The first time I smoked must have been around my son's age. I was young enough to require a summer babysitter, Jennifer, who introduced me to cigarettes and taught me to inhale properly. She and I would watch the ABC soap operas and flick our ashes in my mom's shag green carpet. Jennifer said if you do that, you'll never have cockroaches.
Jennifer didn't force me to smoke. I asked her to teach me. I was always looking for ways to age myself.
Three places sold cigarettesto minors in my neighborhood: Highland Market (when the mom or daughter-in-law were working), Rizzi's Pizza (when the counter clerk wasn't looking we could quickly pump quarters in the cigarette machine) and Open Pantry on Carnegie Avenue in Castle Homes (technically off limits as I was not supposed to ride on that side of the tracks without my mom's permission).
One dollar would buy a pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights (for 75 cents) and a two-pack of Sweetart Chewies.
When I was in 11th grade, my high school got a new principal, and, in an effort to battle smoking in the bathroom and gym locker rooms, he created a smoking area between the school parking lot and the entrance to the building. He was a genius: It worked.
I was reminded of this recently when I was complaining to my friend Mary about having to walk through the smokers to get into my building at work. They are supposed to use a designated area behind the building that is away from traffic (Which, by the way, is right outside my company's gym, so while fitness fanatics put in miles on treadmills, steppers and elliptical machines, they watch their coworkers contribute to the Phoenix smog), yet they puff away in front of the building, and I hold my breath as I pass them by.
I've become one of THOSE non-smokers, and Mary, who smokes, says that I pronounce "smoking" with contempt in my voice. I tell her she's just feeling guilt.
"You used to be one of those smokers when we were in school and everyone had to walk by us to get into the building," she reminded me.
Your poinT (emphasis on the T)?
Being a reformed smoker isn't easy. You can easily be accused of being a hypocrite. You can relate to the love affair that smokers have with the ritual of lighting a cigarette (I always preferred the sizzle of a match over the engineered flame of a Bic). And you can relate to the misery the habit causes - the heaviness on your chest in the morning, the flegmy cough, the stinky clothes and the inability to go up and down stairs without becoming winded.
I never wanted to be one of THOSE non-smokers. But here I am, waking up on the wrong side of the bed and wanting to tell my HR department that smokers should have their own dedicated elevator so they don't stink up the other ones for nonsmokers.