A DOCTOR SAID I should write this. He said it was important and that I should tell the world. He looked at me seriously when he spoke and since there were lots of people around, he left me no choice but to nod my head yes and say I would write about it. This is what the doctor wanted to tell you: I have given up smoking.
That's the good news. The bad news is that I don't recommend it. (Sorry, Doc.). It has changed mylife, the way I look at myself, my sense of who I am. At the moment I do not consider myself to be a writer or a father or a husband. I think of myself as someone who is giving up smoking - a minute-by-minute affair, always the present tense, a full-time job. There is time for little else.
The end result of all this is that I am no longer me. I have lost control of my life. I have gained something like 65 1/2 pounds, an exaggeration, to be sure, but an indication of how I feel. Now I have to do something I vowed I would never do. I go out all by myself and run nowhere in particular! I run on little white shoes called Tigers, which would sell for half the price if they were called sneakers, and I see myself as the star of a New Yorker cartoon - middle-aged overweight, lusting in my heart for a cigarette. Youth is gone. I don't smoke I don't drink, I don't eat fattening food and I don't think about sex anymore. I don't have the time to. I'm too busy thinking about cigarettes.
I see myself as a baseball pitcher. I used to be a fan and I know about these things. Every season there is a pitcher who starts off real hot. Then he does something like blister a toe. He compensates by letting up a little and this somehow makes his arm sore. This throws his arm out. By August, he's in the minors. A year later, he's got a fat stomach, and he's selling cars. My blister was giving up cigarettes.
Sometimes I try to remember why I started smoking in the first place. I remember that I hated the stuff - that it made me choke and cough. I guess I was trying to appear older or tougher or more sophisticated. As with Scotch, I got over my initial revulsion and, as the saying goes, acquired a taste. I kept a pack of Camels under the back porch, hidden under some rocks. The pack lasted months and after awhile the cigarettes did not taste so good. With Camels, though, it's hard to tell.
By 16 or so, I was a serious smoker. I smoked in the bathroom with the door locked. After dinner, I would excuse myself and go to the bathroom. I went to the bathroom a lot. When a teen-age boy goes to the bathroom, it is always suspicious. You are either smoking or doing something else. I was questioned: "What were you doing in the bathroom?" No answer. A guilty look. Staring down at shoes? Are you smoking?" The lesser of two evils. A way out. Smoking does not make you insane, "Yes, I'm smoking." A deal was struck. I could spoke. But not in the house. I went for lots of walks after that.
So I became a smoker. I was good at it. Me and the cigarette were as one, he cigarette was my friend. it helped me with girls. I was never alone when I had my cigarettes. You people who don't smoke don't understand. When you smoke, you never wait. You smoke. Now, just waiting for a phone call is miserable. "Call you right, back," someone says. What do you do? Not smoking slows down time. It's like a mind-altering drug. Not smoking should be illegal.
Here I am. It has been about a month now and I think I'm going to make it. I fooled around wtih a pipe for awhile, but I started to inhale and that was not good. So I gave up the pipe and just keep it on my desk in case an Englishman drops by. That was about two weeks ago. Since then I've been perfectly miserable - grouchy, ill-tempered, hard to live with. I find it difficult to write. But I find it easier to took my son in the eye.
He came over to me one day.It was in my former life and I was lying on the couch, smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. My son is but 5 years old, but he goes to school and the teachers have taught him that smoking is not good. He asked me to stop. He repeated the things he must have learned at school. Smoking was bad for me. It would make me cough. It might kill me. He did not want me to die. What can you say? Try being cute. Try defending your habit with some clever line a la W C. Fields - "Bug off, kid."
Then he talked about something the school had not taught him. He mentioned the man who had a tube up his nose. That's the way he said it. He was referring to my wife's uncle. Every year, he and his wife have a Christimas party. All the kids in the family come and every year the uncle enjoys them immensely. Last year, though, he had the tube. It was connected to a portable oxygen tank. The uncle has emphysema.
So the uncle stood off to the side while the adults talked and the children played. No one smoked. Then for some reason the kids all seemed to gather around the uncle and they just stared up at him. The adults watched, hoping no one would ask. What do you say? Then the question came up from the floor - some little blond cousin with a big mouth. The uncle took the tube out, looked down at the kids, and said, "I was stupid. I smoked cigarettes. I was stupid." Then he put the tube back into his nose and tried to play with the kids. I had to look away.
So there it is, and there I have done what the doctor has asked of me. I am still suffering and I still miss the damned things and I am tired of fighting my appetite and running in the rain. But I will not go back because I thought of John and looked at my son and thought of something clever to say.
I told him I would quit smoking.