A Young Vigilante
When I was growing up, I didn’t get into trouble very often. For the most part, I was a good kid who got really nervous when my friends wanted to leave the neighborhood (or do anything else I wasn’t allowed to do).
But in third grade some of the other boys thought it was cool to roll up wet paper towels and pretend they were cigarettes. I was morally opposed to the idea even though almost all the boys in the class were doing it. I was so opposed (and vigilante like) that I once accepted a brown wet third grade paper towel cigarette only to turn around and immediately tell the teacher what I’d just been given and what the other boys were up to. The boy who had offered it to me was graveling at the teacher’s feet before she could even formulate a response:
“Look, here are all my paper towel cigarettes, I promise I’ll never do it again!” The boy cried as wads of rolled paper towels fell from his hands to the floor. Kid must’ve been a dealer.
Fast Forward to College
It wasn’t until I moved to Chattanooga to attend college that I spent any regular amount of time around smokers. I had multiple friends who smoked in Chattanooga and I’ll admit—I enjoyed bumming the occasional cigarette. I guess that’s how long it took for my third grade vigilante to wear off.
It wasn’t really a nicotine thing or even a rebellious thing as much as it was a social thing. I know smoking is a terrible, deadly habit that no one should ever have, but that didn’t keep me from smoking a couple cigarettes a month. I was known among my roommates and friends for buying one pack and having it for months. I always lost the cigarettes before finishing the pack.
But as bad habits go, it got worse.
I felt like Tom Petty when I smoked cigarettes. I specifically remember driving from Nashville to Chattanooga late one night listening to Tom Petty’s greatest hits as loud as it would go with all my windows down and a cigarette in my mouth. I felt defiant and bad-boyish, which should provide some perspective as to just how not bad boyish I actually am.
My friends didn’t encourage me to smoke. At first they didn’t care that I did, but as it became more frequent I started to get more sideways glances—more faces that said, “dude you’re an idiot.”
5 Minutes of Quitting
It was a really freaking cold day and I was out with a few rock climbing buddies at a boulder field. I was standing in the thirty degree cold watching my friend Gary try a boulder problem when I pulled out a new pack of cigarettes from my giant snowboarding jacket. The guys who were all standing around with me gave me looks of disapproval and I pretended not to see them. It was a weird chess match of my friends not wanting to be condescending (a couple of them were smokers themselves) and also thinking I was an idiot for starting smoking at 22 with absolutely no peer pressure to do so.
Less than 5 minutes later, Gary fell of the boulder he was working on (not hard, he just fell—it’s what happens when you’re climbing). He turned around to talk to us when he saw me hitting the pack against my palm. Truth be told, I never understood why people did that, but I just did it because it seemed like the thing you were supposed to do.
“Dude, What the $%&*?!?!” Gary is not subtle.
I just kind of stood there looking stupid.
“You smoke?” Gary asked. He was both a smoker and a medical student which gave him a very interesting perspective.
“I do now,” I said trying to muster as much confidence as I could.
“You’re a #*&&@ idiot. Give me the pack.” Gary said like a dad.
I stood stunned for probably 3 seconds. The only conflict I was used to experiencing on climbing trips was people getting really mad at rocks. This was different. Gary was legitimately upset at me for legitimate reasons and I legitimately knew hew was right (that’s my ‘legitimate’ quota).
“Ok” I said and gave him the pack. I never smoked again.
From that experience I learned how valuable Garys are. Everyone needs one.