The first time I smoked a cigarette was my freshmen year of undergrad. I was not drunk because it isn't legal to drink under the age of twenty-one. I was, however, heavily influenced by a body altering beverage brewed of water, barley, hops and yeast oft found at frat parties. The cigarette burned and felt grown-up. I coughed. It felt like not living at home. It made my fingers feel like cement. I thought of London in the summer. I would've looked amazing in black and white photograph. I felt closer to The Smiths. It smelled like my grandpa. I could've written poetry about that cigarette. Let's be honest: I probably did.
That said, I didn't pick up the habit. Ultimately I found it expensive and gross. I focused on other pursuits--like Coors Light.
It wasn't until the summer before my senior year when I smoked again. This time it was because I played a smoker in a play; she was beautifully shame-based and the cigarette was an imperative key to her person. A few weeks prior to the run I looked like a moronic fawn with a cigarette in my hand, so I decided to diligently practice being an awesome smoker. I sat on the steps every day during our ten minute break from rehearsal trying to figure out how the cooler-than-I kids held a cigarette. I eventually figured out that if I held it the way I held a blunt--which I also had never held at that point in my life but had seen Cheech and Chong do it--I would look dark, mysterious and troubled. By curtain I felt ready to smoke. Upon reflection, I'm sure when it came down to it the experienced smokers in the audience saw me for the poseur I was; but hey, I tried. Bottom line: smoking just wasn't for me.
To not become a smoker when you're an actor is a feat because it's a downright pervasive habit in our community. We artists are usually entrenched in shame and on some level revel in debasing our bodies with carcinogens. Also, smoking keeps us skinny. We love that.
What influences our relationships with cigarettes? We've all seen Breakfast at Tiffany's and the commercial starring the guy singing without a larynx, but why do our reactions vary across the spectrum?
Smoking doesn't scare me because I know I'm not attracted to cigarettes. I still indulge on the rare occasion--mostly when I've been over-served or am forced to hang out with a slew of actors for over eight hours--but I will never be a smoker. I don't like it. It disappoints me. I feel like with all the hype around it it should feel a lot better than it does. I rather have the extra seven minutes of life than the cigarette. It's dry and dead. It's that simple.
One of my best friends and I had a conversation yesterday about smoking. Clark has quit and rededicated himself to cigarettes several times over the last decade. I never identify him as a smoker, but he is--or was. I asked him to write about his relationship with cigarettes and he totally rose to the challenge like a silky plume of hydrazine.
Without any more pomp and frill, here's Clark's guest post on the evils of tobacco:
Smoke. Quit. Repeat.
By Clark Thomas Feeney
Hold on, I need a cigarette before I start writing this... please, don't go anywhere.
See? Back already. Newports sure do burn quickly. Must be all the petroleum and boat-siding. The almost breakneck speed of the Newport's burn is truly something to marvel at. I watch it burn down to the filter without out even taking a drag, and I wonder; how on earth did I start exclusively smoking menthols? Two words... Camel Crush. The gateway cigarette. See, they're just your normal Camel smoke, light or bold, with a unique twist. A sneaky little ball lurks in the middle of the filter. When you apply firm pressure on said ball, it bursts, releasing a rush of minty delight. At first, I would “crush” them when I was almost finished with the cigarette. The mint at the end always left me with a nice aftertaste. I even deluded my thoughts with the absurd notion that it would freshen my breath. To my understanding, it did no such thing. The more I smoked them, the sooner it seemed I was crushing the little ball. Right at the end... three quarters through... exactly half way... just after I light up... and, finally, right before. By the time I realized this, I could smoke nothing but menthol cigarettes. From then on, all regular cigarettes would taste like dirt to me, and thus, I now smoke a pack of Newports everyday. Disgusting, I know. I am trying to quit. I know I can, because I have before. Several times, actually. I have become rather good at it. I will smoke heavily for months and months and years and years, until I get the urge to quit. And I do. For months and months and years and years... that is, until I have to smoke in a film or something traumatic and stressful occurs. Then I have one here and there, bumming from friends, buying looseys on the corner, etc... At some point, my friends will get frustrated with my constant panhandling, cut me off, and tell me to buy my own (understandable, considering the price of cigarettes in this city). There was an interesting period of time when I was very broke and could not afford to buy cigarettes, but I had a large stockpile of quality meat left in our freezer by my ex-girlfriend. We developed a barter system (not unlike prison, I assume), in which I would trade this meat (which my roommates affectionately named, “bitch meat”) for cigarettes, chili cheese fries, seltzer water, and other assorted goods. Eventually, I caved and started buying cigarettes, of course, as my “bitch meat” stockade was in rapidly decreasing supply. And, just like that, I am a full blown smoker again. This cycle has repeated itself at least six times, with breaks from smoking up to two years at a time, going back to when I was a lad of twelve. The first cigarette I ever had made me cough and get sick, and if you ever smoked a “first cigarette” when you were a youth, you know exactly what I mean. That dizzy, lightheaded rush that almost knocks you down. It makes you truly wonder why anyone has that second smoke. But, many do, and for those of us who do, you know what happens next. The sensation changes... you don't get lightheaded, you don't get dizzy... you feel... relief. I know you must thinking, what could a twelve year old possibly need relief from? Let's just say, I was a C-section birth who was never breast fed, and leave it that. I didn't really start “smoking smoking” until I was about fourteen, and by then I was in a Catholic high school. Smoking behind the church during liturgies only fueled my then budding rebellious nature. And the rest, as they say, is history...
Could you hold on one second? I need to step out.
Back again. The addiction is puzzling to me. I have kicked drugs... hard drugs, and never looked back. Is it the convenience of smoking? The romanticism? Or is it just nice to have an excuse to be outside and breathe for a while? It is probably a combination of all three. One thing it's not, is the feeling. Sure, I like it at first, but after a certain point, it no longer relaxes or calms me. My heart beats faster, I get headaches, and my throat burns... shards of glass on fire, burns. Why do I still smoke when itmakes me feel like shit? Obligation. I don't even enjoy it anymore. I don't even do it socially half of the time. I feel I have to smoke. It's a part of me. It never was the feeling, or even the act of smoking. It's my identity. When I was sixteen, I smoked nothing but Turkish Silvers, mostly to collect the Camel Bucks that came on the back of the pack... I wasn't old enough to qualify for the prizes... hell, I wasn't even old enough to be legally smoking! But, sure enough, If you opened my glove compartment, Camel Bucks would explode like confetti. I couldn't use them... but, why did I keep them? Was it proof? If it was, to whom? Everyone saw me smoke all the time... Call it cliché, but I now think I was proving it to myself. Pathetic, I know. It was a reminder. That I was a hard-core smoker. And at the time (and even now, a little bit) I felt a sense of badassery when I had a rig smoldering in my hand, with silver clouds billowing into the moonlight. Poetic imagery you might say. My point exactly. There is a poetry in smoking. Whether you are Holly Golightly puffing a cigarette with an elegant extender in front of Tiffany's or you are some nicotine stained punk in the gutter looking up at the stars (thank you, Oscar Wilde), when you smoke you become a living piece of poetry. I wish I could do this only once in a while. Here and there. With drinks at a bar... you know... moderation. But, I can't. I am always all or nothing. And, being poetry all the time is both physically and mentally exhausting.
One last one, I swear...
Unsatisfying. Unpleasant. Unattractive. That is how I feel after that “one last one.” Maybe I really should quit. For real this time. Not just a two year hiatus. For good. Find a new vice. I don't drink coffee, maybe I should start. Maybe I should do jumping jacks every time I want to smoke. Chew on toothpicks, that could help combat my oral fixation. I don't know. I most likely wont do anything, except feed my other addictions (TV, food, masturbation) more. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I'll be a judgmental non-smoker, waving my hand in disgust at the filthy person walking next to me on the street, blowing smoke in my face. I'll force a cough and shout, “They really should make smoking in public illegal!” I'll storm past, feeling better about myself, because really, I am. I am a non-smoker now. Not only do I feel better, physically, but I am in fact a better person. And I don't mean my personality has improved or anything like that... I am the same asshole I always was. I mean, non- smokers are just better people in general, right?
So, here I sit... a non-smoker, once again. This honestly was not my intention when I started writing this. I wanted to paint a scathingly witty and clever picture of the beauty and poetry of smoking. I wanted to finish writing this, and step out on my porch to have a cigarette, a rig, a fag, a cig, a butt, a smoke, a stoge, a grit, a ciggy... whatever slang term fit my mood. Would I be Holly Golightly or that nicotine stained punk? Probably something in between. But, I guess I will never know. I quit. For real this time. I already feel a part of me is missing. Poetry.... And there's the itch. Do I scratch? I want something to do with my hands, after all. It would be that easy. Walk down the block with fifty cents in pocket and return with a loosey in hand. Then I'd be piece of poetry again. A life of cliché imagery... a work of art, over expressed like an over exposed photograph.
Fuck that. I think I'd finally rather hang something on the wall than be whats hanging. Interpret that image however you like.
|Maura & Clark|