New Year Resolution

Entry by: rclayr

6th January 2015
I didn’t know what made me more depressed, having broken—again—my resolution—and so soon after having made it—or standing in the alley opening, by a dumpster, in the rain, shivering in a rapidly drenching overcoat, my chin jammed into my neck so the water flowing off the bill of my cap wouldn’t wash out my face, my fingers carefully cupped to protect the coal of my cigarette.

From where I stood, I could see jammed into a crevice between garbage cans what appeared to be some crouched homeless person, trying with no more success than I was having to stay dry in the downpour, or maybe a passed-out drunk or junkie, or a dead body—no, I realized. Whoever or whatever it was, like me, was also smoking. That made me feel even worse. My failure had put me on a level with the outcasts of society in more ways than one.

This was not my first failure. It was more like my thirtieth, maybe my fortieth. I’d been married forty years, after all, and our January wedding date, once set and looming, was the occasion of my first New Year’s resolution to give up a habit that I, at that time, had only really had about five years. But that was forty-five years ago.

With a quick check around to see if some representative of officialdom or the ever-vigilant Smoke Police was watching, I dropped the butt and stepped on it, although given the amount of water now flowing up over the soles of my shoes, that was hardly necessary, then reached inside my coat, fished out another and lit it. Holding it carefully so as not to burn my fingers while concealing it—not being sure if smoking was permitted here, even in an alley opening, even on a public street, even in the rain—after taking the first drag and expertly blowing the smoke out into the downpour, I looked up. What in the world ever possessed me to accept a room in a totally non-smoking hotel on the thirty-second floor? It was a spectacular view, without question, but it was also nearly a fifteen minute trip from our door down to the street. Two elevators, across a huge lobby, out double doors, and then past a doorman who might well have been a Cartel hit man in another life, around the corner to the alleyway. I knew what made me do it. The fucking resolution, not two weeks old. And now, it was already broken.

I still was nervous that I'd be caught, told to put it out. Who could object to somebody smoking by the dumpsters? These days, there was no telling. All I knew for sure was that I felt guilty.

It wasn’t my only resolution, and, honestly, silly as the tradition was, I usually managed to keep most of them. I resolved once never to forget my wife’s birthday or our anniversary—and I never had. Twenty years ago, I resolved to try to play golf once a week in an effort to lower my handicap to something less than an embarrassing number. I had done that—at least the once-a-week part. My handicap, if anything, was higher. Seven years ago, I resolved to hit the gym at least three times a week for at least an hour’s vigorous workout—and whenever I wasn’t traveling or down with a cold, I’d kept that one. And that helped me keep my promise to lose twenty pounds and keep them off, five years before. More recently, I’d resolved to stop writing corrective memos to my boss, and I’d done that. So far. Over the years, I'd given up watching more than one football game a week, stopped speeding, even when I thought I could get away with it, and tried to park farther from the door of businesses and shops so I could get in a bit of outdoor exposure. And last year’s resolution to cut out eating red meat more than once a week and lower salt intake by half had, thus far, been successful. But the one I never could keep was to quit smoking.

I finished the second, realizing that I was starting to shiver. It wasn’t snowing or sleeting, thank God, although I knew that if it was, that wouldn’t have discouraged me. My watch told me I’d been down here for twenty minutes. Time for one more. After all, it was another twenty minutes or so back to the room, then to change into something dry, then to pour a nightcap and sit with my wife and watch her watch whatever crap was on TV, and wish I had a smoke to go with the drink. I dreaded that. I actually couldn’t hardly bear the dread of that. I fished out another and lit it.
The first drag almost made me retch. Too much too soon. A smoker's dilemma, these days.

Before severe smoking restrictions became widespread, I’d never been a chain smoker. Actually, in the days when people smoked everywhere—in bars, restaurants, offices, in elevators, on trains, planes, in taxis and anybody’s car, even in the goddamn movies, for Christ’s sake, I very rarely reached a pack-a-day habit. But now, forced as I am almost everywhere to flee to some unrestricted outdoor area, usually an alley or the middle of a parking lot or some piece of abandoned shrubbery-lined sidewalk away from public scrutiny, I drag down, two, three—sometimes four at a time—steeling myself for the long dry spell to come when I go back inside to wait for the next opportunity to get out and fire up.

It drives my wife crazy, my kids nuts, and my friends to make all kinds of pitying comments. I swear, winos, heroin addicts and serial sex-offenders get more sympathy. But there it is. A habit. My habit. But the truth is that it’s not the nicotine, not the drug. There are all kinds of “nicotine delivery systems,” as they call them. There’s even a kind of pump you can have strapped on that will inject the narcotic right into you. No, it’s not the drug.
It’s the act of smoking. Something no one who isn’t a smoker can’t understand, won’t understand. Won’t even try. It’s the taking out the cigarette, lighting it, then smoking it. You can get the same effect with a pipe, a cigar, although objections to those are even more militantly enforced. You can probably get it even from a joint—although grass has now become so socially—and legally—acceptable, that you won’t even get much more than a wry smile if you toke up in a lot of public places. Fire up a Marlboro, though, and God help you. You’ll be lucky if you’re not stoned to death on the spot.

And that leads me back to the resolution. I’d always been a guy who had a sense of will power, of self-control. I don’t do drugs, don’t fuck around with other women, don’t gamble, don’t drink to excess. I’ve learned never to drink-and-drive, for example, and I watch my diet, as I said, and exercise, as I said. I’m a good neighbor, a congenial and collegial co-worker, known for my cooperative and helpful nature. I don’t indulge in malicious gossip, don’t denigrate other people’s often abysmal taste in movies, food, or books. I don’t use politically incorrect terms, surf porn sites on the internet, manage my finances with prudence. I dress tastefully without being ostentatious, drive a fuel- efficient car, and recycle damned near anything that can be "repurposed" in some fashion. The only thing I do that’s solely for myself is smoke.

It would seem that if I can deny myself everything else in life that might give me a personal sense of pleasure or satisfaction or contentment, I should be allowed to retain at least that one thing.
Oh, I know. It’s killing me. But we’re all dying. Some faster than others, and most for reasons that have nothing to do with smoking or any of the sixty-four-thousand dread diseases that have been linked to it. And I know, it’s “second-hand smoke,” although I fail to accept the idea that somebody walking through a public park twenty-five or fifty yards from where I might be passively sitting on a bench and enjoying a quiet and contemplative moment of tobacco intake could be suddenly stricken with that same sixty-four-thousand dread diseases, merely by coming into eye-sight of me.

The point is, and that’s the hell of it, I think as I fire up number four in this marathon binge that already is making me seriously nauseous and causing my throat to close up, I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to quit. It’s really that simple. Smoking has been a part of who I am and how I am for most all of my life, since I learned how to roll and light my first one, a trick taught to me by this old rancher I worked summers for when I was only twelve. I didn’t have the habit then. That came later. In college. But I know that without nicotine, I’d never have made it through any of my degrees, never have climbed the professional ladder, never have survived the myriad of family crises, illnesses, tensions that go with being an adult in a modern world. Smoking got me through. Tobacco is my friend, my companion, and my “only solace in time of woe,” as Kipling wrote.

Kipling. When faced with the choice of remaining a bachelor or acceding to his betrothed’s demands that he either give up tobacco or her, he concludes, “A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

As for me, I consider that smoking is about the only thing you can do while standing on a street corner totally alone and waiting for someone or some thing without appearing to be insane. Of course, most people these days would say that smoking is insane. I wonder, though, if smoking wasn’t branded as being so horrifically harmful, if they wouldn’t smoke, themselves. After all, what better way to break the ice, start a romance, get through a tense moment? Where would World War II GIs have been without smoking? How could we ever have believed Bogart?

Of course, smoking killed Bogie. But if it hadn’t been for smoking, would he still have been Bogie?

My wife wants me to quit, though I smoked when we dated and married. My kids want me to quit, though I smoked when they were born. My friends, co-workers, even total fucking strangers all want me to quit, though I smoked—and so did most of them—when we first met each other. It's like they want me to deny who I am, what I am. If it does kill me, then it does. At least I died being me. Or what's left of me in this health-crazed, politically correct, totally homogenized world where people eat bean curd instead of meat and think a bicycle is "alternative transportation." Still, I resolve every New Year’s to quit. And I fail. This time, in less than a week. And I feel guilty.

I can’t finish the last one. I stub it out on the ground, next to its three cousins, and pull my cap brim down further on my forehead, hunch my shoulders and slog back to the hotel’s entrance. The doorman’s scowl disappears into a look of surprise at my drowned-rat condition. I stomp my shoes to try to disperse the water from inside them, then say, not that apologetically, “I just needed to get in a smoke.”

“Why’n’t you say so?” he asks. “We—that is the staff—we got a room round the back.” He points through the lobby. “Just go all the way down and through that door. Tell ‘em Sanchez sent you.”

“Thanks,” I say. “But I’m really trying to quit.” He gives me a look. “New Year’s resolution,” I explain. He nods, knowingly. Gives me a wink.

"Good luckwiththat,"hesays.