By Theo Truter
Waking up is hard for the average person, sleep is much easier. Drifting through a deep sleep and good dream is easy. I dream easier than how I live. I think everyone does. When I wake up, that dream often leaves me. The saddest part of it is that eventually even the memory of your dream will fade--that is, if you are even lucky enough to remember it.
Waking up is especially harder to me when the alarm clock wants to change my life. For the average person, they set an alarm clock to the local sports talk station, in Pittsburgh’s case "SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan,” and they expect a normal morning when they wake up. However, my life is different.
“Good morning everyone, and Michael! It's a beautiful day out there, Michael. Just the kind of day to finally drop smoking once and for all. With a single NicoGone patch, you can finally move on with your life. You’re the only person on the planet that still smokes, so why would you be a loser like that? NicoGone patches. They'll save your life," the clock radio continues and I try to zone out.
“Now back to to the The Fan Morning Show with Colin Dunlap and Chris Mack…”
I groan and and hit the snooze button on my clock. I don’t deserve this, okay maybe I do deserve it. I do deserve 20 more minutes of sleep, so I hit the snooze button. Sleep is short and uninspired, and I wake again to another well timed advertisement. It isn’t anything so personal, luckily, just an add for a new gum line. Of course it is a NicoGone branded gum line with my favorite flavor of gum, a nice citrus flavor. Maybe it’s time to finally change, nah fuck that.
I take a shower, and afterwards decide to check twitter on my laptop in hopes of finding something interesting. It doesn’t take long for me to notice another personal ad: "SMOKING SUPPORTS TERRORISM AND ILLEGALS MIKE.” Okay this one annoys me for multiple reasons. One, don’t call me Mike, and second… well I don’t want to address the other part. I roll my eyes, shut my laptop, and decide to have a very spiteful, but relaxing drag. Nothing special, it’s not the highest quality of my supply because I know it’s a rushed smoke. Halfway through the cigarette, I check my watch, see the bus was coming soon, and crush my smoke in the ashtray before leaving.
When NicoGone finally released their nicotine addiction cure to public use, after extensive FDA tests, the world was really changed. A shot, patch, gum, or really anything could cure Nicotine addictions for life. However, one unexpected “consequence” of this was that a large anti-nicotine movement began to form. I personally blame the teenagers with juuls inciting their parents to take action. After a few mass protests for pro-nicotine and anti-nicotine, a couple election seasons, and a pretty dramatic senate session, a compromise came in. It was pretty simple, stop selling nicotine products but you can keep using what you have left.
Everyone had stopped selling nicotine-based products in America twenty or so years ago. America wasn’t the first country to ban the sale, and it certainly wasn’t the last country to do so. Canada and the US were about the same time, so it was just mass chaos. As soon as I saw on the news the ban was occurring, and many companies were taking them off the shelves, I ran to the nearest 7-Eleven to buy as many packs as I could afford. I was late and arrived to a huge line, and learned then many places had already sold out. I tried corner stores, Walmarts, smoke shops, bars, even non 7-Eleven gas stations to no effect.
People were selling large quantities online, all varieties from cigars to vape cartridge. I decided to buy up as much as I could. I had an vacation fund I was saving for a few years, but for some reason decided it was in my best interest to spend it all buying as many cigarette packs as I could. My girlfriend wasn't a happy camper.
My girlfriend made the mistake of deciding to become my fiance, before doubling down and deciding to become my wife a few years afterwards. She never touched a cig once in her life, but the rest of her family did so she was never that bothered by my bad habits. For a few years everything went normally, till I came across another problem. It didn’t take me long to realize that my current intake of cigarettes wasn’t gonna last me, so I decided to ration myself. Still it wasn’t gonna last.
The year was 2034, and most people had stopped smoking by now, but a few of us soldiers continued. Electronic models and surveys from activist groups began to determine the amount of cigarettes left and the amount of smokers. This was followed by NicoGone beginning to release targeting ads at known smokers. The buzz behind the adds was the unsurprising fact a giant billboard with your face saying, “STOP SMOKING STEVE JONES YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!” is really effective. Slowly but surely, the ads began to show up everywhere I went. Most people with a large supply of began quitting due to that, but I'm more stubborn than that.
I think my wife knew the amount of cigs I had left before I did. A few years went by and I started to run low on my supply. My wife used math to figure out how long it would take me to finish my supply and decided to make a nice event out of it. The day finally came where I woke up, gave my wife a kiss, and went downstairs to load 3 cigarettes into a special carrying pouch she had made for me. I had my first on the way to work, a few pedestrians glared at me. One lady held up her nose while giving me the bird as she passed me. Second smoke came during my lunch break with no fanfare. I arrived home and my wife made my favorite meal. We ate and before I lit up my final smoke she said, “Enjoy it honey, you don't deserve the hate. Your body will thank you.”
I smiled back at her as I put the cigarette on the old ashtray her father gave me before his passing. I then looked at her, and reached into my jacket pocket. I pulled something out and stuck it into my mouth. I then took my lighter out, and lit the object. It's a cigarette. My wife freaked out and started screaming at me. "Where the hell did you get that from?”
I calmly looked at her and said, "You know that you can grow tobacco, right?"
Let's just say I'm not married anymore.
I reach the bus stop just as the bus arrives.
"Surprised you can even jog, Michael. You know, on account of your life choices. What with your--"
I flash my bus pass and walk past the driver. I don't feel like hearing his normal lecture. I move to the back of the bus and took a seat.
"What's that smell, Mom?" a little girl in the seat in front of me asks.
"That's the smell of Michael Deacon trying to kill himself, sweetheart," the little girl's mother answers. I don’t think she is a big fan of me.
A small head appears over the seat in front of me, looking me straight in the eye. "Why do you want to kill yourself Mr. Michael?" she asks innocently.
At first I want to say something about how you will get it when your older, but no one wants to tell a child that. "I don't. I just like to relax with a cigarette sometimes," I answer calmly. She’s just a stupid kid.
“But why cigarettes mister? My mamma told me they are really bad for you and you’re the only guy that does that. You sound dumb, and you smell ‘cause them.”
“It’s my choice, and I don’t want to be judged for it. Some people want to be self-righteous and really think it’s their job to tell me how to live. Ask your mom about--”
Before I could finish the mother picks up little girl and moves to another seat. She also decides to give me the the dirtiest look I have ever received. I have received many of those due to smoking, but this one actually makes me nervous. I really don’t think the mother is a fan of me.
I finally make it to work. Unsurprisingly, my job isn’t a safe haven from constant chastisement. My cubicle has become a target for my coworkers to bother me during the working hours. The people who speak to me about cigs are shockingly not too bad, probably due to the Human Resources department. Usually they would ask me questions, something like, “Does it hurt?” which I would reply with, “No, not really.” The other common thing my coworkers would say are warnings about how my “bad habit” is gonna kill me one day. Most of them come off with genuine kindness in comparison to those I see in the street. I guess getting to know someone will do that.
Despite this, my addiction makes life at work miserable. I can’t smoke at work, that was outlawed long ago. I mean in theory, I can’t really smoke at bars, restaurants, parks, open spaces, and, anywhere that isn’t my personal residence. Of course I get away with it, bars have enough weed smokers I could mask it, and the average person won’t call the police if they see me walking and taking a smoke. But at work it’s different, the prison of a 9-5 job feels worse when you can’t go for a smoke break.
Recently I have started to sneak smoke breaks behind the office building. During long, tiring, and nicotine craving mornings, like today perhaps, I sneak out behind the building to have a quick smoke. I let out a deep breath of smoke, but I hear something. The door opens and I realize that it’s a coworker.
"Hey Michael," Mary said, opening the door. I tried to quickly to hide my smoke. "Don't worry about it, most of us already know you sneak out here sometimes. The rest--we don’t tell."
I may be in the clear, so I light another one. Figuring I better take my chance now, I say, "So are you here to tell me to quit too? Or just ask me not to do it near you?"
"Neither," she said. "Just getting some fresh air. Maybe some peace and quiet for a few minutes. It’s been a shitty morning. Figured no one else would be out here, on account of, well… of you."
I can’t help to smile to that. Her honesty is refreshing. I have never really spoken to Mary before, she is in a different department, and I figured she wouldn’t want to speak to me. It’s refreshing to see someone act kind and normal to me.
I lean back against the wall behind the building and go on smoking. The craziness of my life always goes a little bit slower when I am smoking. My mind feels more at calm when my lungs are wrapped in a warm blanket. Kinda a shitty way to go through life, but gotta lean on to stuff that works.
After a couple minutes of silence, Mary speaks. "Why don't you quit? You don’t seem like a bad guy, so I imagine all the people get to you. It must be exhausting to have everyone on your case all the time.”
"It is," I answer. "I've definitely thought about it. I even thought about it this morning. Honestly I don’t think there is a day I go by that I don’t think about it. But something about it just rubs me the wrong way. I'm not hurting anybody, no matter what everyone says. Like I'm not supporting terrorism or whatever. I'm just, you know, smoking a cigarette. Yeah, it might cause me to die from cancer or like heart disease, but that's my choice. I want the choice to decide that, the freedom to make a bad decision.”
"Freedom? Maybe rebellion?" Mary observed. She’s smarter than I’ve given her credit for before.
"Or that. Screw it anyway, that's my call too. It helps me relax, so I'm going to keep doing it until it's not worth it.”
“When is it not worth it? Is it worth it now?”
“I don’t know if it’s worth it now. But I decide when it’s not. No other way of telling.”
Mary nodded. She seemed to be mulling my words over. Probably thinking about a way to respond to what I said. No matter, it’s quiet again.
Mary broke the silence again. "Can I try one?"
I’ve clocked off and I’m heading to the bar, a normal thing to do on a stressful day. Today is a bit different though. Mary has decided to tag along with me. Don’t know if one cigarette or my charm convinced her to keep talking to me, but she did. Earlier she told me we should go out. She mentioned a bar nearby our work. So six o'clock has rolled around and we are heading out.
We decided beforehand to split an Uber, as neither of us drive to work and the good bars are too far away. Our ride arrives and we get in and leave. The driver isn’t anything special, just a semi fat white guy, so I hope he can just stay quiet and the ride can go with maybe a little small talk. Oh he’s starting to talk, never mind.
“I feel like I recognize you? Aren’t you Michael Deacon? That smoking dude?”
Oh it’s gonna be one of those experiences. “Yes I am.” No use lying to him in front of Mary. “Nice to meet you.”
“Could smell you the moment you walked in. My grandfather smoked. You both have that same shitty odor.”
“Could you please not harass my date?”
Didn’t think Mary considered me her date. Maybe she’s trying to imitate the dude.
“This loser is your date?” The guy checks both of us out at a red light. “Sorry Miss, but you could do real better. If the dude smells like this, I can’t imagine him in bed.”
“Could you not talk about my sex life please.” Now he is pissing me off. “I’m not talking about your sex life or lack of, based on your body weight.”
“If you think so badly of a smoker, why can’t a tough guy like you get me then?” Never expected Mary to be a sassy type, makes her way more attractive to be honest.
There is a relatively long pause after this. I expect the driver to throw us out but we are too close to the bar now. I guess he doesn’t want to have a not complete ride on his resume. I almost feel bad. The car stops and we get out.
“If you want a fun time later, give me a call.” Our driver hands Mary a paper with a number on it. “I don’t smell and I’m sure I’m better than that dirtbag is. Also, piece of advice, children don’t do well with second hand smoke, maybe use protection with this guy.”
Mary takes the piece of paper and doesn’t even bother to look at it before throwing it back at him. She is leaving and walking into the bar. I’ll follow her, don’t want to talk to this guy anymore.
Arriving at the bar, we decide to get a booth in the back corner. I'm not someone who likes to sit with the crowds. Too many hecklers. I think Mary realizes that after the driver. So I order the drinks, bring them back to the booth, and the two of us start talking. Finally on non-smoking topics, we can talk about ourselves. She mentions how she married young a hot-shot lawyer, but later got divorced after she caught him cheating on her with a young client. I’m about to tell her about my divorce, but she stops me.
“No need to mention your divorce. I already know.”
“Oh.” That kinda surprises me. While we talked I figured I would light a smoke, and now I’m trying to not to be caught by any workers. “I knew my health records and smoking habits were public, but now my love life too.”
“Your decision to take smoke breaks, not mine.” She can tell I'm not a fan of that. “Look, let's not think about shitty people. Too much effort and--”
Before she finishes, I can hear a shout from another end of the bar. “Mary is that you? When did you get back into the dating game?”
We both turn to look at where the sound is coming from, finding a woman and what appeared to be a friend of hers. I’m attempting to try put my cigarette out as they approach, until I see Mary has decided to take out one of few I gave her.
“Hey Kristen and Dominique, yeah I met someone. He’s a cool guy, also showed me a fun habit.” To my shock she holds out cig and starts smoking it.
“Is that a cancer-stick?” The girl on the right asks, identified as probably Dominique. She cranes her neck until she got a full look at me. “Wait are you Michael Deacon? The last smoker on the planet?”
“Yeah I think that's the guy, oh Mary you have horrible taste in guys still.” Kirsten probably isn’t wrong to be honest.
I’m beginning to worry that others would notice us, but everyone has their own business to attend to. We are fine. So I give them a big smile, and raise my butt.
"Second hand smoke! Second hand smoke!"
It’s like I'd pulled a gun out. I put my hands up in surrender. "Relax," Mary says. She seems agitated at her friends.
"I have a kid, you know, I heard--"
"Yeah she’s a great kid. He will be fine." Dominique is starting to talk but Mary is faster.
The other friend sighs, panning towards me. "This might not be my place but--"
"Probably not," Mary’s agitation is giving me a chance to also be a bit annoyed too.
“--you're the last person in the entire world who smokes. It’s not a new thing either. It’s been like, what? Two, three years? Your life must pretty shitty. Like you’re the last person doing one of the most undesirable things in the world. Why don't you just stop? They have amazing programs. It’s so easy."
"Believe me, I'm well aware." I point at a commercial that’s playing on the TV across the room. A nationally televised game between two college basketball teams, and I get a personal ad telling me to stop smoking. All because they figured out I like watching college basketball, and all for the chance I manage to see it. This one ended with the slogan “It's easy, Michael.”
She managed to catch the final slogan of the add, and boy does she look even worse than when she saw Mary smoking. When she finally looks back at us, she seems struck with a note of sympathy. "It must be stressful."
“It’s more than that, it’s horrible,” Kristen says. I can tell she is holding back tears. That’s different than the average person.
"Yeah. The irony.” I finally light the cigarette.
"Well, is it worth it?" Dominique asks me.
“I asked him the same question.” Mary put down her smoke and drinks.
"It's not just for the smoke itself, crazy as it may sound,” I say. “Yeah the nicotine rush gives you a nice light-headed pleasant hazy feeling, which becomes calming as you smoke more and more. But like fuck, these things literally kill you. Also random people hating you isn’t great. But there is something I have to hold on to.”
“Hold on to what? “ Mary asks me. They are intent now. Second time today I’ve had someone intently listening to me. I won’t admit it, but it’s nice to have this from someone besides my dog. Love the dude, but it’s no challenge getting him on my side. He doesn’t have a choice.
“Holding on to a different time,” I say. “It’s like a relic. It’s a symbol of Clint Eastwood, James Dean, Gandalf--the French! Artists and authors during the Renaissance with wooden pipes, politicians and mobsters chewing on cubans or smoking a big cigar. I know things are better off now but, I miss it.”
One of them had produces a half smile, and Mary is certainly smiling by now. I sure haven’t made anyone smile in a long time. That feels good. Kristen looks at her friend, gives her a nod. Dominque nods back. She sits down in the seat next across from me and Mary, gesturing at the tobacco box in my jacket pocket. She smiles, and I offer her the tobacco box and my lighter. She takes it from my hand, and lights up a cig that she chooses from the box.