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I smoked for about twenty years.

Weirdly, I didn’t start smoking in my teens. I started after I was in college. And it wasn’t peer pressure. Most of my friends didn’t smoke. Most of them thought it was stupid, that I had started. And I didn’t smoke cigarettes at first. I started with cigars: wooden tipped Hav-A-Tampas that I just randomly bought one day at a Transamerica Truck Stop outside Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I say, “randomly.” The reality was that I had always had a little bit of a fetish for guys who smoked cigars, probably because of how hot and hunky Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D looked when Jack Kirby drew him. I discovered those comics at about the same time that I discovered my penis. I’m so serious that it makes me want to cry.

Years later, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada would famously forbid all Marvel superheroes from smoking, for precisely the reason that seeing their heroes puffing away might make kids want to take up the habit. He was roundly derided. But I think he had a point — at least in my case. Why else would a twenty-one year old kid in the late 1980s take up cigar smoking? This was well before the cigar craze of the 90s.

No. I blame it all on Jack Kirby.

Nick Fury

This is the precise image that turned me into a gay cigar fetishist all at once, at the age of 11, when I saw it in Son of Origins of Marvel Comics.

I eventually worked my way up the cigar food chain, as it were, to “real cigars,” Punch Maduros and such. I thought they made me look special.

When my boyfriend and I got together, in the early 90s, I started smoking cigarettes, too, mainly at first because I thought he would think it was weird and uncool for his new boyfriend to smoke cigars (I guess I was in the closet about it — people still thought of cigars as something ugly old men and Marines in videogames did, and nobody else), and then later out of sheer addiction and convenience.

The 90s cigar craze screwed up my cigar fetish. When every fratboy asshole on the street is smoking a cigar, it’s hard to imagine that there’s something special about them.

I swerved to pipes in the late nineties — because it was still rare to see a young guy smoking a pipe, and my fetishes, apparently, need to be cultish — and also, again, I started smoking those as well. I built up quite a collection. That’s right: I said collection. If cigars were about the macho, pipes were about the geek.

I quit smoking a year and a half ago. I actually quit cigars, cigarettes, and pipes at the same time, though I consider those three to be completely separate addictions that each presented its own challenges.

I never crave cigars or cigarettes anymore, but, weirdly, I still crave smoking a pipe every now and then. Maybe it’s for the best that my fixation ended up on that particular mode of smoking, because, for one thing, seeing a forty-something doofus smoke a pipe doesn’t get anybody excited, not even me.

See what I mean?

Even more importantly, it’s a big deal to buy a pipe. You have to actually go through the process consciously. You can pick up a pack of cigarettes, or a Hav-A-Tampa single, at the gas station. But you have to drive to a special store to get a pipe. You can’t fool yourself that you’ll just smoke it once and be done with it, either, because, after all, there it will still be. You will own it now. You will use it again. And it’s not like you can only buy one bowl’s worth of tobacco, either. And so on and so on. Every time I think about smoking again, I have to think about buying a pipe, and every time I think about buying a pipe, my brain works through exactly those calculations, and it just feels like a lot of trouble. My laziness wins out, you might say, and keeps me from smoking. Pipe smoking is not a lazy man’s hobby. Maybe it and I were doomed from the beginning, for this very reason.

I find that when I travel (as I have been doing the past couple of days) is when I want to smoke the most. Part of this is leftover from when I used to travel a lot for my job, back when I was still a smoker, and the panicky, craving-so-bad-it-hurts hours I spent in smoke-free airplanes and airports are still imprinted on my brain. I’m supposed to be craving a cigarette right now because I’ve always craved a cigarette when I’m strapped to an airplane seat. Right? Fortunately, there’s nothing I can do about those cravings when they’re happening.

Even when I’m not traveling, though, I still get cravings, almost two years after I quit smoking. But those cravings are no stronger than the ordinary everyday cravings I used to get when I did smoke.

Here’s how it used to work:

1. Have mild urge to smoke.
2. Smoke.
3. Urge goes away.
4. Mild urge comes back.
5. Smoke.
6. Urge goes away.

Here’s how it works now:

1. Have mild urge to smoke.
2. Don’t smoke.
3. Urge goes away.
4. Mild urge comes back.
5. Don’t smoke.
6. Urge goes away.

It’s exactly the same, except the length of time between urges is growing farther and farther apart. I now go days without having an urge to smoke. Back when I was a smoker, I couldn’t go more than an hour or two, tops, without having an urge.

Smoking and not-smoking, when it comes right down to it, don’t really feel all that different, as ways of living — at least on a day to day basis. I hadn’t gotten to the inevitable COPD parts of the experience yet. So there’s that.  I’m so serious, it makes me want to laugh.