Monday, April 14, 2008

God Bless Recidivism!

Today is the first day of quitting smoking. Okay, to be frank, today is the first day of what might easily be the tenth time in my life that I've tried to quit smoking. Thanks to transdermal nicotine, I'm not drawing Fibonacci spirals on the soft flesh of my face with my finger nails, but I'm a bit jittery. Partially it's that I'm still getting nicotine (in an efficient metered dose: I have become an optimized nicotine junkie), but partially because by about Time Ten, one really gets to the point where he knows what to expect upon quitting.

First and foremost, for those who haven't quit smoking or were clever enough to avoid that steamrollercoaster in their impressionable years of 15-20 (when most of us take up the filthy habit in a childish stab at appearing debonair), the ugly part isn't a sustained sensation of want, but rather a series of small, heartbreaking defeats throughout the day. I am, when I smoke, a heavy smoker. I would sacrifice a kidney, quite possibly, to be one of those smug sorts who can have one or two cigarettes at a party on Friday and not so much as think about it again until the following Friday. Alas, left to my own devices, I am NOT a social smoker, I am an anti-social smoker. Hunched underneath an awning in the rain, hiding from civilization, trying to suck the fucker down in one drag; leaning out my window at two AM in my boxer shorts; inventing fake incoming phone calls on my cell phone that require me to step out and away from my non-smoking buddies in a bar. So when I quit smoking, I get the pangs of desire 20, 30, 40 times a day and everytime I think, "Oh good...I'll go have a ciga...oh, shit....I don't get to do that anymore...SIGH..." What follows is the sort of sadness one feels at age 8 when one's mother informs them that one's dog, Cap'n Barks-a-lot has gone to "retire" at a big farm in the country where he can run free and pee on other dogs for eternity. Don't be deceived, it is a sadness...a childish it's-not-fair-I'll-take-my-ball-and-go-home-nobody-loves-me-guess-I'll-go-eat-worms sort of sadness. For me, it's 20, 30, 40 times a day I go through this minor torture.

So to combat this, I am in my pajamas at 9:30, writing for the first time in months. I am writing, because I don't wish to wallow and I wish for distraction, yet I find myself writing about quitting smoking, so I'm still indulging the monkey a bit. For companionship, I am sucking on an old pipe I had lying around from a particularly high-fallutin' era of pretension my sophomore year in college when I fancied myself something of a pipe-smoking dandy. All the experts tell you in their flakey literature that one is wise to divorce himself from all reminders of smoking, and so sucking on a pipe that has a slight stale tobacco taste to it lingering lo these seven years later would be indulgent and not therapeutic. To that, I say fuck 'em. Who are the experts? I'm an expert. I've quit smoking ten times...who would know better than me what is and is not good for me?

I don't mean to say that there aren't pleasures to quitting smoking; there most certainly are benefits. I could prattle on about how in two days things will taste better and how in ten years I'll be less likely to get cancer and how in twenty years I'll have lungs the strength of ten men, or whatever the statistics are. Those are all very good reasons, along with saving enough to own beachfront property, but I'm talking about the actual pleasures of quitting qua quitting, not the benefits of not smoking anymore.

Quitting smoking, even from its very earliest stages, fills one with an arrogant sort of 'got-the-world-by-the-short-hairs-now-is-the-time-to-live-my-dreams' sort of delusion of virtuousness. Hence, I am writing. I figure, I talk about writing a great deal...but never put money where my mouth is. Needless to say, I am aware that blogging is a form of communication scarcely more official than toilet graffiti, but we start small and then we build, ok?

All joking aside, even from the first day of quitting, there is an underlying feeling of maybe-I-should-try-to-be-the-man/woman-I-always hoped to be. Today alone, I have eaten healthier than I have in months. I walked for an hour and half through Manhattan while listening to Erik Satie. Egad! Who is this virtuous, seemingly healthy adult who strolls through Central Park listening to classical music? Why, it's a clean and healthy and virtuous man who might go home that evening and actually write something, that's WHO! (I even did my dishes after dinner tonight, as opposed to letting them fester until tomorrow.)

And how did I get this in touch with my priorities? How'd I get this downy-white take-charge let's-live-life-while it lasts attitude? By quitting smoking! And why do I get to quit smoking, again, for the tenth (honestly, it's probably more like the twelfth) time? Because I am indulgent sinner at my core, who relishes recidivism and indulges in any nearby excuse to delve back into his darker, more prurient side. This time it was visitors from out-of-town who smoke. I'd have been a terrible host had I not let them smoke in my living room, no? I'd, too, have been pretty darn un-celebratory to abstain from joining them in a postprandial smoke over a digestiv glass of wine? How could I not follow that one indulgence with anything but huffing a half a pack of Camels down while drinking every drop of booze in the house? I'd have made a pretty shoddy host, no?

Luckily for me, I get to atone and be the cleanest boyscout in the room come Monday. God Bless Recidivism!