A Week In The Life Of A Smoker

(Copied from The New York Times Magazine – Sunday, September 18, 1994)

“Quitters Never Win” — By Susan Shapiro, a writer and book critic living
in Manhattan.

DAY 1: Wake up and put on a nicotine patch to once and for all quit
pack-a-day habit. Write list of reasons: Live 15 years longer, have
healthy children, be socially acceptable. Tear up list and make better
one: Look younger, have fewer wrinkles, get more dates, spite enemies.
Decide to go out and buy carrots, celery, gum, orange juice, fruit,
sugar-free lollipops and rice cakes. Eat it all by 11 a.m., desperately
craving cigarette. Try to work. Instead take all-day nap. Have a drink
later with old boyfriend Peter, who says, “Kissing a smoker is like
licking a dirty ashtray,” then drinks seven beers and a Cognac and comes
on to me. Actually consider it, but can’t face sex without a cigarette
later. At 2 a.m., go out and purchase three packages of fat-free
Entenmann’s brownies.

DAY 2: Wake up sick from brownies and cold caught by walking 14 blocks to
get them at 2 a.m. Put on patch. Buy Sudafed. Take two. Feel better.
Feel delirious. Take a nap. Try to work, but can’t concentrate on
anything but wanting to smoke. One hour on exercise bike: Oprah’s
“Mothers Who Want Their Kids Taken Away” puts problem into perspective.
Read that schizophrenics and manic-depressives in mental hospitals commit
suicide when their cigarettes are taken away. Decide never to have
children. Ask brother the doctor for 65 more patches. Take another
Sudafed. Is there a Sudafed group in the city?

DAY 3: Put on patch. Have breakfast with friend Vern who says that after
he quit smoking, his concentration didn’t come back for two years. Scan
obits for people who died of lung cancer and feel happy when they’re in
their 50’s. Take a nap, dream I’m smoking and feel sad that I went off
the wagon. Wake up and find I’m not, but want to be. Take 100 deep
breaths. Breathing is overrated. Take a walk and count how many stores
on the blocks sell cigarettes. Get more patches in mail from brother,
along with pictures of cancerous tumors. Try to work. See a movie with
Peter in which all actors smoke. Eat two buckets of popcorn. Peter says:
“My cousin Jane quit in three days on Nicorettes. Try Nicorettes,” though
I told him I tried them and threw up, then went out and smoked two packs
to get the taste out of my mouth. Don’t invite him in. Read that
nicotine’s harder to quit than heroine. Take another Sudafed.

DAY 4: Pu on patch. Think of smoking. Brother calls to say don’t even
think of smoking with patch on, someone’s fingers fell off. Lunch with
Andrea, who coughed every time I took out a cigarette for 15 years but now
says,”I can’t hang out with you when you’re like this, you’re too
intense.” Bump into old colleague Dave, who quit smoking and gained 29
pounds in four months but thinks it was the smart choice. Consider
heroin. Try to work but realize it’s impossible to be a freelance writer,
a nonsmoker and thin in the same year. Sudafed losing its bite, check
intro Comtrex. Negotiate self-destructive behaviors: decide that taking
sleeping pill, smoking a joint, getting drunk or having sex with Peter one
more time is better than a Marlboro or Oreos, though not if done on the
same night.

DAY 5: Put on patch. Feel depressed and edgy, sweating. Hand shaking
while reading the newspaper, where tobacco company executives say nicotine
isn’t addictive. Buy a pacifier, pretending it’s a cool rap toy,
wondering why anyone expects morality from the people who plastered
penis-faced camels all over the country. Think of 10 70-year-old smokers
still alive. Dinner with novelist friend Kathy, who chain-smokes in my
face while saying she thinks it’s great that I’m quitting. On way home,
try to buy a 25-cent loosie (loose cigarette) at local bodega but guy
thinks I’m cigarette police. Take it as an omen. Try to think of one
famous writer to doesn’t drink or smoke.

DAY 6: Put patch on. Walk around city chewing. Do high-impact aerobics
for three hours. Walk out of health club wanting cigarette. Stare at
people smoking and wonder why they look so beautiful and happy. Think of
money I’m saving from not smoking. Spend $46 on seven boxes of fat-free
cookies, 27 cinnamon sticks and three Lean Cuisines. Snap rubber band
around wrist 100 times. My father, an oncologist, says, “You’ll never do
it,” forgetting that when he quit his 35-year three-pack-a-day habit he
gained 35 pounds and smoked a six-inch cigar every night. Decide neurosis
is genetic. On stationary bike watch “Saturday Night Live,” which quotes
tobacco execs saying that the 400,000 annual smoking- related deaths
aren’t really dead. Neighbor complains bike makes too much noise. Do
serenity exercises. Picture sitting on a tropical beach, where I’m
happily smoking.

DAY 7: Put on patch. Have brunch with Peter, who says, while drinking
six margaritas, that I’ve gained weight and need to learn more
self-control. Make note to quit Peter. Read article about Bosnia,
noticing only that soldier in picture is smoking. Eat more celery, fruit,
salad. Polish off Oreos. Feel sick and bloated, dying for cigarette.
Take off patch. Run outside. Bum cigarette from homeless person, who
lights it. Puff slowly. Feel happy for the first time in six days. Stop
coughing, calm down. Finish two articles. Go back outside, offer same
guy $2 for two more cigarettes. Smoke them quickly. Feel nauseated,
dizzy. Bump into Vern and Andrea, who say: “We were just coming by to say
how proud we are that you haven’t smoked in a week! Congratulations!”
Feel guilty, defeated. Drink bottle of wine by myself. Fall asleep on
couch with clothes on.

DAY 1: Wake up and put on nicotine patch to once and for all….

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