I smoked. I started when I was 16. Cigarettes were twenty five cents in 1959. I posed with a cigarette dangling from my lips as an 18 year old in the Air Force, imitating the movie actors in the World War II movies. When I was twenty I was stationed in Germany, where waiters in even moderately priced restaurants would appear out of nowhere when you took out a cigarette and light it for you. I smoked until I got out of the Air Force at 22, then quit. Then started again. Then quit. Then started again. Then quit when I decided I didn’t like the way it made my hair and clothes smell. Cancer was bad, but smelly hair and clothes were intolerable. Then I started again when I got a sudden urge, but didn’t even finish the pack. I was about a one cigarette a year smoker for a few years. Then, finally, I quit for good in my early thirties.
Last week I got a text from my wife. “Could you pick up my prescription at CVS and get me a pack of cigarettes?” I thought it was some kind of a joke and that I wasn’t getting it. My wife never smoked and I didn’t think she was starting now. I didn’t get the cigarettes.
But it wasn’t a joke. She wanted a pack of cigarettes – for a school project. She’s a school nurse and every year she has to prepare a presentation for the elementary school kids about the dangers of smoking.
I made a special trip to a liquor store to get a pack of cigarettes. It was embarrassing, like it is for a teenaged boy going into a drugstore to buy a condom to put in his wallet in case he gets lucky. I hoped nobody would see me. The conversation with the clerk was awkward. I asked for my old brand, paid six dollars and change, and put them into my pocket. I left the store quickly. I felt the old urge quickly. I dismissed the old urge quickly. It’s been about 36 years since I smoked. It’s a strong urge.