Friday, September 7, 2007

Item the First: Smoking (Day 110)

I should have illuminated a unique and immutable feature of this blog. You see the (Day xxx) in the title of every post? Thats how many days I have been off my 5 year long nicotine kick. At this point I am so far beyond caring that it doesn't even feel like an accomplishment anymore.

I quit smoking to prove a point. Now I know there were plenty of better reasons out there. Health reasons aside it really is a filthy habit and I applaud anyone with the fortitude to step away from such a vice. However there were some unforeseen side effects and I have yet to come across anyone who will admit to them freely.

The other day I found myself fresh out of the pool (I swim laps three times a week, its a related topic) Natalie had called me and asked if I could pick up something useful from the local drug store. I complied willingly enough. It's sort of a drag going out in public with your hair totally kinked and stiff with chlorine but the family comes first.

I got our items and wound up in line behind a young policeman and an older black woman. The cop did not carry anything to the counter so I knew what he was after.


Living through a habit teaches you a few subtle cues about others who partake. I could see from the way his fingers just danced worrisomely close to his pistol and talkie that he was dying for one. On the way out the cop didn't even pack his pack and I swear the flint of his lighter wheel was already spinning before his leading foot hit the sidewalk outside. I had a revelation at that moment and my customary reaction hit me like an angry monkey.

I laughed. I didn't belly out or guffaw or any such nonsense it was a single 'ha.' To an outside observer it might have sounded like a snort. My revelation was this: Being snide and snooty really sneaks up on you. I actually thought about saying something to the fellow about quitting or nicotine gum or one of the 1034920589427430958759084795 health hazards associated by it.

Twas shame that wracked my mind shortly after. I can't tell you how many times someone 'reminded' me just how awful cigarettes are for me. Yeah yeah, besides the stink and shortness of breath it can cause lung cancer, heart disease and spontaneous organ failure. Big deal. Its an abstract thing like being afraid of asteroids or voting.

You do it when you make up your mind. Or when some bastard decides to release this after I've done it the old fashioned way. Granted gum isn't entirely old school but oh well.

Now as I began this post I return to my original non-introduction statement. I quit smoking to prove a point and try as I might almost no one believes that. Here's how it happened.

Nat: You'll never quit (and exit)
Me (internal): Bullshit lady! I'll show you...

That's the gist of it. I swear that's almost exactly how it happened. Now granted I later got the gum and I had previously tried to quit once or twice and knew it was something on my to-do list but the catalyst was a petulant way for me to win an argument. It will be ironic if by quitting smoking I steer my fate into something like getting hit by a bus. Time will tell.

Its a good feeling knowing that the only thing actively killing me now is my caffeine habit and my undying love of complex carbohydrates. Do I feel better for quitting? Yes. Do I walk around with an undeserved sense of entitlement? Only on the weekends...natch.

See even though I did it there were many things that needed to have happened before my final attempt would really succeed. It was this confluence of events combined with some fractional will on my part that carried the day. I'm glad it happened when it did but I don't think that momentous incidents depend on individual moments.

However I have to snip that thread before it wanders into freewill and thats a can of worms I am not prepared to open just yet.

Here I am again confronted by my lack of coherence. The topic is smoking and quitting. I am a little more than insulted when I look around on the web or in the world at other people's attempts to drag others over the line.

First of all there is no real line. True there are some people who never smoke and still others who only pause for sleeping but there are MULTITUDES who sit between them. Some smoke only when they drink. Some prefer cigars and don't touch the little white filtered ones.

Some people dip. Fuck them. I will say that with no qualms dip is foul beyond words.

Now I challenge you, at this moment to open a new tab and google the phrase "quitting smoking" and brace yourself against the tide of misdirected propaganda. Everyone's different when it comes to quitting. Be prepared to lean against a lot of hot air. Now there are sound bits of advice tucked in there every so often but there is also some stupid crap.

I object to the subtle guilt trips people work into their testimonials. Read down until you find someone's list of 'benefits' to quitting smoking. I guarantee that sense of taste/smell and their bastard kids (no offense, Alex) will appear somewhere on that list. The reason I object to this is that many smokers' first reaction to moping is to...yeah, reach for one.

Simply writing horror stories and 'hey, life is grand' fairy tales just isn't drastic enough. If you want to help someone do something crazy. I fully advocate the use of Machiavellian tactics and corrupt psychology to accomplish this goal. However if you're going to coerce someone to quit smoking be prepared to wait for solid results. Patience will be your friend. It could be a long road. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Tip 1) Reject conventional scare tactics. Most smokers have developed a handy trigger for dealing with 'anti-smoking' speeches. They either stop listening or they'll nod in agreement until you leave and then talk smack about you. I don't think going for shock treatment is the best bet but if you're going with it then the crazier the better. My legal advisor has recommended that I don't list specific examples but creativity is something we all have to develop on our own.

Tip 2) Do not underestimate the power of the opposite sex. If you have, say, a male smoker friend as your target and you have a female acquaintance who is sympathetic to your cause then use her as a weapon. Guys will go to great lengths to impress chicks and girls...well they are statistically less likely to smoke any ways. When in doubt hire an escort *non-smoker* to humiliate them.

Tip 3) Take a cue from the evil geniuses of our time. Listen the person you are trying to help is your friend or loved one. Even if you have to brutally torture them it is still in their best interest to quit no matter what the cost. What're a few cuts and bruises next to another decade of life? Who's to say those fingers weren't worth the extra time with future kids and grandkids. Plus all the money you will save not smoking will nicely offset the years of therapy to overcome the collateral damage of the healing process.

Let me stop there. That's part of the sarcasm that pretty much defines me and my sense of humor (shoot yourself in the head if you didn't figure it out yourself.)

Ultimately it is futile to do anything except be helpful and supportive. Don't enable the habit. Encourage attempts and if they fail just remember that it won't always be like that. While I understand wanting to help others over familiar hurdles sometimes the best way to help is to just not be part of the problem.

And remember that no one is perfect. So lay off the war criminal vocabulary and be a friend.

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