Anyone who’s read any of the pieces I’ve written for Thought Catalog knows that I have, um, a history with substance abuse. I’ve done crack, cocaine, heroin, meth, acid, mushrooms, ketamine — well, the list is pointless. The point is that of all these drugs that I did — and quit using — the hardest of all to quit was smoking cigarettes. For that reason, if you’re a smoker, some of the things I list here will probably not seem that disgusting. However, once you quit, if you do quit, you’ll see just how gross these behaviors are.
1. Simply smoking. And smoking and smoking and smoking. Usually, as a result of inebriation I would chainsmoke. Packs disappeared. I kept buying, and I kept smoking. After a few days of that, when I’d come off a bender, the tips of my index and middle fingers, and my thumb on my left hand were tinted yellow (also, not necessarily smoking related, I don’t think, but when you’re all messed up like this it’s impossible to keep your fingernails clean, so there was always a scrim of black underneath them), my hair reeked. I always thought it was the drugs and/or alcohol that made me smoke like that. But I’ve known people who chainsmoke and who hardly ever touch a drop of booze. That’s how grossly powerful the tug is.
2. Smoking a cigarette first thing in the morning. There’s nothing like waking up after a night out at the bar with your buddies, or fighting with your bipolar girlfriend till the point that you say “f-ck it” and ditch her and buy that day’s second pack of cigarettes after the gram of coke you also purchased in your giving up in life, and after smoking all but three smokes in that pack, and you find the first of those three and light up. Your lungs are already wheezing. You cough, hock a brownish loogie flecked with black, sometimes with blood. You haven’t brushed your teeth in a few days. That’s one fine cigarette.
3. The airport smoking lounge. This is a dank and depressing hovel set away from normal people and filled with reeking rows of airport seating covered with pleather that has cured in the nicotine-drenched carbon monoxide atmosphere. There are air conditioners and “smoke eaters” running, but they do no good for the number of smokers huddled in this tiny room. If there are plants in this room to “cheer the joint up,” the plants are dead or dying. Through the haze of smoke one might try to make out the images on the television that floats somewhere overhead. The worst thing to see in a smoking lounge is families: mothers and fathers shushing their kids while said kids attempt desperately to entertain themselves in this toxic environment while mom and dad get their nic fix. You can imagine what these parents might look like; they look exactly what you’d think parents who take their kids into the smoking lounge look like: there’s a lot of tanktops and/or muscle shirts and jean cutoffs and tattoos of Calvin pissing, or of Yosemite Sam flaunting his pistols complete with the “Stay Back!” epitaph. Both these kinds of tattoos can also be found as stickers on these parents’ vehicles. Here I am describing this with chagrin while there I sat, smoking my own cigarettes, in the haze that was my drug-addled brain, and usually these parents would start talking to me and, at the time, I’d think they were pretty cool in the end. The second worse thing to see is the old people, some of them carting oxygen tanks in those wheeled carts, and sucking their cigarettes while the tubes run from the tank to their nose. I’d watch these poor souls and hope that I wouldn’t ever be one of them while I smoked myself into not caring about my inability to drum up the willpower to try to keep myself alive.
4. Sharing cigarettes with strangers. I’m at the bus stop one day, and I’ve run out of smokes, and I’ve got a 30-minute ride to work, which happens to be in an area where I’ll need to walk a half-mile to the gas station where I can buy a new pack. But there’s a young woman, in fact, from this distance she doesn’t appear to be too bad looking, and she’s smoking a cigarette. So I approach, ask if I can bum one. Alas, it’s her last. But she cordially offers to share this last and already lit cigarette with me. Before I go on, let me explain that I am maybe recently awakened from some night sucking down Jaegermeister till I did some fancy walking, and I’m not quite the fresh face myself. But it’s only when I sit next to this woman on the bus station bench and she passes me the cigarette, the butt a little moist from her lips or her tongue or both, and as I’m taking a few drags I see her teeth, many of which are missing or in a state of decay. She’s also one of those people whom you realize that when they talk, gobs of spit and mucus crowd up in the corners where her lips meet. She’s got a severe overbite. She proceeds to tell you that she’s waiting for the bus that will take her to a job interview, her first in 18 months. She just got out of jail.
5. Sharing cigarettes with friends. All of the above details are almost exactly the same with the exception of having already been well acquainted with the person with whom I was smoking.
6. Roll yr own. I don’t mean with Bugler, or Bali Shag. I mean that it’s 3 a.m. and you’ve run out of cigarettes, but you’re still a little drunk, or maybe you’re tripping or gacked or something, but you’ve got ashtrays full of butts and, lucky for you, you’re a drug user, so rolling papers are always within reach. Some jackass once told you that it was good for your plants if you put your butts into the soil, and you want a cigarette bad enough to retrieve even these molding spent cigs, turning some shade between green and blue. You crack all these open into a heap of stinking, mostly burnt tobacco that you roll into new cigarettes. This tastes exactly how you imagine it might taste. It tastes like shit, if shit tasted like previously smoked, multi-day-and-in-some-cases-multi-week-and-month-old cigarette tobacco. But you don’t care; you’ve got your smoke now and afterward you can pass out and later wake and, without showering or brushing your teeth, walk to the Texaco for a fresh pack.
7. Smoking butts found on the ground or in public ashtrays. At least I had smoked most of the butts I found in the ashtrays and in my planters around my apartment. But there were too many times when I found myself down to my last 10 dollars and I did what any sensible alcoholic would do with that money: I went to the bar. At the bar where I kicked it, PBRs were a dollar, so that meant 10 beers (sorry, no tip). And what to do for smokes? I bummed some, but when that had run its course I reverted to scavenging the bar ashtrays. Sometimes I’d take that little bit of money to the convenience store for forties, and then, while drinking and walking back to my apartment, I scoured the sidewalks for butts that had at least a centimeter of unsmoked tobacco remaining. Anything more than a centimeter was a significant score. I remember my buddy Mike once exclaiming upon a merely half-smoked sidewalk cigarette, “Hell yeah!” and we shared that. So combine this layer of gross with layer #5 above.
8. Drying out wet cigarettes. I’ve done this, yes: jumped into the lake and, whoops, cigs still in pocket (along with wallet, lighter, keys, etc.). I’m that kind of idiot. I’m also the kind of idiot who’s like, I ain’t letting this full pack of smokes go to waste. So I set them in the sun, dried them out, and smoked them. They tasted like algae-flavored cigarettes.
9. Accidentally drinking from a beer-turned-ashtray. I think people have depicted this happening in movies. I’m not sure about that though. But I’ve done it. What’s worse is not realizing that’s what’s happened until a few drinks in. What happens is you pick up a beer you think is yours, or the party’s ended and there aren’t any beers left, but you just really need one and you hunt up half-drunk beers littering the coffee tables. That first sip is just a little flat, or at least that’s all you notice. Then you detect a strange, almost metallic flavor. By the time you take the sip that brings the cigarette butt(s) to the beer can’s opening, where it comes up against your lips, maybe your teeth, and you finally realize what’s going on, you’ve also realized that that flavor is of already-smoked-cigarette. I’ve thrown up because of this. I have also not thrown up and continued in my quest for part-drunk beers that did not become ashtrays.
10. Relapsing. I quit smoking and doing drugs because I got tired of the life, and I was lonely, and I knew that if I wanted to meet a girl of the marrying type I was unlikely to find her in the bar crowds that I ran with. I stopped going to bars so often. When I met my wife I was “smoke free.” Those quotation marks are there because, like I said, I’ve never had so much trouble quitting anything like I had trouble quitting nicotine. Every once in a while — like at my brother’s wedding, where I ran into some of my childhood friends who smoked — I’d bum a cigarette, smoke all or half of it, and disgust myself in the process.
I hate to sound all preachy, like, I quit, and you’re a loser for not seeing how gross that habit is. What I mean is that I understand the pull that tobacco has on someone who’s been using it for some time. And because I’ve felt that, I’m also able to see what stupid and gross things that pull made me do. I’m in no “higher” a place for having quit. I still feel cigarettes tugging at my will. I tend to stay out of places that allow smoking, because a few drinks in I start to crave them, and with the alcohol I feel my willpower crumbling away. I’m an immensely weak person. If I only think about the dumb and gross things I’ve done and could do again, maybe I’ll make this not smoking thing stick.