed about not smoking. I bought the Dunhill reds, but I didn’t have any matches or a lighter. The details are escaping me now, but I do remember saying: “Just because I bought ’em doesn’t mean I’m gonna smoke ’em.” (Wonder who I was trying to sell that line of bullshit to?)

I eventually found a book of matches in the dream. For some reason, it was a huge book of matches. But I woke up before lighting a cigarette.

I won’t lie; just blogging about it makes me want one. But I ain’t strung out. And I’m not climbing the walls. I'm cool.


S.O.L. said...

Good luck with this, UMB. I'm rooting for you. And, seriously, if S.O.L.'s rooting for you to stay off the smokes, that's saying something, right?

SJ said...

I'm glad I never smoked when it was 'cool' among all the high school students. I am unhealthy enough as it is...I don't need another bad habit.

I don't drink either, but that's mostly due to religious reasons.

Undercover Black Man said...

If only they didn't destroy the body... cigarettes would be nature's perfect food.

susie said...

Ah I am so with you on the whole ritual of smoking being the addiction as opposed to the nicotine. I still think about it after a martini or 2, but since Vodka and I broke up there's little chance of it happening anymore.

Knowing you as I do you must find something else that strikes your fancy and then ciggies will be a mere memory.

Jim Teacher said...

I followed a similar trajectory when I took up smoking (for sport) in 2001. Figured I'd make up for lost time by smoking sans filter: Lucky Strikes, Pall Mall, and Dannemann Cigarillos (Brazil-style; it's like smoking a jungle).

I also didn't have much of a hard time quitting, but every now and again, you just get that feeling...

Undercover Black Man said...

Susie wrote: "Knowing you as I do you must find something else that strikes your fancy and then ciggies will be a mere memory."

Suze, you're soaking in it. Blogging is my new addiction. I haven't dreamed about it yet, but I expect to.

Jim wrote: "... and Dannemann Cigarillos (Brazil-style; it's like smoking a jungle)."

Wow... sounds like fun! Glad to hear you could lay 'em down, though.

dez said...

Good luck, UBM! My dad quit smoking cold turkey several years ago after having smoked for a good 30+ years. He gained 15 lbs. (he called it his "basketball"), but eventually lost the weight, too. And he doesn't even miss it (and neither do I since the smoke aggravated my allergies) :-)

Undercover Black Man said...

Dez, thanks for the good wishes.

My dad, too, had been a heavy smoker in his youth... and we're talking a long time ago, before surgeon general's warnings, before filters even. He quit cold turkey, like your dad... I think he'd developed a cough, and I know he resented being gripped by the habit.

All this happened before I was even born. He was 50 when he spawned me, and he lived to the age of 85... which would've been impossible had he kept smoking.