Thursday, September 29, 2011

How Many Licks?

I smoked a bunch of cigarettes, okay?

I lasted three and a half weeks. That isn’t bad. Then I took a cosmic licking and the marshmallow center of my hard candy shell came out like a pop star in Provincetown on the 4th of July.

Like a vengeance, in other words.

And also not much of a surprise.

I don’t think I’ll get into much detail about the cosmic licking. Let’s just say that filing for divorce after a year and a half of chasing paperwork takes an anti-climactic five seconds to do, costs $120 you probably should’ve thought about ahead of time, and elicits unwelcome congratulations from everyone you tell, even when you’re only telling by way of an explanation as to why you’re not your usual eat-a-peach, the-world’s-my-oyster self.

Well, not from everyone you tell. It doesn't elicit any response at all from some people – Some People whom you decided not to tell but accidentally included anyway on the “I just finally, officially filed for divorce” text message that was supposed to only go to out-of-staters. You deserved that deafening silence, though. Because you hadn’t told Some People anything else about the divorce (or the marriage, or much of anything else about your past, for that matter) up to this point, anyway, so you can’t blame them if they don’t know what to say. Come to think of it, they probably deserve credit for at least not offering knee-jerk, cliché congratulations.

Also? Sigmund would probably say that slip was no accident, after all. But what does he know about texting, anyway? He’s been dead since, like, rotary dialing was cutting edge.

And then the bank — 

Let's see. How can I put this so you’ll understand how frustrating these past few months have been, without getting into the sordid details of how our quail-size nest-egg got all scrambled...? Aha! 

A. Bank of America is an elephant.

B. Everyone who works for them is blind.

I wanted to carry that analogy a little farther. There’s a joke in there about climbing trees and ropes and walls, I know there is. Plus something about dung beetles, I’m sure. But I promised myself I’d post this before I went to bed, and I can’t reach either of them from where I’m sitting at the moment. Not that anyone would notice if I didn’t. But still. I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. And, well, you know…

So that happened, and then what else? Oh, yeah.

By way of distraction, I went out with a couple friends that night. To the biker bar in Arundel where I work. And found out that the guy who asked me for my number last week – the guy who was supposed to at least distract me from the damn Kid for a while – is actually already dating someone else.

So I shot him, lit myself a cigarette from the smoking barrel of my gun, pushed through the double-swinging saloon doors and strode off in my cowboy boots into the night.

No, no. I'm joking, of course. I don't really wear cowboy boots, sillies. I wear Fryes.

Really, I lasted two whole more days after that. Two twitchy, weepy, five-(then-six-then-seven)-pounds-overweight days, over which I developed a nasty habit of sending increasingly-crazy-sounding text messages to Some People who still Did Not Respond until finally I cracked and called him.

Them, I mean. Some People. You know: Them.

They didn’t answer, and that’s when I cracked. Skittered downstairs for the spare pack in the freezer, grabbed the big fireplace lighter off the counter by the candles, ran out to the front step and smoked before I had a chance to change my mind.

Six cigarettes. Right in a row. Onetwothreefourfivesix just like that.

And then?

Some People called.

I don’t think I’ll get into much detail about the conversation. Except to say that it was very wet, satisfyingly productive, and it cured the crazy nasty habit for a while.

Just like the cough I had to put up with all over again for the next few days.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I Quit Smoking Two Weeks Ago…

…and I’m a little tense.

The problem is, I haven’t got a single vice left. I am goddamn perfect now, what can I say?

It’s true: I quit eating junk food (as a habit, anyway) for New Year’s 2010; I quit watching television when I moved to Maine that spring; I quit drinking when I got arrested in October; and I quit smoking two weeks ago. Plus I told the Kid to go to hell last weekend, so I haven’t even—

Hm. A more astute Yours Truly might have seen a cause-and-effect relationship between those last two things before she saw them lined up side by side. Ah well. It’s the Kid’s fault I quit smoking anyway. So even if the fit I threw in his direction was nicotine-induced, his hairy little ass was asking for it.

See, I’ve been smoking off and on for twenty years – and by “off and on,” I mean “always,” just “in varying amounts.” And actually, I lied: it’s been twenty-one years. Nope. I lied again: it’s twenty-two. Smoked my first Camel Light hanging out my college dorm window in November of my senior year, all by myself. I’d always been a pain in the ass, lecturing and crusading against the nasty habit – I even made a collage of Surgeon Generals Warnings cut out of magazine ads and hung it on my dorm room wall (this, when we were actually required to have ash trays in our rooms) – but suddenly, for reasons I didn’t understand,* I wanted one. And for obvious reasons I didn’t want my friends to know.

*I have recently figured out the reason: From the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed, I am always – but always – doing something with my mouth. I don’t eat much but I drink constantly, chew gum, smoke cigarettes. I suck on my fingers if there’s nothing else around. And then, when I go to sleep, I grind my teeth. I don’t need Dr. Freud to diagnose this full-blown oral fixation, but if there’s an explanation for it I think I’ll just leave that Dog where it Lies.

My friends found out soon enough, and over the years I went from Camel Lights to Camel Filters to Camel Non-Filters (!), to Marlboro Lights to Marlboro Ultra Lights to Newports. Yet, somehow, I never thought of myself as a Smoker with a capital S until last summer, when I started buying Marlboro Menthol Light 100s by the carton and lighting my first one when I rolled out of bed at five a.m.

I think it was the “Marlboro Menthol Light 100s” shit that clinched the deal. That’s a mouthful and a half, man. I had to slow down and think about it every time I ordered up a carton. And half the time it still came out all wrong.

Coincidentally, this Year of Smoking Dangerously lines up almost exactly with the time I’ve known The Kid, but it’s got nothing to do with him. In fact, he thinks it’s nasty, and he used to hassle me about it all the time. I summarily ignored him, though, because he (redneck alert!) chews tobacco. Which’ll kill him just as surely, with the added plus of gradual disfigurement to boot. But at least he does chew wintergreen, so our nasty habits are matchingly minty fresh.

He gave me so much shit, though, that without thinking about it I gradually stopped smoking around him. I’d go out for one at the bar, but not at the house if he was here. I’d smoke on my way home from his place, but not on my way over. And even though I made sure there was always an empty soda bottle in the armrest of my car for his post-coital fix, I wouldn’t satisfy my own until I’d seen him safely in his door. Then I’d chain-smoke for the half-hour it takes me to drive home.

And I would love it.

But then one day this happened:

I don’t remember when this was, but it was early-ish and it was already dark, yet warm enough for me to be relaxing in the yard, so it had to have been sometime late last spring. I was out there doing nothing but staring at the stars and smoking cigarettes when my cell phone started playing “Folsom Prison Blues.”

“What are you doing!?”

That’s what the Kid always says when he calls. Nine times out of ten the answer is either “getting out of the shower” or “listening to music and dancing around,” so I was actually a little excited to get to say something different for a change.

“I’m outside,” I said. “Staring at the stars and smoking cigarettes.”


He honked it out when I was barely finished speaking – like: “Eh! Wrong answer!” I laughed.

“Gross yourself!” I said. “At least I don’t spit brown drool all over the place!”

“At least I don’t stink!”

Ouch. Somehow, in twenty-two years, I’d never thought about it quite that way before. He stunned me speechless.

“Yeah, okay,” I finally said. “You got me there.”

“Ha!” He was so proud of himself. The little shit. “See? Now come get me! Let’s go up to the bar and shoot some pool!”

So I did and we did. I had a shower first, though. Brushed my teeth. And at the bar I didn’t go out for a cigarette all night. But boy did I love lighting one as soon as he was safely in his door.

I didn’t get to chain-smoke for half an hour, though, because I wasn’t half a mile down the road before he called and asked me to come back.

“But I didn’t smoke all night!” I said. “And now I stink!”

Well, it turns out he doesn’t really care all that much after all.

The whole thing got me thinking, though, and it simmered for a while. It simmered through a phase of smoking twice as much, because I’m a grownup and I can do what I want, dammit. It simmered through a phase of smoking in front of the Kid after all, because who the fuck does he think he is, anyway? It simmered through a phase of being grossed out by what people smell like when they come back in from smoking – and then going out to smoke myself. And finally, it simmered through a phase of examining my skin in the mirror and wondering if I might look less like the Marlboro Man if I divorced myself from the Menthol Light 100s.

And then, two weeks ago, I up and quit. Didn’t decide to, didn’t mean to, it just happened. Woke up at five a.m. on Thursday, September 8, rolled outside with a cup of coffee, lit a smoke, and stared at it, wondering why anyone would want to do such an odd, disgusting thing. Especially someone who works out for two hours every day and walks seven miles whenever she can. Someone who doesn’t eat junk food or drink alcohol or watch TV. Someone who’s lucky enough to know this Kid who thinks it’s gross, and who’d very much like to see how he turns out.

I didn’t tell anybody for a while. I didn’t want to make a general announcement till it stuck. But I think it has, now. I can tell because – even without the junk food – I’ve managed to gain back the seven pounds I lost when I quit drinking. I’ll get rid of them, though. Two hours a day, remember. Seven miles when I can. And in the meantime, well, I’m sure no one will notice. Those seven pounds are mostly in my ass, after all. And I did tell that damn Kid to go to hell.

In the meantime, I’ve turned on the television. A girl’s gotta have a vice, and America’s Funniest Home Videos is all I’ve got. Besides, something tells me that a good swift kick in the nuts is exactly what Dr. Freud would order.

If he wasn’t so darn busy smoking cigars.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Silly Rabbit

These days, the Kid has a motorcycle. He didn’t have one when I met him—although he claimed, in a fit of trying to impress me, he had two, but really zero is how many motorcycles that Kid had (don’t tell him I said that, though; he doesn’t think I know). That was a completely different Kid from the one I’ve grown to love, however.  He really does have a motorcycle now. And I, in a convoluted sort of way, helped get it for him.

The bike’s a custom chopper. I had to ask him three times over the course of two weeks before I finally understood just what that meant, but now I know (at least I think I know): a custom chopper isn’t any kind of bike, specifically. It’s something somebody built for themselves, from scratch. But the Kid didn’t build his bike himself. He traded for it.

See, the Kid used to have a four-wheeler. That’s the thing I really helped him get. A friend was selling it in February and he absolutely had to have it, so while I moved heaven, he moved earth, we set it up. Got it. Loved it. Rode it daily. Then absolutely had to trade it for the bike in June.

Kids these days, I swear to god. As my dear, departed mother used to say: I’m so glad I never had any that lived.

If I’m being honest, though? That’s one of the things I love the most about this Kid: He’s just like me. Wherever he is, all he wants is to be somewhere else. He wishes it were summer when it’s winter (except for the heat) and dreams about ice-racing in July. He wants a 4-wheeler when he has a snowmobile, and wants a motorcycle when he’s got an ATV. When he’s in the bar he flits from the pool table to the dance floor, from one table to another, from the front step to the outdoor smoking area and back. Every airplane that flies overhead, he doesn’t care where it might be going, he wants on it. Just exactly like I’ve always done. Like Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison pining for the train. He changes jobs more often than I change underwear (although there is one constant calling that he always dreams of making work), and he goes through girls like paper towels.

So he had the 4-wheeler and he wanted the bike, but he couldn’t make a simple trade because the guy with the bike didn’t want a 4-wheeler. He wanted a snowmobile. So the Kid found a snowmobile. But the guy with the snowmobile didn’t want a 4-wheeler, either. He wanted a mo-tar bike. So the Kid found a mo-tar bike and the guy with the mo-tar bike did want a 4-wheeler!

For those of you who’ve never heard the word before (like me): a mo-tar bike is a dirtbike that’s been converted to street-legality. I only had to ask that question once. It was the ugliest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. Told the Kid that under no circumstances was he allowed to keep it if he ever wanted to see me naked again. So we both spent the next two weeks on tenterhooks for different reasons, afraid the whole thing might fall through and he’d be stuck with the mechanical equivalent of a cold shower. The day it all fell into place was so exciting. Happy, banner day for both of us. I even got a hug out of the Kid. I had to tell him to do it, but still. Kid doesn’t hug. Doesn’t kiss much, either. Says it’s cuz he doesn’t like it, but the truth is that he’s scared to get too close. Just like me. Don’t tell him I said it, though. He doesn’t think I know.

The bike was in okay shape when he got it, but it needed work, and the Kid asked if he could borrow my spare computer so he could go online and order parts. Since we met he hasn’t had a computer. He only ever used to go on facebook at my house. I’d forget sometimes and send him messages, then lie in bed and watch him read them at my desk. But my dad gave me a computer for my birthday, so I didn’t really need the little laptop anymore. I didn’t give it to him (hear that, Kid? I do still want it back, you know), but I said he could use it for as long as he needs. So in a convoluted way, I not only helped him get the bike: I fixed it, too.

Sort of.

Bike still doesn’t work 100%. And it works exactly 0% in the rain. Kid told me a story about how he rode the bike up to the bar one rainy night and it broke down on him on the way home.

“I had to push it all the way from JDs!”

I didn’t think that sounded all that bad. JDs is a store, and from there to his house is just a couple miles. Sure, it was raining. Sure, it was late. But he’s young, he’s strong, and even though he’d been at the bar, he doesn’t drink. Not really. Not usually. Not then, at least. So big whoop if he had to walk a little ways. Am I right? I walk seven miles almost every day for fun, and he’s 18 years younger than me. It will hardly kill him to walk two, even if he is pushing a bike. He’s not supposed to be riding the damn thing after dark on his learner’s permit, anyway. The little shit.

“From JD’s!” he practically squealed. “All the way here!”

So I made ooh-ah, poor-you noises like I was actually his girlfriend or something, and I asked him if he got the problem fixed.

“Naw,” he said. “I just don’t take it out if there’s even the slightest chance of rain.”

That fucking Kid is just like me, I swear to god.

So anyway, a few weeks later, after we pretended not to celebrate the first anniversary of our first night together, I had a passing attack of the we-might-actually-still-be-friends-in-six-more-months-etceteras and asked him if he'd find a bike for me. You know, since I’d helped him get and fix this one and everything. I didn’t need anything special, I said. Something he could get for nothing and fix up over the winter months. Something safe that I could ride to work if I’m still in Maine next spring. Or something I could Steve-McQueen my ass out of here on if I’m not. He asked me what, specifically, I wanted, and I hemmed and hawed because I know I can’t have what I really want (yes, I’m still talking about motorcycles, people). He said he’d look around and think about it, and we left it at that.

Then yesterday, a mutual friend of ours stopped in where I work to say hello. This friend recently dumped his bike and broke his collarbone, so we talked about that for a while. Talked about the new bike he got to replace the old one. And in a fit of excitement at the whole idea, I blurted out “I might be getting my own bike in the spring! The Kid’s looking into it for me!”

“Well,” our Friend said. “As long as it runs better than his!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I said.

I’ve gotten used to this small-town gossip mill. I figured someone probably saw the Kid pushing his bike that night and told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. My gut reaction was, as always, to leap to the Kid's defense.

“It has a little problem in the rain,” I said. “He’s working on it.”

“Did he tell you he stopped by my house that night?”

“Well… No.”

“Yeah,” our Friend went on, “he pounded on my door at 12:30 at night. My girlfriend was staying over with her dog, and her dog scared the shit out of him. He asked if he could leave his bike at my house, and she gave him a ride home.”

I know this probably sounds odd to you. I know it probably sounds like the Kid's still telling stories to me after all, but it's not. There’s a perfectly logical reason why the he mightn’t’ve mentioned to me that he’d stopped by the Friend’s. I won’t get into what that reason is – maybe some other time, in code or something – but trust me: it makes perfectly reasonable sense. To me. And to the Kid. ‘Cuz he’s just like me. And that's all that really matters in the end.

“But your house isn’t any closer to JDs than his," I asked the Friend. "Why would he go to your house instead of just going home?”

“Would you want to push that thing up that hill?”

Ah, the hill… the Kid’s road is named after the goddamn hill, for crying out loud! How could I have forgotten about that? So that’s why he got so squeaky about pushing it all the way home!

Except, you know, he didn’t.

But you know what, Kid? 

For future reference? 

When I say I don't believe something you tell me, it isn't always because someone squealed.

Sometimes it's because you're just like me, so I just Know .