It seemed easy enough at first. I’d seen all the guys that I admired doing it. Leonardo DiCaprio, John Wayne, Steve Buscemi—All a different class of guys, and they all did what I was trying so hard to do. The flame whipped around in front of my face. I lit my liter, dangling my first cigarette closer and closer to the flame with each second. I stopped before it was lit. It seemed easy enough at first, but it wasn’t—taking that first drag on my American Spirit was a difficult task.
I’ve always been a smoker. I love a good pipe smoke after a meal, with a glass of gin if possible, and I’ll smoke a cigar anywhere; but this—this was different. I’ve never inhaled tobacco smoke purposefully. But here I was, sitting in the living room of my one bedroom apartment—an apartment that was specifically a “non-smoking” apartment—stressing out about whether or not I was going to be able to do this like some punk-ass kid, concerned about the level of appeal he has to the world.
“I’m just going to do it,” I told myself. “I’ll light it, cough, and get it over with. I don’t have to smoke more than one tonight, and I’ll get the hang of it in time.” Again, I flicked the flint on my lighter, again I dangled my loosely clinched American Spirit in front of the flame, and again I stopped before it was lit. It seemed easy enough at first, but it wasn’t—mustering up the stones to inhale the smoke produced from flaming tobacco leaves.
I just finished watching a Stanley Kubrick film called “Full Metal Jacket.” After just one watch, it shot up to the number one spot on my top five favorite movies of all time—a spot that used to be held by the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer. Nobody in the movie smoked, that I remember. But I do remember a bunch of guys running around, grabbing their crotches, and chanting, “This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun.” What a weird bunch of guys. I was distracting myself from the task at hand—by the end of the night, I was supposed to be a smoker, and here I am thinking about a fictional depiction of Marine Boot camp. And to think, it seemed so easy at first.
I could really go for a beer. I’ve got one bottle left—a Belhaven Scottish Ale, sitting comfortably in my refrigerator, chilled to perfection and just dying to be drunk. But I’m busy—I’m trying to force myself to light up a cigarette and smoke. It was kind of funny. There was no one around aging me on, telling me to do it. No one was yelling, “What’s the matter, LaRoux? Ya Scared? You a chicken?” No one, that is except for myself. “Damn it,” I thought. “When I finally finish doing this, I’ll probably have a good story for the Bohemian. I’m sure those artsy pricks will love reading about how I forced myself into a tobacco addiction in a matter of seconds.” Artsy Pricks—how dare I call the fine readers of the journal that. Hell, I’m the same kind of person. I love reading about how people get flung into addictions and things—it’s very entertaining. I was out of line to think that anyone was a prick. What I was really doing was trying to distract myself from the task at hand.
Holden Caulfield was very winded. He was young, but he was always out of breath. By the time he’d finished telling his story to the guy at the psych-ward, he had started smoking all the time. Holden Caulfield is one of my favorite literary characters. He’s the main protagonist—if you can call him that—of the book “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. Just because I like this book doesn’t mean I’m going to assassinate the president or anything. I just liked reading about how this crazy son of a bitch spent his time in New York City. He sure was a cool guy, Holden Caulfield. But thinking about him—even thinking about why he was winded—is just another distraction.
“I’m done. I’m not going to play around anymore” I told myself. “I’m just going to light this damn thing and smoke it. It’s that easy. Puff puff, cough cough, and I’m done. I can go back to watching Kick-Ass on Netflix.” I opened a word document on my computer. “Maybe writing about what I haven’t done yet will help.” I began to type. “It seemed easy enough at first.” I kept typing and typing, mashing away at the sticky keys on my keyboard, in hopes that this inspirational event would trigger a great story, and that this great story would trigger the courage—if you can call it that—to light up a cigarette. It didn’t. 837 words into it, I was ready to stop writing. I paused—or, I should say, I am pausing. Now, I’m picking up my green tinted 10 cent lighter that I purchased from the gas station down the road. I twist the flint dial on the lighter twice, on the third time it lights up with an opaque yellowish flame. I grasped the cigarette in my right hand, between my index and middle fingers and forced my face closer and closer to the lighter. Finally it was lit. My first American Spirit. I inhaled the tobacco into my lungs, sure that I was going to begin coughing. The cough never came. I guess I’ve accidentally inhaled enough tobacco from cigars and pipes that the smoke doesn’t affect me anymore. Still, I felt this strange burning sensation in my lungs. “Lung cancer,” I thought. “That’s the first sign that I’ve forever screwed up my lungs.”
I kept dragging–taking slower and slower breaths, hoping that I could continue typing while concentrating on this strange light-headed feeling that accompanied me. “Am I dizzy? Man, I could sleep really well after a few of these. I should probably give the journal at least 1500 words though, so I’ll keep writing.” It’s not as bad as I’ve heard it would be, smoking. In fact, I think it actually helps me write. I continued typing, only this time, not using my index finger—it was incapacitated, trying to grasp my American Spirit. After a few slow, long drags on the cigarette, I was hooked. I’d fallen in love with another vice—just what I need. I won’t say that I didn’t cough the entire time that I was smoking. I didn’t cough a lot, but I did cough. I started blowing smoke through my nose, admiring the beauty of it in my glowing computer screen. It seemed easy enough at first, but it wasn’t. Lighting up that first cigarette was incredibly difficult. Lighting up the second one won’t be so difficult.
“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette.” When I was a kid, me and my best friend would ride around on our bikes with a small CD player, listening to old country music. This friend—Nicholas Johnston was his name—was obsessed with old country, while I was into bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll from the 70s. But, I’d tolerate old country. It was good. The song that we’d always sing along to had those words in it—“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette.” He and I chanted those words like a drunken choir up and down Oakdale Street, Winnsboro, Louisiana. “Nick,” I said, “do you think you’ll ever smoke?” “I don’t know,” he responded, staring at the street with a contemplative look on his face. “What about you?” “I don’t know, Nick. I’ve always thought it was pretty cool to look at, but I’ve heard it hurts.” “That’s what I’ve heard, too,” Nicholas responded. The song continued, “Smoke, smoke, smoke and if you smoke yourself to death, tell Saint Peter at the Golden Gate that you hates to make him wait, but you’ve just got to have another cigarette.” He and I screamed those words up and down our street, never fully grasping how different we’d end up. That memory just went through my mind while writing this. I’m not sure if it helps the story or not, but I couldn’t help but share it. “Tell saint Peter at the Golden Gate that you hates to make him wait but you’ve just got to have another cigarette.”
While writing my essay about smoking my first American Spirit, my cigarette went out. There are only so many drags you can take on a cigarette before it goes out. “Damn it,” I thought. “Now I’ve got to light up another one. I wonder if it’s going to be as pleasurable. I wonder if I’m going to have to think about it for a long time before I do it. I guess I’ll have to find out.” I pulled my second American Spirit out of the packet, lit the lighter, and stared, ominously into the flame. It seemed easy enough at first, but it wasn’t.