I've spent roughly half my life so far smoking cigarettes. I gave it up three or four years ago but now chain chew nicotine gum and only smoke when I'm drinking, when I'm filming something or when I feel like it. Which is all the time. I don't even like smoking: it doesn't taste good, I'm too old for it to look cool and my teeth are permanently a few shades closer to butter than most people find attractive. I'm sure my lungs look like the inside of a lazy stoner's resin-caked bowl, except you can't scrape and smoke the tar coating the inside of my body to get high... OR CAN YOU?!
Smoking my first cigarette, while extremely fun at the time, was probably the worst decision I ever made, and I have a tattoo reading "EST. 1982" on the bottom of my foot so that's saying something. When non-smokers ask what I find so appealing about smoking I have a few stock answers I like to whip out: "When you smoke you're never bored because you can always have a cigarette!", "It calms me down," and "OH, LIKE YOU'RE FUCKING PERFECT, MOM?!" But the truth is I don't find anything appealing about smoking. I'm just addicted to nicotine and cigarettes are the easiest (and weirdly, cheapest) way to get it into my bloodstream.
The first thing I do in the morning is pee, because that is the first thing every man does when he wakes up. But the second thing I do is hunt down a piece of nicotine gum and smash it into my gums. It's one of the best moments of my day. I can feel the drug percolating through my body and a euphoric sense of calm washes over me. This lasts for about eleven seconds before I start to want more. And so throughout the day I continue to chain chew, burning my way through roughly twenty or so pieces. Each piece gives me four milligrams of drug, which probably doesn't mean anything to you unless you're a coke dealer for extremely poor people. Four milligrams of nicotine is the same amount you'll find in one cigarette so in terms of drug intake I'm a pack a day chewer. My wife has begged me to stop chewing the gum - especially after our dog developed a taste for it after eating pieces I left laying around - but addiction is more powerful than my will power (and my concerns about my dog's health). For those of you who have never had the pleasure of living in a permanent state of mental slavery, allow me to explain addiction the easiest way I know how.
Addiction is like having a super annoying imaginary friend who always wants to talk to you. If you are ever foolish enough to allow your mind to drift from the task at hand, even for a second, he appears. He doesn't care what you're doing or who you're doing it with; he is always there, begging for recognition. I call him Tyler because I find that to be a particularly annoying name. Here is what it's like living with Tyler.
You wake up in the morning and he's standing at the foot of your bed, smiling vacantly at you.
"Hi!" he says.
You ignore him and try to fall back asleep.
"Hi!" he says again.
"Tyler, shut up. I don't want to say 'Hi' yet," you grumble, burying your head in your pillow.
"Hi! Hi! Hi!" he continues.
"UGH! 'Hi,'" you say, sitting up in bed. That is your first smoke of the day. Tyler - who is always wearing a dirty Garfield sweatshirt in my head - leaves. Because that is the only thing Tyler wants, for you to say "Hi" to him. Unlike fun drugs, nicotine only really makes you want more nicotine. And here's the real shitty part: every time you say "Hi" to Tyler and suck back another smoke to make him leave, all you're doing is ensuring that he comes back sooner. That first "Hi" of the day will normally carry you at least to your commute to work without another visit from Tyler. But he will be back. You said "Hi" to him, after all, and those are the rules. Perhaps Tyler will reappear the second you open your door to walk to the train or your car, standing in the cold in a pair of dirty, off-white New Balance sneakers. Perhaps he will appear when you're halfway to work, staring at you while wiping his nose on the sleeve of his windbreaker. If you're really lucky Tyler might not even show up until you're about to walk into your office. But mark my words, if you're living with Tyler as I am, he will show himself before you can really begin your workday. And he'll be wearing Bugle Boy jeans with a shredded seam on his inner thigh, revealing a little too much inner thigh skin to be socially acceptable. "Hi!" he says, standing outside the doors to your office building.
"Hi, Tyler," you sigh, and light a smoke.
Throughout the day Tyler will appear at your desk and you will comply with his demands. You will stand outside with all the other people who have annoying imaginary friends, all of you desperately trying to get your Tylers to shut the hell up and leave you alone for a few minutes. I'd say that during a typical workday Tyler makes five or six appearances. If you try to ignore Tyler, he will only get closer to your face and say Hi louder. You can ignore him for an hour or two but by hour three Tyler's nose will be buried in your temple, his mouth directly on over your ear.
"HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!" he screams, so close that you can almost taste the family sized bag of Ruffles and 24oz cup of onion dip he ate for lunch.
As big a part of your day as Tyler can be at work, it's after hours that Tyler really kicks it into high gear. If you happen to go out drinking, Tyler is of course going with you. But as you get drunker something strange happens: Tyler doesn't seem so annoying anymore. Hell, you kind of like the guy. I mean, he just wants you to say "Hi" to him, right? Why not oblige? And so you'll spend half your night outside the bar or the party saying "Hi" to Tyler again and again. When you're drunk, Tyler doesn't ever really go away no matter how many times you say "Hi" to him, but you don't mind. Before you know it you've said "Hi" to Tyler fifteen times, only stopping every hour or so to hit the bathroom or get another drink.
When you finally stumble home you'll do so saying "Hi" to Tyler the whole way. Just two souls slowly making their way home, trading "Hi" after "Hi." Chain-Hi-ing, I guess. And when you're back in your home, ready to fall asleep, Tyler will beg you for just one more "Hi" before you both go to bed. He's changed into his PJs now, which I normally imagine as a XXXL TapOut T-Shirt that hangs low enough to hide his two-sizes-too-large boxers. You better hope you were smart enough to grab a pack of "Hi's" on the way home because if not he'll stand by your bed saying "Hi" louder and louder until you pass out.
The next morning you'll awake to find that apparently while you were sleeping a Victorian chimney sweep rubbed his soot covered brush all in your mouth. You'll hack up some lung lining and pray that somewhere, somehow, there's a Gatorade in your apartment. You'll make your way to the bathroom and brush your teeth, maybe even splash water on your face like you're in a shaving cream commercial. Make sure you check out your jawline (both sides) and rub your fingers over it to confirm that yes, in fact, Gillette Fusion shaving gel did really leave your skin that smooth. You'll be smiling to yourself, pretending you're anywhere near attractive enough to endorse a male beauty product when a startling realization will wash over you: Tyler isn't here. Perhaps you finally said "Hi" to him so many times that he got his fill. Perhaps he's moved on to a new friend, maybe even one of those girls from last night who said they only say "Hi" to Tyler when they drink. You gotta admit, you'll kind of miss the guy, but the future is looking bright now that Tyler and his incessant need to be acknowledged are no longer a part of your life.
You'll skip the Gatorade and pour yourself a nice, strong cup of coffee to kickstart your brain and bowels. As you sit in your kitchen sipping an artisanal Dunkin' Turbo, you'll try to figure out how much money you'll save now that you no longer have to say "Hi" to Tyler. What do they say, every time you say "Hi" to Tyler it takes five minutes off your life? You're going to have a lot more minutes left to live, you lucky son of a bitch. But as you finish that last gulp of coffee and lower the mug, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and the neolithic part of your brain raises the alarm. Something is behind you. You don't know whether the pit you feel in your stomach is the coffee slamming into your intestines or the dreadful realization that you know what's coming next.
Stock photo from shutterstock.com