Come spring, She Who Must Be Loved will have been making it easy staying away from tobacco for 17 years. Add the year we were dating, and I haven’t had a nicotine fix in nearly 18 years. Way less than that, though, since I’ve thought about it. Not seriously, but still …
I’d been using tobacco for more than 30 years. I tried cigarettes when I was real young. Swiped some from Dad’s supply of Marlboros. Didn’t like ‘em. I don’t know exactly how old I was, but it was somewhere between fourth and eighth grade, when a few of us would slip off down a trail behind the two-room schoolhouse and try to impress each other with our budding manhood. Some of us were not very manly.
Then I graduated from high school and joined the Navy and took up smoking a pipe. And cigars. They mostly gave me something to chew on, and were, indeed, relaxing. Unlike cigarettes, a pipe involves a certain ritual that makes one appear more worldly. So I thought, and so a few people who guessed my age with more years than I had actually attained told me. My future wife liked me with a pipe, as long as I didn’t smoke it, which didn’t make a lot of sense to me. And her first engagement ring, which I surprised myself to even need, was the ring from a Bering Plaza stogy.
Then smoking started to become politically unsavory, and I took up chewing. First it was twisted logs of broadleaf supplied me by a friend and Tennesseean who understood the attraction of good bourbon and good chew. Later, I switched to Copenhagen; it was easier to carry when I was in the woods, where lighting anything is a poor idea. Plus, the Health Police were becoming more brave, and a dip of snuff was easier to hide than a mouth-borne chimney.
I always figured, probably like a million or so other tobacco users, I could just not do it anymore, any time I wished. After 20 or 30 tries, I proved that’s true. Partly, it’s like not thinking of elephants. Try it sometime, not thinking of elephants. Just sit there quietly and don’t think about elephants.
As long as there’s a lot going on, the pesky pachyderms stay outside the tent. Let things get quiet, though, and they’re right there, yelling to be fed. One night about 2 a.m. I was sitting, writing, and the elephants came and surrounded my desk. I drove 14 miles to the nearest 7-Eleven for a can of Cope.
One day, a couple weeks after I got the message She Who Doesn’t Like Anything Tobacco might like me less if she figured out I was using, I bought a can of snuff and headed for the next town. Suddenly, I rolled down the window and chucked the brand new can of snuff into the woods. I don’t know the time of day, exactly, but I know the spot of woods. The only thing I still feel guilty about is the littering. I hate that, and if I thought I could have found the can, I’d have gone back after it.
But I haven’t used tobacco since. I don’t think it should be against the law – people who don’t like it shouldn’t do it and should stay out of places occupied be people who do – but I think I like me a little better now that I don’t do it.
And I don’t have to drive to the county seat at 2 a.m. for a can of Cope.