Week 6: Smoke a Pipe

I’ve never been any good at being bad.  I mean, I’ve gotten into my share of trouble, but I’ve never been able to actually own it.  It’s always been more like posturing, like wearing a studded leather jacket two sizes too big.  I’m not fooling anyone.  I want to be the good kid.  Just the thought of stealing makes me anxious.  I’ve actually been hesitant to walk into stores when carrying a backpack, in fear that the clerks will think I plan on shoplifting.

Considering my ridiculous desire to follow the straight and narrow, it’s a wonder I even started smoking at all.  When I tried my first cigarette in my freshman year of college, it was partly due to some peer pressure, sure, but my curiosity really pushed me to try that first drag.  Freud would call me oral receptive and he wouldn’t be missing the mark.  He would also say that oral fixation makes me passive, needy, and sensitive to rejection, to which I say…whatever, dude.  Hey Freud?  Don’t act like you know me, m’kay?  Your theories are bull crap, no one respects you, and just because I want everyone to like me…Oh, nevermind.

I liked smoking immediately, even though I didn’t actually do it properly until a year later.  I went out with some work friends who teased me when they realized I never actually inhaled.  They demonstrated how to smoke a cigarette the right way, and I discovered the wonderful effects of nicotine.  This whole smoking thing had a lot more to offer beyond just looking cool.

I started smoking socially and keeping a pack close by, but on summer vacations and weekends home, I never once revealed my habit to my parents.  I talked with them about my illegal underage drinking (well, at least some of the more fun times), but smoking was somehow on a different level.  I was supposed to be maturing out of my teenage years, but I wouldn’t dare reveal partaking in this legal activity because it would induce a higher level of disappointment.  I viewed smoking, above anything else, as the apex of rebellion, and I so wanted to remain the good kid in their eyes.

When I began dating Q, she made it clear she wouldn’t date a smoker and I stopped.  Sorta.  When I studied abroad in London, I would pick up a ten-pack, thinking that would be half as bad as a full pack, but I’d inevitably throw away the pack before I reached the end, worrying about the invisible waves of disappointment rippling across the Atlantic to reach my girlfriend and family.  It was ridiculous, even more so when I bought three more packs and did the same exact thing.

While Q attended grad school in Paris and I was alone in New York, I once again picked it up, thinking that this might be the last time I could ever make it a habit.  But the expense of smoking in New York is as big of a deterrent as any, and after I threw away my first pack midway through, in a huff of “WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?!,” I didn’t buy another.

I’m happy I never went beyond social smoking.  I know I have an addictive personality, and I’m glad I never had much of an issue taking large breaks in between packs of Camel Lights.  But I wonder how much of that decision to stop came from my own desires and how much came from just wanting to please other people (watch it, Freud).

This is all to say I came to pipe smoking with a lot of baggage.  I wanted to try it as a man challenge for the promise of tobacco reentering my life as much as anything else.  It was an excuse to smoke and avoid any hang-ups by declaring that it was in the name of man science.  When I brought up the idea to Q, I was surprised by her reaction.  She told me that she liked the smell of pipe tobacco, even if she’s allergic to smoke.  I shouldn’t have been that surprised; we’re Virginians after all.  To abhor tobacco would be as incongruous as lactose-intolerants living in Wisconsin.

Want to read more? You’ve reached the end of the preview, but the full text of this entry and many more can be found in my book, BE A MAN: How I Spent One Year Drinking, Shaving, Farming, and Fathering My Way Toward Masculinity.

Click on the book to the left and you’ll find more information on how you can purchase the book in paperback and e-reader versions.