Monday, January 17, 2011

Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

Here’s what’s on my mind—REALLY on my mind—today.

Cigarettes and chocolate milk
These are just a couple of my cravings
Everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger
A little bit thicker, a little bit harmful for me

If I should buy jellybeans
Have to eat them all in just one sitting
Everything it seems I like’s a little bit sweeter
A little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me

—Rufus Wainwright, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk

I stopped smoking cigarettes—again!—last Friday night.  I’m in day 3 with the nicotine patch.  It’s really not that bad, but it’s not that easy either!

I’m not at all fond of chocolate milk—that apparently is one of Rufus’s cravings—but, like Rufus, I crave cigarettes.  I also love jelly beans, especially black licorice jelly beans, and I can eat a bowlful in one sitting, no problem.  I also have been known to eat an entire coconut cake, a whole box of cookies, an entire pecan pie, and a half–gallon of ice cream, though not all at the same time.  “Everything it seems I like’s a little bit stronger, a little bit thicker, a little bit sweeter, a little bit fatter, a little bit harmful for me. . .”

Today has been filled with thoughts of cigarettes.  People today see smoking as it really and objectively is: disgusting, dirty, expensive, and unhealthy.  Smokers are pitied, avoided, banished to remote parking lots, and turned down for sex.  Gone are the days of Bogart and Bacall when smoking was sexy and sophisticated and fun.  A lot of my classmates smoked when I was in the seminary.  In high school, we weren’t allowed to smoke cigarettes at school, but as soon as we got on the train to New York at Christmas or summer break, the packs would appear along with matches and lighters, and many of my buddies were immediately in nicotine’s deadly thrall.  Smoking was allowed without much restriction once we finished the novitiate.  All through the seminary, I resisted smoking.  My Dad smoked and I hated the ashtrays and other filth that his smoking produced.

When I turned 21, though, I was in the middle of a strong sexual attraction to a smoker.  This attraction was one of the fiercest I’ve ever experienced.  Of course, the object of my lust was straight to the max, so the lust was never consummated.  I’m fairly certain, though, that this smoking god of youth knew how I felt about him.  I was sent to the Friars parishes in Georgia and South Carolina that June (1968) to work with the kids of the two parishes.  While there, two things happened to me: first, I pretty much decided to leave the Friars at the end of the summer (after my German course in summer school at Catholic University), and second, I started smoking.  Some gay men have told me they believe smoking cigarettes may have a sexual component (displaced fellatio, they believe).  In my case, I know without a doubt that, in 1968 when I started, smoking for me was a substitute for sex with my smoking god.  No question about it.  None.  Smoking for me still has a small sexual component, but now it’s mostly just an addiction, although an addiction I have enjoyed.

I’m sure that most of my classmates who smoked quit in their 30's and 40's.  I quit, too, when I was 37, but only for four months.  That was when it hit me that smoking really IS bad for me and that it is a habit I should never had started.  It is an addiction, though, and I fell off the wagon.

Now I feel like I don’t have many options.  If I plan to live much longer, or at all comfortably, I’m going to have to stop smoking.  In the past year, I’ve started getting smokers’ problems that I know other people have had but which I never before experienced: lots of phlegm, and wheezing when I really exerted myself.  Smoking has become more than just “a little bit harmful for me.”

Maybe I can learn to enjoy chocolate milk. . .

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