Outta My Yard

by Elizabeth Peavey
by Elizabeth Peavey

Smoke screen

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Aside from the fact I’m fairly attached to all my foibles, flaws and shortcomings (if you take away my gristle, I’m afraid the bacon will go, too), I don’t like bandwagons. For example, I am not caught up in the Downton Abbey craze. Friends tell me, “You’d love it,” but I missed the first season and am not the type of person who can wade into something midstream. Friends then say, “Just watch the earlier episodes on Netflix,” but I don’t have a Netflix account. Nor do I have TiVo (whatever that is). I subscribe to baby cable, which gives you access to network TV and a station that plays movies from the 1990s while a program schedule takes up the bottom half of the screen. So I’ve missed all those — I know, great — series and serials, starting with The Sopranos and going right up to Breaking Bad. Yup. Missed them all, but I can watch You’ve Got Mail or Mrs. Doubtfire on my analog TV almost any time I’d like.

While the rest of the world will soon be communicating with Google Glass, I’m still using a landline and a clamshell cell phone. You could die from old age waiting for me to text you back on what my friend Corey calls my “rock.”

While we’re on the subject of communication, you probably won’t find it surprising to learn that I am barely on the fringes of social media. No offense, but I have enough trouble keeping up with what my cat is doing, so, no, I won’t follow your tweets on Twitter, read your blog on Tumblr or look at the Instagram of your lunch. And in terms of output, all those missives and messages and paragraphs? That is what we call in my trade content, darling, and mommy don’t write if mommy don’t get paid.

I am also not on a diet. I don’t have a wheat belly or a grain brain, and while I am intolerant of many things, lactose is not one of them. Really, if a warm baguette on a snowy day from Standard Baking and a hunk of Morbier is going to kill me, hand me the nails for my coffin right now. And feel free to wrap them in lardo.

I don’t love growing my own food. My interest in gardening ends once the seedlings have come home from the farmers’ market. “Really,” I say, as John lugs bags of poop out to our raised bed, “isn’t this why we evolved and got liberal-arts degrees? So we don’t have to grub around in the dirt like this?”

Speaking of the Industrial Revolution, I am also not into the D.I.Y. craze. The only time the word “craft” enters my vocabulary is when it precedes “beer.” Woe be to anyone who might be on the receiving end of my handiwork, since I’d probably be attached to it. Surely, getting a nice piece of mass-produced crap from me is preferable to letting me anywhere near a glue gun.

I don’t drink Chai tea. As with Downton Abbey, I would probably like it if I tried it, but I can’t see myself ordering one: “May I have a Chai tea before I go to Tai Chi?” Along those lines, I don’t practice yoga or meditate. Mats on the floor, in my book, are for naps. When I exercise, I like to: a.) be by myself, b.) be outdoors, and c.) not have someone’s downward-dog butt in my face. Also, I often rehearse lines for my show when I’m out walking, which means I might throw my arms around and rant and rave — not exactly appropriate yoga-studio etiquette. (Yes, that’s me stomping around Back Cove. Now you don’t have to cross the boulevard when you see me coming.)

But I did make one New Year’s resolution 12 years ago that I have kept ever since: I quit smoking.

To be honest, it wasn’t really a New Year’s resolution. I’d decided I wouldn’t smoke after I turned 40, but I needed over a year-and-a-half running head start to make the leap, and it didn’t happen until January 26, 2002. I’m not going to say cigarettes were my life, because I would also occasionally eat and breathe air during the 20 years I smoked, but quitting — which I did solely with willpower — was a bit of a challenge. If you would like to know how I felt for an entire year, picture Linda Blair in The Exorcist, combined with Mel Gibson’s William Wallace at the end of Braveheart and the alien from Alien. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t pretty.

How I started, I cannot say. When I was a kid, I totally bought into the scare tactics from health class: cigarettes will kill you, sex will make you an unwed mother, and smoking pot will make you jump out a window because you’ll think you can fly. I was scared straight, for all of us. Thus I began my campaign to get my mom off the smokes. I taped a poster on my bedroom door that read, “Help someone you love to stop smoking.” As I recall, there was a daisy instead of the “o” in the word “love.” I’d cough and fan my face like crazy whenever she lit up. I’d take individual cigarettes from her packs and write “Quit now!” in red marker on them. (See Reason #4,017 Why I Didn’t Have Children.)

Yet despite all my carping and complaining and protests about her smoking, despite the fact I never succumbed to peer pressure when my classmates started sneaking cigarettes, and despite the fact I was a part-time vegetarian, part jock, part Sierra Club outdoorswoman, once I got to college, I thought, What the hell?, and smoked my first cigarette, a Vantage (so modern-looking, with its white package and blue bullseye with the orangey red dot in the middle). I’d nick a cigarette here, nick one there, but it wasn’t until the spring semester of my sophomore year that I bought my own pack. I was en route to the library at USM to write a term paper, and I stopped at the vending machine outside the cafeteria and slid a few quarters in for a pack of Merits. Not only were cigarettes sold on campus, but smoking, it seemed, was encouraged. There was a smoking section in the library, and there were black cylindrical stands topped with hubcap-looking ashtrays positioned outside classrooms. I smoked that whole first pack within 24 hours (and received an A on the paper), making me an almost-instant pack-a-dayer.

When I went abroad that fall for a semester in London, my suitcase was stuffed with cartons of Merit 100’s. When they ran out, I started on Dunhills. How utterly elegant and European I felt carting around that dark red box with gold lettering. It looked like the brand the Queen Mum would smoke. I loved how you’d flip the top open to reveal two sections of cigarettes encased in gold foil, and how you’d remove the foil from one side as though it were a Willy Wonka golden ticket. How rich and smooth they were, perfect with Earl Grey tea or a scotch. Then I started rolling my own: Three Castles tobacco in the bright green pouch, and an orange packet of Rizla rolling papers. You’d put a little hunk of carrot in the pouch to keep the tobacco moist. Then there were the gacky-tasting (but oh so ooh-la-la) Gitanes in France. When I got home, I started smoking Old Golds, until I moved to San Francisco, where I switched to Rothmans, another British brand, which looked so sporty and yachty with its blue band wrapped around a white box. I managed to stop smoking for a couple years when I lived there, but when I got back to the East Coast, I took up like I’d never missed a beat, switching back and forth from Marlboro Lights to Camel Lights for the next 15 years — monkey, camel, cowboy and bullseye firmly planted on my back.

But see, for me, a cigarette could solve anything: kill time, bust up writer’s block, substitute for a meal, end a fight, give you something to do when you didn’t know what you were doing from moment to moment or, for that matter, for the rest of your life. I’m not going to say cigarettes were my best friend — I did have actual people I cared about — but the smokes never let me down.

Except, then one morning you wake up after a night of carousing, and it’s your late father’s birthday, and you feel like crap and say, “My body is not a cesspool,” and the next thing you know you’re saying “shove over,” and you’ve wedged your butt in and are bumping along on the quitting bandwagon that, from this vantage point of 12 years, will never be crowded enough.

 

Elizabeth Peavey is in the process of reprising her award-winning one-woman show, My Mother’s Clothes Are Not My Mother. Go to elizabethpeavey.com for details.

 

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