With the specter of both city and state smoking bans drawing inexorably near, I can?t help but reflect back on my lifetime of tobacco excesses and the agonies I experienced before finally breaking free.
I have quit alcohol, weed, meth, coke, black mollies, quaaludes, bennies, white crosses, acid, peyote buttons, and psilocybin mushrooms, and I can say without reservation that tobacco was my toughest habit to kick.
There will be no condemnation of smoking, chewing, or dipping from this corner. I fully understand the fear and loathing that a proposed smoking ban for bars and other public places can foster.
At one time in my life, I sucked on cigarettes for the sole purpose of making food taste better (heavy smokers will understand this), and the prospect of running smooth out of cigarettes with no handy place to purchase more was a stoker of raw terror.
I was loaded and rolling
Starting when I was 14 or 15 years of age, I smoked anything I could stick in my mouth and light with a match. My first smoke was a hand-rolled Bull Durham that I put together from “makings” I swiped from my cowboy grandfather, the late Clarence (Shinny) Chenault of Kimble County.
The “poor boy” smokes of those hardscrabble years were hand rolled with cigarette papers and tiny dry tobacco flakes which were sold in little cloth sacks labeled either Bull Durham or Duke?s Mixture. It took considerable skill to hand roll a Bull Durham or Duke?s Mixture cigarette, and I wasted half a sack of tobacco before I got that first spit-licked, humpbacked and hand-twisted little cancer stick ready for the kitchen match. It was a great victory, and I can still remember the vast sense of accomplishment that accompanied the magic moment.
You couldn?t smoke a hand-rolled “Duke?s” or “Bull Durham” in the wind or in a moving truck or car with the windows down. The tiny sparks blowing from those primitive little butts left shirts speckled with tiny, telltale holes. So when my grandpa switched from Bull Durham to the easier to manage brands known as Bugler and Prince Albert, I happily went along with the program, stealing from his Prince Albert cans and Bugler packages when Grandpa Shinny left them within my grasp.
First blissful drag
The first “ready-roll” I experienced was a short (filters were right around the corner), non-filtered Camel, a wonderful little discovery that made me dizzier than a hydrophobic civet cat when those first blissful “drags” rolled down into my lungs. I learned to blow smoke out of my nose, talk with smoke coming out of both sides of my mouth like Bogart, and even drink beer with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of my mouth.
From those little Camel shorties, I graduated to nonfilter Chesterfields, Lucky Strikes, and finally those long, lungbustin ? double-whammy smokes in the red package some of us remember as non-filter Pall Malls. I smoked all of these products for years before eventually switching over to Camel filters. I smoked up to two packs or more a day, sucking them so short the ashes all but fell off behind my teeth. Nicotine had stained my right hand fingers baby shit yellow, and it was not uncommon for me to bolt upright in bed from a sound sleep to fire up a cigarette.
I can well understand that consternation of smokers who might not be able to puff away in their favorite bars. And to this day, I can?t really imagine how it is in the Bexar County Jail where smoking has been banned for years now.
Back during 1988 and 1989. when crank and Colombian marching powder had me strung out like a sugar mill jackass, I was bouncing in and out of the Bexar County Jail with only one paramount concern when they had me behind bars. Smoking was permissible in the jail back then, and my daily goal was to score enough smoking tobacco to carry me through to the next day.
Bugler and rolling papers were carried in the jail commissary in the late 1980s, and I had been well prepared during my childhood hand-rolling days in my Kimble County home of Junction. I didn?t buy soap, candy, or moon pies with my meager commissary dollars. I bought Bugler tobacco and nothing else.
Struggling to quit
I quit smoking 17 years ago, but I still can?t imagine the horrors of a jail with a smoking ban. My struggles to quit cigarettes and eventually the Copenhagen snuff which took over my life after smoking have been recounted in this column before. But, for you smokers who might be considering “smokeless tobacco” as an alternative to cigarette puffing, heed this warning. Copenhagen was far tougher for me to quit than even cigarettes.
The decision to switch from cigarettes to Copenhagen happened one bad night as I death rattled and coughed up green phlegm balls bigger than Copano Bay oysters. I had to do something, and Copenhagen offered the alternative. In keeping with my lifelong belief that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, I set forth to become a hardcore Copenhagen dipper.
I had chewed some tobacco during my earlier smoking days, spitting Beechnut and Brown?s Mule streams in every direction, but I soon learned that real “Cope” dippers don?t hardly ever spit. They swallow the juice, and the real pros can even eat a meal with a dip tucked between lip and gum on one side of the mouth while food goes in the other.
Old pillow face
I didn?t eat with Copenhagen in my mouth, but I slept with a dip in my mouth until that fateful Easter Sunday morning 12 years ago. When I looked in the bathroom mirror, I realized that the Copenhagen juice had glued my pillow to my beard. I was wearing the pillow and wondering what in hell I was going to do. I couldn?t go on like that. At that point in time, my wife-to-be was beginning to complain about the amber stains on bed sheets, pillow cases, blankets, and my shirt fronts.
I sucked it up and quit the “Cope.” But I know I will never completely recover from the awful addiction. To this day, when I see a dirty mud-encrusted Copenhagen can laying in some street gutter, I still fight an almost overpowering urge to fall to my knees, tear off the lid, and lick it clean.
Today, I can sympathize with smokers facing a ban. I do this while remembering with disgust how I looked with a tobacco juice stained pillow hanging from my beard.