Sunday, June 07, 2015

BUS STORY # 448 (Part 2: A Portrait Of The Smoker As A Young Man)

grayky by Kynan Tait.  Posted with permission.

Previous posts in this series: Part 1 (“You Smell Like Cigarettes!”

I am a white male, with two degrees and an income comfortably above the defined poverty level. Demographically speaking, the only way I’d be even less likely to be a smoker is if I were female.

I am, in fact, a non-smoker.

I have not always been a non-smoker.

I came from a two-smoking-parent home, but neither of my parents was pleased when they realized I was smoking, too. That, of course, is part of why I started smoking.

The culture I grew up in was a smoking culture, but I believe only a small part of that culture was influential. That would be the James Dean and Bob Dylan part.

Later, there would be others, but that’s where it started. There, plus the place of callow, insecure, far-away-from-home youth wanting desperately to be -- but willing to settle for appearing -- competent, confident, and above all, cool.

That’s as common a portrait of the smoker as a young man as you are likely to find. A rebellion of conformity, I’d call it now.

I smoked two to three packs a day for 11 years.

I started when I was a freshman in college and couldn’t really afford it. (Sometimes, when I find myself wondering how poor people can afford to continue smoking, I remind myself of my student days. I had precious little discretionary cash, but always enough for cigarettes. I married before finishing school, and after classes, my wife and I would scrounge glass soda bottles and redeem them at the corner grocery for the makings of that night’s dinner. My first wife didn’t smoke, but she bore the financial burden of my smoking with me. Perhaps right there one can see the beginning of our end.)

I continued smoking after I learned the physiological effects of smoking and could see my statistical future. I continued smoking despite the examples all around me. The most vivid of these was an emaciated old vet in a wheelchair with his lower jaw and all his neck muscles surgically removed and a metal breathing tube inserted into what was left of his neck and into which he’d stuck a cigarette.

PSA on ABQ RIDE. Photo by Busboy.

I quit a year to the month after my dad died of a heart attack.

I quit then, and another half dozen times after that.

I quit the final time by publicly engaging in a quitting contest with a co-worker, another male. We contributed a buck to a third co-worker each workday with the understanding whoever caved first, the other got the pot.

It was a combination of the desire to quit, fear of personal shame and public humiliation, testosterone, and greed that worked. After three months, we split the pot and went on to the rest of our non-smoking lives.

(To be continued.)


The photo at the top of this story is titled “Photo” and is posted with the permission of Kynan Tait.


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