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 I was told recently, by someone whose opinion I attach much value to in such matters, that the two most frustrating things about me are my complete inability and unwillingness to defend anything I believe in when it is challenged - I think the term used was ďyou have no spineĒ - and the fact that I smoke. Iím not sure I can do much about the first flaw - I mean, unless you think I should - but there might be a chance I can fix the latter. I think Iím going to try to quit smoking.

It, of course, wonít be easy. Iíve even tried before. Twice. The first time was when I took a job in Los Angeles, where my fiancee and I had made a pact to quit when we moved in together. Los Angeles is very much a nonsmoking city. The law against smoking in bars was passed while I lived out there - probably because they want to keep all the smog outside - so I figured it wouldnít be too difficult. My mother, whose disgust for my addiction knows no end, bought me some nicotine patches, and I wore them for two weeks. I wasnít very smart about it, though, as evidenced by the time I went to the beach with the patch on my left arm. I was sunburned so badly that there is still, almost three years later, a square pale area there.

I was successful in quitting for a while, but then my fiancee arrived a month and a half later. She also had quit for a while, but then the stress of realizing she was about to crush a manís spirit by leaving him got to her, and she fell off the wagon. The stress of having my spirit crushed was too much for me to handle as well, and next thing I knew, I was smoking more than I had in the first place.

My next attempt came when I left Los Angeles for St. Louis, thinking a change of geography would do me good. I went on the patch again with similar results. I didnít have a cigarette for about three months, but when I officially started the new job, not knowing anyone in St. Louis, I turned to the one friend who had always been there for me, the Marlboro Man. He was happy to see me.

These are lame rationalizations, of course. If I wanted to quit, I would, and I wouldnít need to use major life changes as excuses to do it. Itís not even that cool to smoke these days; the only people I ever get to have a cigarette with anymore are ones who only smoke when theyíre around me. I always feel like the office drug dealer: ďHey, Will, man, you got a smoke? Just one, man ... thatíll get me through the day.Ē I wish I could have lived in the Ď50s, when everybody smoked; jeez, you could smoke in a movie theater in the Ď50s. How cool is that?

But, alas, Iím now the social outcast, the bad kid sneaking smokes in the boysí room, with the leather jacket and Triumph motorcycle, rebelling against, oh, something. I donít know what. Why couldnít I have been like this in high school? I was the good kid then. I didnít drink, do drugs or smoke in high school, and the worst crime I ever committed was staying out past curfew with my girlfriend. I donít think the surgeon general ever said there was too much wrong with parking, did she?

Iím thinking of blaming Michelle and Mike for my addiction. They were my two closest companions during my sophomore year in college, where I developed all my vices. They both smoked heavily. We all worked for a college newspaper, which meant we were losers who had nothing better to do than smoke and bitch about how racist/sexist/homophobic/ageist/etc. our schoolís administration was. Michelle and Mike took great pleasure in introducing their corn-poke clean-cut friend to the joys of Marlboro Reds.

I couldnít figure it out at first: how to hold the cigarette, how to inhale, how to exhale, how not to look like a tool when flicking the ashes. The worst was when I accidentally set myself on fire when I was, um, wearing a skirt. (Donít ask; trust me, you donít want to know.)

But, obviously, I caught on eventually, and Iíve been addicted ever since. Of course, Michelle and Mike have since quit smoking, and every time they see me, I receive the inevitable chidings to grow up and let go of the old college habit. That is, until they get drunk and start taking my cigarettes.

At that same college newspaper, inspired by both constant persecution and a need to try to impress a girl who was a smoker, I wrote a story about why smokers were cooler people than non-smokers. Some of my points are still valid: We share with people we donít know, we stay thin, we die young and therefore get the hell out of nonsmokersí way. I still have a copy of that paper; it, like my teeth, is yellowing with age.

Of course, since youíre such a loyal reader of this column, you know one of the main reasons Iím so afraid to quit smoking is my horrific fear of getting fat. Every former smoker I go to for advice on quitting quickly warns me to be fully prepared to gain about 10 pounds. I know smoking is a disgusting habit, but Iím not sure Iím ready to pack on 10 pounds to get rid of it. Maybe if I eat even less ...

Itís not like I smoke all that often. My grandfather smoked three packs a day until the day he died. I couldnít go through three packs a day if I smoked from every orifice. Only on particularly depressed days can I even approach one pack, and then I wake up sounding, smelling and looking like that neighbor lady in Thereís Something About Mary.



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