Quiting Cigarettes

The third prong

Back when I was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker two weeks ago, the worst thing in the world to me was running out of cigarettes after the dairies have closed.

For those of you from out of town, in New Zealand, grocery stores are called “dairies”. And the store clerks are called “milk cows” and can work the registers for many, many lactations.

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The problem is that most dairies in Auckland close long before the cows come home.

So if you run out of cigarettes after a certain hour of the night, your options are limited. And one option more dreadful than the other: you can drive to a gas station, or, like an adult, you can delay gratification and wait until the dairy opens in the  morning.

Fuck that “being adult about it” bullshit. I want my wah-wah. So it sucks to be a Parnell smoker in the wee hours of the morning. I myself was caught with my pants down on more than a few similar occasions. Each time, as I pulled my pants back up, I discovered that I was out of cigarettes. Not only was my bum sore. Not only was I out $5. But I had nothing to smoke. So I was fucked coming and going. Of course, I’m speaking figuratively here, you all understand.

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A few months ago, I discovered the Juice Bar, the live performance venue attached to the Windsor Tavern.

The shows I caught were actually kind of fun, funky cover bands that dropped phat beats. A bouncer at the door saw me reach for my wallet to show him my ID and started laughing.

I could see why when I went in and started feeling my own mortality choking me about my double chin, making my gray stubble stand on end.

It’s chilling to be 42 and standing in a room full of sexually charged 20-somethings in Sunday best, and drunk/drugged out of their heads.

So naturally I start bobbing my head in rhythm to the music. That way I start to blend in. I don’t want to tip my hat that the only reason I’m there is to buy cigarettes. I look around, pretend to be judging the scene for coolness, to see if Juice is up to my high standard of cool. Because if it isn’t, I’m splitting. It’s the last thing the Windsor wants to see happen. A trendsetting blogger, yawning and walking out.  But it was OK. Because I liked the music, and it felt good to bob my head in tempo. I felt like a big, fat spasticated bower bird failing at his mating dance. Naturally, it took some time to acclimate to the sensual/erotic atmosphere engendered by relatively new model humans. So I noticed these two young ladies standing next to me. And in the coolest voice I’ve ever heard coming out of my mouth, I said, “Don’t you love this kind of music?” or something along those lines.

Long story short, eight seconds later, I was at the bar, buying my cigarettes.

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Of course that’s all in the past. Because as of August 2, I don’t smoke cigarettes.

I had gone into this thing with the idea that I’d use the patches and once in a while I’d resort to the e-cig.

Instead, I went the first few days without the patch, and have so far been patchless the entire two weeks.

Unfortunately, I have relied heavily on the e-cigarette to ease me through the occasional pangs.

It’s not a great idea for two reasons. E cigarettes prolong your chemical and psychological dependence on nicotine.

But worse than that, you look so cool using an E cigarette that you catch people’s attention.

I went to the St. Luke’s Westfield the other day. God knows why. To cash in on a gift certificate.

Malls in general are painful disasters of social architecture. Mostly because the chicks you see there have huge asses. It’s depressing.

So, yesterday, after about 30 minutes of looking around the shops for something buy with my gift certificate, I found myself just staring down from the second floor to the people eating and browsing in the food court, and the thought came to me that the worst thing about the Cold War was that we didn’t nuke each other.

Anyway, as I stood there, pondering, I took out my e-cigarette and started puffing away.

These two older chicks, maybe in their late 40s, early 50s, spotted me and started whispering to each other, but in a stage whisper.

“My god, is he smoking?” one said.

“What is that, a cigarette,” the other said.

“That’d better not be a cigarette.”

“Is he smoking a cigarette inside the mall.”

So I turned to face them, and show that it was an e-cigarette,

“Oh, it’s one of those electronic cigarettes,” the one said to the other, completely ignoring me,

“Is he allowed to do that?”

“Nobody’s stopping him.”

“Somebody should stop him.”

And on an on. The chicks’ whispering reminded me of a horror movie when demons start hissing to each other.

So, I had a few choice words with the two old bags, and before I knew it the three of us were in a hotel room making an adult video.

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The point of all this is manifold. In my first month of unemployment, I’ve made some progress in establishing a sound business case for me getting paid to be a funny person.

I know, I know. Everyone, except for maybe a severely retarded person or a United States Postal worker, thinks they are funny enough to entertain people, and make money doing it.

I may be retarded in many vast areas of my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m funny. I do think I’m funny.

I just don’t know how to convince anybody else that.

So, in this, the incipient stages of what is probably going to be a very long-ass, painful and largely unrewarding experience (much like watching a Peter Jackson trilogy, but a lot more expensive), I am hoping to add to my developing repertoire.

In addition to doing stand up and pursuing any creative writing assignments that come my way, I have been convinced to compile a book of essays, perhaps based on what I’ve written on this blog, but printed in large type so my grandmother can read it.

Jacquie and my friend Sabine have given me several reading assignments to familiarize myself with the essay form that I’d like to write: David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Sarah Silverman, and Lance Armstrong.

That’s right. I’m going to be a famous non-fiction, personal essayist/humorist.

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Ginga, please.

And this blog, for the moment, is the link that feeds the other pursuits. So, while I talk about my essay writing project here, when I do stand up, I can make jokes about how my blog is about my book of essays.

And, to bring it full circle, I can talk about how my standup routines are all about my blogs being about my essays.

Constantly recycling material from one state to the next in a perfectly homeostatic system of funny shit.

I like to think of it as Ouroboros, a very ancient symbol that stands for “synergizing your core competencies into a multi-platform, multi-channel marketing strategy that will have you rolling in the dough and retired before know it.”

The only thing is, I have to get it started, by talking about what I know. Me. I’m basically going to become everyone’s worst first date. I’m going to drone on and on and on about myself. And I’m going to stick you with the bill at the end.

Which is why this blog was mostly about e-cigarettes.

So, if you see me doing standup, or if you buy my book some time down the road, and it all seems familiar, it is.

NOTE: A special shout out to Anthony Wilson, a funny comedian whom I interviewed a few weeks ago, after he MC’d a very tough room: I have been too lazy to write it up man…but I will…soon.

[[second draft. deleted phrase. very little subbing. Fuck you. You sub it.]]

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No more Mr. Nicotine guy

I haven’t smoked a cigarette in more than ten days.

And as far as I can tell, I’m not much more of an obnoxious person than I ever was.

I’m surprised.

It’s a win-win. Really it’s two wins for me. And nothing for you. But who gives a shit about you? This is my story. Screw off.

Oh, man. It’s so much fun being an ex-smoker. It really is the life for me.

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When you stop smoking, you’re allowed to be an asshole. So when people protest that I’m being short-tempered or irritable with them, they’re being assholes.

They’re interfering with my smoke quitting. Because they want me to die.

Do you really want my death on your conscience?

Because if I’m not allowed to call you fat or ugly, or whatever, then I may go back to smoking, and you don’t want to be that kind of asshole, do you.

So, cheer up, fuck face, and know that you’re helping a friend quit cigarettes.

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You should also know that I’m going to be watching you, for the least sign of insult, criticism or anything. Expect me to say something about how you’re being an asshole to me.

Even if we’ve never met. And you have to like it. Because only an asshole wouldn’t support someone quitting cigarettes.

I’ve already had to complain to several people that they are assholes. And they’ve apologized, because they know how hard it is to quit smoking. It’s been tough correcting everyone. I’ve even had a word with a career counselor, when she crossed a line that she would soon be told was there but not to be crossed, after the fact, by me.

Fairfax Media had essentially hired this woman as part of our redundancy package, to guide us into the picturesque world of unemployment.

A dozen of us or so in the business group lost our jobs in that round. Naturally, they were all contacting the counselor.

Quite a few of them got to see her before my turn came.

She called to arrange our first meeting and she apologized for not getting to me sooner.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, with a chirpy optimism. “You just wouldn’t BELIEVE how busy I’ve been this week,”

The electronic cigarette is a delivery mechanism for a nicotine aerosol. You can mist wherever you like, and nobody will say nothing. In fact, in my experience they mostly just leave the room in a hurry.

The electronic cigarette delivers nicotine infused water vapor when you draw a puff. I call it misting. And I’m going to make misting cool. I mist wherever I like, and nobody’s said nothing. Mostly they’ve just left in a hurry.

Later I told her what she had said was kind of insensitive, considering the reasons for her being busy and for me contacting her in the first place.

She apologized, but I don’t think she understood what the problem was. The next time we spoke, I asked how she was doing. “I’m doing fine,” she said. “But I know you don’t like to hear how I am doing.”

Fuckin’ eh. Here I am, unemployed and worried. And here’s this woman telling me how great that is for her. It’s like you’re an insect caught in a web and the spider is telling you how wonderful a nice meal is.

I was afraid she would ask me to help her decide what to do with that bonus money. Three weeks touring Europe, or buying a new Mini Cooper.

I’m not saying this woman is bad at her job. She’s been good to talk to and her advice has been a help.

And she told me about all the stages of grief over my lost job that I had to look forward to in the coming decades. She said most people go through seven stages, but after talking to me for ten minutes, she could tell that with the way I handle crisis, I was going to need more like 40 or 50 stages of grief.

I’m currently in what she calls “zany antics” but ready to move on to “chug-a-lug”, whatever that could be.

She also helped me think of ways to develop business for my comedy and creative writing services start-up.

We talked about what I’d been doing, and she was very encouraging.

She said even though I had a dragon on my back I was keeping the wolf at the door. I’m not sure what that all means, but I hope it has something to do with getting a Dungeons & Dragons game going.

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But here is where I find that even my asshole-ness has its limitations.

After all, as I say, this counselor is good at what she does, and she means well.

And today she said I looked “very New York” which made me feel really good. And I don’t care if by “very New York” she meant I scared her in the way a deranged, half-naked homeless man screaming “Fuck it all” sends red flags up for some people.

It doesn’t matter, really. There are plenty other people I can be an asshole to, and that’s something to get you out of bed in the morning, if I’ve ever heard it.

What it feels like to quit smoking

Quitting cigarettes is like hanging out with a casual acquaintance who doesn’t realize how boring she is and not being able to kick her out.

Decades ago, when I sometimes did this sort of thing, I lost 12 hours to such a person.

It was one of those nights that fell prey to the cocaine-and-vodka-cranberry lifestyle of the mid-to-late 90’s Brooklyn, northwest vintage.

Not to speak ill of that lifestyle. It’s just that the extremely boring person who I lost half a day to was the one supplying the cocaine.

What a drag. The only way my friends and I would get some as if we pretended to be interested in her featureless existence.

So we sucked it up.

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She told us she’d done some modeling on the side. And almost every time she leaves her apartment, she gets stalked by a talent scout.

She wanted to “go pro”. But there was still so much she wanted to accomplish as a certified public accountant.

It wasn’t until years later when she suddenly turned into a Buddhist, that we found out she had worked for Arthur Andersen on the Enron account.

With her conversion, she was doubling down on a boring life.

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But back then, she was just a run-of-the-mill coke-head. I can’t say if my friends and I that ever got used to this woman’s droning that night.

But as the 11th hour approached, and the cocaine vanished, we all realized at once that she had been talking the entire time. We didn’t even know she was still in the apartment, to be frank.

Now we were very aware, which meant the cocaine was wearing off, and fast.

And now this chick was going on about how a reverse triangular merger is simpler to accomplish than a direct merger because its subsidiary only has one shareholder, namely the acquiring company.

You try listening to that shit when the drugs just wear off.

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And that is exactly what it feels like to go through nicotine withdrawal, in case you haven’t known the pleasure.

It’s that moment when you realize the CPA is still talking. And she uses the term “flow-through entity”, but not in a sexy way.

That’s what this quit has been like. It was worse the first day.

Friday afternoon, I found out that the e-cigarette I was going to use to “mist” my way to cigarette-freedom, didn’t actually work.

So I went to the Hydro website for a list of retailers.

And for reasons that are hazy to me, I ended up in one of the worst places in the world.

A mall.

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Shit. It’s Friday night and I’m at the Westfield in Newmarket. How did I let things slip to this state?

This was not an ideal situation. Here I was lost, desperately craving a nicotine mist-fix. Nicotine, the drug that allowed me to spend time around people who like the mall without openly despising them, was losing its potency. I would soon be hating everyone, out loud. And I was in a fucking mall, where human contact was not out of the question.

I was angry. And confused. And somewhat looking forward to screaming obscenities in public.

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I knew I was in trouble and out of place. The few times I’ve been to a mall without Jacquie, the same thing always happens.

A concerned-looking mother will come up to me and ask if I were by myself, and if my daddy and mommy were nearby.

I was preparing an answer. Until I realized, I was alone. Nobody in the mall but me.

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Anyway, I don’t really want to talk about this anymore, because it took me about an hour to find the exit. Which is kind of embarrassing, when you think about it.

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But that’s just what happens when you’re withdrawing. You lose track of time. You have bouts of violent impulses. You eat.

And it’s had an impact on my writing. Until this afternoon, I’ve found it too distracting to focus on writing for very long.

So at least it’s getting better. Now that I’m misting.