Follow @covillanueva c.o. villanueva in time and space: January 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

the indians did it: my love affair with fire

The Indians did it. And I think they were the only ones. Up until the Euro's came & invaded. The Indians lost (yeah) but they passed down something a little bit more sinister to their conquerors & to the rest of the world.

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This morning on the bus ride to work, I had a revelation: I've been at it for 20 years. I remember we were all sitting in that Waffle House in Covington, small-town Georgia, the four of us laughing & talking. We were young & in love with life. Rod had always preferred cloves. His father had been a drama professor at our University, but passed away when Rod was just a kid. I always imagined his dad smoking a pipe while reading, a glass of scotch on the side table & a fuzzy cat on his lap. Emily was half-Japanese & the Japanese love to smoke it up, but she didn't. It was Kathi that was the maniac. She'd fill up the aluminum ashtray time & again & the waitress would change it. Often. And there I was, an innocent kid thrown into a lion's den. So I started puffing.

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I can look at my astrological chart & tell you why I smoke. I have Mars in Libra (a writer's, drinker's, socializer's paradise) & for the last twenty years (up until this past December), my progressed Ascendant was in Pisces (a dreamer's, escapist's, drug addict's paradise). You can call me a dreamer & I can say that I'm a writer & all my favorite writers smoke(d), maybe. I imagine they did. But I want to stop using excuses, like astrology (you probably know nothing about it & don't care), or writing (cause I'm sure there are many writers out there smoke-free), or socializing (cause smokers usually have to stand on balconies outside of parties, not in them). I want to get to the truth.

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Some say that people who smoke want to control fire. It goes back to the times when fire was necessary, you needed it for stuff - like starting fires. And if you had a little fire, you had a lot of power. You could cook stuff up & people would be warm & they'd warm up to you. Maybe they'd sneak into your cave late at night, just to get closer to you & your fire.

Some say that people who smoke do so cause they like to watch the smoke rise up from their nostrils, much like a dragon would do. And dragons also have power. I think if I were a dragon, I'd have ultimate power.

But some people say that those who smoke are just like the common drug addict. You know that guy/gal? The one hiding in the corner, the one who will do absolutely anything to feel pleasure rather than pain, even if pleasure means you have to suffer later. I wonder if I'm one of those people. All I know is that I've quit many times but then I start up again. Cause it's really so easy to quit smoking, so easy to stop. It's just the starting up again that's the curse.

Here in Japan, people smoke a lot & I've always admired it. I can ride the bullet train with an Asahi in one hand & a cigarette in the other. I can go to most Makudo's (McDonald's) & smoke away after my two cheeseburgers, coke & fries. I can't smoke on the streets near the main stations however, or I gotta pay ¥2000 (20 bucks). (I heard that if I feign 'ignorant foreigner' I don't have to pay.) So sometimes I can't smoke outside, but what I can do is slip inside those smoker's booths & they are in all the finest places. The shiny new airport, of course. The shopping malls. The department stores. Even the hospitals & those smoking booths are always packed with people, some with tubes coming out of their bodies, all of them smoking away. You can find a smoking buddy anywhere in Japan, don't worry. If you smoke, come on over & at ¥300 ($3) a pop, you can do two packs in a day. It's really that great !!

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I don't know why I'm writing this shit about cigarettes. I guess I'm just tired of smoking. Yet I'm a realist sometimes, even though I'm mostly a dreamer. I know that the next time I pass a konbini (convenience store), I'm probably going to buy some Mild Seven 6's, the soft pack. But the dreamer in me is hoping that one day I'll pass by the konbini & go straight home, or go to the gym instead, & lift heavy weights over my head (not making out with white sticks), somehow forgetting I was ever a smoker. Cause I think I've wasted a lot of time & money trying to control fire & I've waisted a lot future heartbeats watching that dragonsmoke rise rise rise.

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There was that one time I quit after I met Michelle in the Philippines. She wasn't a smoker & hardly ever a drinker. I was planning to meet her out in LA for Thanksgiving, to visit her US extended family for the first time, so a month before that I decided to wear 'the patch.' That seemed to work. But still I'd often take the patch off to light up. And that felt really weird. Smokers out there, you ever done that ?? And there were those vivid dreams that scared me shitless. I lived them the week after I eventually took the patch off & didn't buy smokes, to wait the addiction out. And you know what? It worked for over two years till that night at the bowling alley in Kingsville, Texas.

My unit was drunk, as usual. My fellow Navy reservists & I were on a weekend trip to Bumblefuck, Texas. I don't really remember what I learned. We were there to spend government money is all. And drink. It's a sailor tradition. Well, I had also quit drinking for about a year before I joined, but yeah I gave in.

We were in a 'dry town' but you could bring alcohol anywhere. You just couldn't buy it. (That day we went to a restaurant & MN3 Burrud brought in a blender. They let us stay with all our rowdiness but once Burrud started humping the table, this old cowboy stood up from his table where he was sitting with his wife & asked us to leave, politely.) Anyway, that day & night, with all the beers & blended cocktails, my willpower weakened, my senses heightened - I think it was Seaman Brown from Oklahoma that I bummed the first one off of - It's all just a hazy memory, beer, balls, lanes, pins & then that first puff. I was hooked again. I puffed away for nine more years up until just over a year ago, when I read that book.

It was the same book that got celebrity actors to quit. I don't really care for actors cause I think most of them are full of BS. I met enough of them in LA. Directors are cool. Writers are boring. Musicians are the best. Actors suck ass. (Sorry any actor friends out there reading this, I'm messing with you; you other actors, get lost). Yeah, so this guy Allen Carr got me to quit.

It had been a rough Saturday night & I woke up & saw that book sitting on top of the book shelf, hiding under boxes of Marlboros & lighters, ashes from incense darkening its white cover. It had been there for three months, but that morning I decided to open it. It was called the Easy Way to Quit Smoking, by A. Carr. Kintaro had given it to me cause I wanted it & he said he even read some of it, but he stopped so he could keep smoking away. Well, I sat down & read the entire book in one day, over 200 pages.

I stopped. I quit & I gave the glorious book back to Kintaro. I couldn't believe it. Somehow something clicked in my brain & I became a new man. I could breathe again. After a week I could smell ramen from miles away. After a month I would walk up stairs two-, three-at-a-time & for the first time I could squat more than what I weighed. Suddenly I stopped wanting to stay in bed when I woke up. I started cycling over 100km a week. I lost 33 pounds in four months & felt super good. This guy Mr. Carr was a definite miracle worker. Well, up until last April, when I eventually gave in (I'm a drug addict, remember?).

It was hanami (cherry blossom viewing) that came around & I started drinking & eventually someone gave me a smoke when I asked, cause hey, people like me & smokers like to give me their fire. And I've been puffing away since then, making deadlines to quit (but never meeting them): Independence Day (Jul 4); my birthday (Oct 31); Thanksgiving (Nov 26); Christmas (Dec 25); New Year's (Jan 1) etc etc.

So I asked Kintaro for the book back but he had already given it away.

So, that's where I'm at today. But I'm not alone. SpaceMan is right there with me. We've often sat at his apartment & talked it over, over whisky & smokes. He's quit many times & started again too. We talk about the the dangers of both: EtOH & nicotine. How the two are tied together like star-crossed lovers, one always in search of the other. They're almost like Eros & Psyche, or Romeo & Juliet. Adam & Eve. And yeah The Serpent & Eve.

There was that one year I smoked but didn't drink. That sucked. Romeo was without his Juliet.

Do cigarettes serve any purpose other than making me look cool to some people, & uncool to others? Are they Dr Kevorkian's in rolling papers, dooming those of us hellbent on self-destruction? Does alcohol just do nothing more than to numb my brain & tell me that cigarettes do make me look cool & no, I definitely look cool in everything I do. I think I hate them both.

But I tell you what - I'm really in love with cigarettes. I must be. Cause they are with me wherever I go & whatever I do. I spend a crap load of money on them every year, more than I spend on clothes & girlfriends. I love them cause whenever I'm lonely, they're there. And whenever I need to concentrate, they help my brain cells fire away. They intoxicate me & soothe my drug-addicted soul. Like my friend said after she lit up for the first time after trying to quit: "sin never tasted so good." And I love them (I must) cause whenever I wake up I want to give them my lips & they are usually on my go-out-the-door-checklist: "keys, wallet, iPhone, headphones, smokes."

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Like I said, I don't know if I'm going to walk into that konbini or just walk on by the next time, cause remember? I'm a realist & a dreamer. So right now I'll dream of walking on by & dream of taking deep breaths of fresh air. And I dream it might be today, tomorrow, or the next that I don't light that smoke again. But the reality is this: the choice is mine.

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Wow, I just got a craving for a hot waffle. I can see the yellow slice of butter melting. And I can see the maple syrup dripping from the sides & running onto the plate. It's there, that waffle. I can almost taste it.

I wonder who invented the waffle. Did the Indians do that too?