I am an ex-smoker and when I get a whiff of cigarette smoke now, it is yucky 99.99 percent of the time. Still, there is that .01 percent of the time that the dormant Nicotine Welcoming Committee in my brain almost convinces me it smells like home cookin’ on a Sunday afternoon.
I had my last cigarette in January 1994. I had actually quit in August of the previous year but, in a moment of weakness, had one last one which convinced me I was done. In my particular case, it was especially stupid to be a smoker as I have been a lifelong asthmatic.
I’d take a hit off my cigarette then one off my inhaler. I smoked really light cigarettes, namely Benson & Hedges Deluxe Ultra Lights Regular. I’ve yet to meet another man who smoked my brand. Grandmas, debutantes, women who have come a long way, baby, but not a single man.
Whatever. I didn’t smoke to be the Marlboro Man. I smoked because I had to keep feeding Bobo, the nicotine monkey that lived on my back.
I started smoking to fit in when I was a seventh-grader. We moved to Fairfield in 1976 and even though we moved into then brand-new Dover Terrace North where all the kids had the shared experience of being the new kids on the block, there was still peer pressure.
On the way home from Grange Intermediate one day, Bobby and Mike McCallum taught me how to inhale a Carlton cigarette they’d pilfered from their dad. Soon I was buying my own from EZ Mart (now Major Market) for 55 cents a pack.
My mom found a pack of my Winstons and confronted me. How she was able to uncover them when I’d put them oh-so-cleverly in my top drawer where she always put my socks after doing the laundry, I have no idea.
I used the famous “I’m holding them for a friend” el-lame-o alibi. Ridiculous. Was I a safe deposit box? Did my “friend” not know about this incredible new invention called pockets? Still, I stuck by my story.
Me and the other neighborhood teen smokers would lean against a fence that faced out into a big field which is now Tolenas Park. I’m ashamed to say we would sometimes amuse ourselves by letting the younger Darden brothers, James and Daniel, take a drag and then watch them cough.
The owner of the house near the fence would sometimes come out and chase us away. Some of my friends made disparaging remarks/gestures and I might have, too, if I didn’t recognize that he was John Reed, who went to my church.
Down the street from Grange on Blossom Avenue there was an abandoned house. At lunchtime, we’d creep along the fence at the edge of school property and then make a break for it to go smoke.
One day when I started to make my break, I saw Dick Horn, the vice principal, who’d been hiding on the side of the office.
I ran and tried in vain to discard my smokes, but he caught me and retrieved them. Actually, running was stupid once he’d spotted me because I wore a jean jacket every day that my mom had sewn “T-O-N-Y” on in big gold letters on the back. Kinda would’ve narrowed it down.
Once, being a smoker actually helped me. I worked at Lucky Supermarket on North Texas Street and went there on Thanksgiving as a customer because I needed something. I saw my friend/co-worker Tami Hall crying and she told me a customer had called her the “b” word.
I waited outside and, when the guy came out, I flicked my lit ciggy at him and it bounced off his dome, shooting awesome lil’ sparks everywhere and then I cussed him out. I’m not proud of it now, but it was a cool visual and only needed dramatic background music.
No one is more self-righteous than an ex-smoker and I will not disappoint. There is more information and proof of the dangers of smoking and help available to quit than ever before. Stop feeding Bobo. Consider this column a lit smoke flicked upside your head.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at [email protected]