I’m trying to get out of an unhealthy relationship. To extricate myself once and for all. It began in 1986 in a pool hall. In 1986 there were still pool halls; smoky pool halls like in them fancy Hollywood movies. There were arcades as well. There were bars that hired live bands with bartenders who freely accepted fake IDs or had no problem serving kids with beards. It was all a little bad-ass. It was in a smoky pool hall where I smoked my first cigarette. It was delicious and I fell hard for nicotine. So began my tumultuous love / hate affair with tobacco. It was a torrid union that would leave me smelly and winded. So time flies. Next thing I know I’m 45 with insurance premiums double than that of the non-smoker. With the price of cigarettes rising higher than my blood pressure, coupled with the fact that my life insurance premiums were now higher than those for an astronaut and part-time stunt man, I must admit that it was more of a fiscal decision to stop than anything else. A close runner-up was my wife. She was an ever-present factor as well.
I began researching e-cigarettes as a way of addressing the impending sense of doom surrounding my psychological addiction. I’ve tried Nicorette gum in the past, but other than the administering of nicotine through mastication, it provided ‘zero’ oral gratification. Chewing gum is not the same as smoking a cigarette. Chewing gum is nothing more than chewing gum. I never liked chewing gum. I found it pointless. I hated Bazooka Joes and Hubba Bubba when I was a kid, but sure loved me some Popeye Cigarettes. I was not a heavy smoker to begin with, just a habitual one. Morning with coffee, a few throughout the day and one before bed. Habit. Ritual. If I was unable to smoke for long periods of time, like flying etc. it didn’t bother me.
I made the switch to e-cigarettes rather easily. At this time the popularity of ‘vaping’ had not yet exploded. These 1st generation e-cigs were as close as it was gonna get to the real deal. Good enough. Smoking cigarettes was becoming more of a pain in the ass than anything anyway. I was shunned. People would cast their gazes and look at me with that ‘tsk tsk’ look of disapproval. I wasn’t really. It just felt that way.
Anticipating that I would have to prove through a blood test that I was actually bona fide nicotine free, I asked the online shop where I was buying my e-cigarettes what they could suggest in a product that was 100% nicotine free. The dude emailed me back informing me that the ‘cartridges’ contained no nicotine. Hot damn! I was totally nicotine free and had been for some time without even realizing it. My draw to cigarettes was 99% habitual / ritual. I had no idea. I made the call right away to my insurance people.
“Let’s do it now!! I have no nicotine in me. Hurry.”
The nurse came (she does house calls) and attempted to draw blood right there at the kitchen table. She was a retired nurse who was supplementing her income by taking people’s blood for insurance companies; a freelancing phlebotomist for hire. Removing her tools from a Tupperware container, she admitted to being a little ‘rusty’ since retiring. She poked, jabbed and poked again before finding the bumpy vein in my inner arm. She tied my arm off with a large rubber band just south of the elbow. Then when things seemed to be going okay, she pulled out the needle quickly. A thin but powerful stream of blood shot out of my arm and up, arching high before hitting the ceiling. Wow. Amazing. She quickly applied pressure and began the whole process over again. She was shaky, but eventually did get the job done. I offered her a cigarette to calm her nerves. I told her I was just joking. I think my mini schnauzers who were barking constantly didn’t help.
My blood came back nicotine-free, and my life insurance premiums were reduced by 50%. Nice. There was actually some clause in there however, stating that as long as I proved at the time of the blood test that I was nicotine-free my premiums would be halved and there would be no subsequent testing. Reading between the lines, and always sniffing for angles, this meant that I could conceivably smoke again stripping away the power of the word NEVER. I was just making the personal choice not to smoke at any given moment, but I could if I wanted. I didn’t quit smoking. I just stopped. I got into using a vaporizer with low amounts of nicotine. I had a year of being cigarette-free before I decided to treat myself to a pack of Lucky Strikes while in Cuba. It’s been a bumpy ride. I’ve been smoking daily since my return. Yesterday I smoked the last cigarette in the pack. I charged my vaporizer. I’ll see how it goes. I won’t bother telling anyone. For now, it’s just a breakup. But you know how breakups are — sometimes they stick and sometimes they don’t. I know a girl who breaks up with her boyfriend a few times a month. I learned early on not to speak ill of the dude during her ‘broken-up’ period, as she get’s angry at me when they do reunite. And they do reunite. Always. Over and over. When she get’s really angry I tell her I liked her better when she smoked.