Smoke Gets in Your Third Eye: Part Two

Arthur Panaro - January 30, 2013

"...I committed to quit smoking finally, once and for all, after years of false starts and relapses"

To read part one first click here.

Chapter 3

University: By the time I was in college I was breathing in as many as 30 cigarettes a day, except when I had a bout of flu or cold.

Peace Corps: I applied, and requested Morocco, but I didn't speak French. They said “How about Afghanistan?” Where is that? WOW ! OK. Yes, fly me to Chicago and I'll interview. I got recruited and was lucky to be assigned to in-country training and teaching English in various institutions. This venture beyond the U.S. would bring me into a world of peoples, sights, land, camels, donkeys, sheep and goats dramatically different from anything I had ever seen. I was going to be living in Afghanistan, officially then the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan—a landlocked country forming part of South, Central and to some extent Western Asia. The world of smoke would be exotic too—and I've got a collection of empty cigarette packs to prove it.

In Kabul I smoked a Russian brand, and the famous Gauloises of France. From Pakistan came a brand, K-2, named for highest mountain in that land—possibly the worst cigarette ever conceived and manufactured in the world. These I smoked regularly and mindlessly, cluelessly to the point of getting a severe case of bronchitis which was aggravated by the dry, dusty desert atmosphere—more dry and dusty than New Mexico because Afghanistan is a land of rocks, arid mountains and sand. I coughed so vehemently that my torso muscles were sore until I quit torturing myself. By the way, that jagged, open landscape rushed back into my mind when I first arrived in New Mexico, enough for me to set down roots here.

An R&R vacation in Thailand brought me to that exotic land and the mildest cigarettes I have ever smoked —also a light, soft whiskey of the Thai people and I mused that, of cours,e such mellow pleasures would be there, in a Buddhist land.

Having completed my commitment to the Peace Corps, I traveled southeast by bus through the Khyber Pass, Pakistan and to India. The cigarette packs in India and Pakistan still carried the shades of the British Raj. The size of these cigarettes was smaller by U.S. standards, and only 10 to a pack. The names were poetic, impressive and spoke of the arcane dominion perpetrated by the British Empire: Cavander's Navy Cut, Marcovitch / Red & White, Marovitch / Blue & White, Scissors Cigarettes, Special Army Quality manufactured by W.D. & H.O. Wills, Bristol & London *Hight Award, Brussels 1897, Wild Woodbine, Virginia Cigarettes* Grand Diploma of Honor, Antwerp International Exhibition 1885.

Eventually came my travels back homeward by train, bus and taxi overland, again through Pakistan and Afghanistan, and then on to Iran. The nicotine products there had a special charm —unfiltered, very thin and short, 100 to the little box. Thereafter would be brands of Turkey, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg, from which I departed by airplane back to the life which was to come for me.

Chapter 4

Recovery—Many years hence here in New Mexico I undertook to study therapy and psychology at Southwestern College, Santa Fe. One of our courses entailed examination of the concept and practice of “service” —service to self, in relationships and to community. In service to myself, I committed to quit smoking finally, once and for all, after years of false starts and relapses. I finally did “clean up” and broke the hold nicotine had on me. It was 1993.

One of the major recovery tools that worked for me was to repeat and repeat and repeat silently to myself: “I want the best for myself and I am not going to settle for anything less.” The recovery started with commitment; then repeating and refining my motives; and at last a system of behavioral and cognitive improvements throughout the week. There have been some relapses now and again since then, but no prolonged slides downward to habitual smoke.

Part of the study of psychology found me looking back through my life. I had lived through decades of smoking. The improbable glamour, the theate ritual of the lighting-up, the faux sheik, dude, beau geste facade of it all—and my earlier years of derring-do had long since passed.

One of the brands in India was called Passing Show, Tipped Virginia. What an apt name for the fooling business of smoking nicotine —a show indeed, and a passing show at that—though with deadly results with which we have all become too familiar.