In Boozo Veritas #30 by Teege Braune
In Tobacco Veritas
Like many children, my elementary school public education was peppered with fear-based demonizations of multifarious social evils. The DARE program taught us that there are only slight differences between marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, and while the legal status of alcohol and tobacco made these vices more complicated, we were nevertheless made to understand that indulging in either would most likely lead to death or a wasted life. I grew up believing that these temptations made the adult world a very frightening place indeed, and swore that I would never partake in any of these life shattering behaviors.
For many years I found it easy to stick to my guns on this issue. Growing up in midwestern suburbs, not many people were offering my pre-adolescent self controlled substances. My parents drank an occasional can of beer or glass of wine and explained reasonably that alcohol in moderation was okay for adults. The only people I knew who smoked were my grandparents, and they did not make it appear particularly glamorous. Through most of my childhood I thought of smoking as something only old people did.
The fact that the same girl who won the DARE essay contest only a year earlier became the first of our peers to become a pot head was a class joke in middle school. If for a moment in my preteens my parents’ divorce or simply the awkwardness of puberty had me desiring to become a juvenile delinquent, my strict disciplinarian of a mother squelched it before I got started. Furthermore, most of my friends were like-minded innocents whose social activities largely revolved around church youth groups, and the friends I had who did start smoking pot also began huffing. The obvious damage this was doing to their young brains was a better deterrent against drugs than DARE had ever been and the source of many disturbing memories to this day.
Eventually, I found my way around to all three vices: alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Interestingly, smoking was the first to pose a real temptation. I smoked my first cigarette at the age of thirteen and found the experience utterly unappealing. Years went by before I ever considered smoking again. Then in high school I began to idolize the cinematic icons of other eras and while looking at pictures of Gary, Cooper, James Dean, and Paul Newman, it occurred to me that if done correctly, smoking could be very very cool.
I knew I would never be as handsome as these men, but I thought that perhaps by emulating their personal style, I could obtain something of their je ne sais quoi.
The real clincher came when my dad bought me a copy of Jack Kerouac’s San Francisco Blues and shortly after I read On the Road. I wanted Jack Kerouac to be my friend and my mentor. I had actual dreams in which I would meet him in some chance encounter, and he would be so impressed with me and my writing, he’d ask me if I wanted to go on a road trip with him. In my poems and journal entries I replaced all the commas with dashes and began to model my whole persona around him. I started combing my hair back instead of letting it hang down over my forehead and bought a jacket that looked similar to the one he’s wearing in this famous photograph. I knew that without cigarettes I was missing an important detail and understood that at some point I too would start smoking.
I continued to hold it off for awhile. I knew my mom wouldn’t tolerate it. I didn’t have any older siblings to buy cigarettes for me, and continued to be involved in youth groups though my belief in Christianity was quickly waning. I smoked my second cigarette the night I graduated from high school, and though it was as unpleasant as the first, I continued to smoke throughout that summer until the dizzy buzz of nicotine overshadowed the hacking cough that came with inhaling huge billows of smoke. I bought my first pack of cigarettes at the campus convenience store my first weekend of college. It only cost two dollars and fifty cents. It took me three or four days to finish that pack, but as soon as it was gone, I bought another one. I was already hooked.
It’s ironic that by the time I was a full blown nicotine addict my obsession with Jack Kerouac had already begun to abate. It didn’t matter at that point. Most of my friends smoked and joining them was the best way to distance myself from the goody-two-shoes church boy I had been in high school. Many of my peers had been smoking at least occasionally for two or three years at that point, but no one needed to know that I had only smoked my second cigarette a few months before.
Three years ago, almost to the day, after numerous failed attempts, I finally kicked the habit. For the first time I was quitting because I truly wanted to be free of the addiction, not because I thought I should. Smoking had ceased be enjoyable. Lighting up was merely a compulsion, one I began to hate especially when I couldn’t catch my breath even after the most minimal exertion. That being said, at the peak of my withdrawal, I felt deeply sad like I was losing a fundamental part of my identity, like I was saying goodbye to a dear friend.
I’ll cave once in a while, usually after a few drinks, and bum a smoke from a friend. One or two puffs is all I can handle and the next day I feel congested and hung over. Typically, if I feel the need to smoke at all, I prefer toasted cavendish from my briarwood pipe and even that is rare. Usually I find the odor of a smoky bar or a passing stranger’s cigarette intolerable as though I had never been a smoker at all, but every now and then it catches me off guard, and the scent of tobacco brings a wave of nostalgia over me. I’ll remember the mystically enticing way cigarettes smelled when I first developed a taste for them, when each one helped to identify a little more with my hero.
Teege Braune (episode 72, episode 75, episode 77) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.