I smoked on and off for 20+ years. I should look a lot worse from all those years of smoking. I mean, smoking ages you. And, smoking was for me, a marker of major life shifts or events. My relationship with smoking began early and although I tried to manage it, c’mon, you can’t manage addiction. Ah, the love/hate relationship with smoking. It is love when you are in middle of the act and hate when you are not, because you know what you are doing is horrible.
I started smoking when I was 13. My best friend and confidant, Rex Brewer, and I smoked. I learned to drive his VW beetle while smoking. God, I felt sophisticated and mature. All the adults smoked. We were cool. I learned to drive a manual with a cigarette between index and middle fingers of my right hand, my palm on the stick-shift. I loved it.
First time I quit, I was about 17. I was married at the time, (more on that another time) and my husband said it was the thing to do, so we did. Like that, I was an actual non-smoker for a while. But then I left him. We were divorced and I was 18 and at sea. I hadn’t even matured emotionally yer I was divorced and thankfully in college. I had friends who saw me through it but I spent a majority of my time smoking, hanging with a friend/lover, who was also a smoker, while flunking math and French.
By the time I was 24 years old I had been smoking on and off for ten years. My abusive relationship going strong. Still loving it but not quitting it. In youth, you feel like you are in on a secret. Look at photos or advertisements from a bygone eras. All those serious artists who were smokers, Dashel Hammet, Humphrey Bogart in Hollywood 1940-1970s who didn’t smoke? Mad Men made me want a cigarette and a drink. Among my favorite photos is one of Babe Paley in a shift dress, hair coiffed and a cigarette in her slender hand. You look at that photo and you think “cool elegance”. She is so elegant. You never think “My God, she must stink to high holy heaven from smoking so much!” You think, “I want to project that confidence.”
When I was 24 I had a boyfriend who was a waiter/writer. One night at the end of his shift at the restaurant where he worked, he crawled into bed with me and when I smelled his hair, I nearly vomited. Although he didn’t smoke, restaurants allowed patrons to do so. It was a great pleasure to smoke before and after a meal with drinks. I addressed my initial gag reflex by swallowing hard, turned my head away and thought, “Jesus Christ, is this what I smell like? I am quitting smoking.” I was so repulsed by the odor, I quit the next day. I didn’t smoke for 13 years.
Now, didn’t smoke is an exaggeration as I was sometimes a “social smoker.” You know, like a social drinker. I was not REALLY a smoker, because I occasionally bummed a cigarette or two from smoking friends late at night when frequenting dive bars of the East Village. Late nights are the worst for your steely determination, that’s when defenses go down, and skewed logic kicks in: “It’s a bummed cigarette, it’s not mine! So, I am not a “real” smoker. Hell, my hair and clothes already hold the stench of this bar and smoke and beer. Why not.”
My “cessation” lasted nearly 14 years. It was 1994 when I divorced the MBA grad/writer-husband. “Divorced” meant unstoppable emotions of uncertainty and hurt. All the stress lead to smoking overtime. But the good news was, I had a strong support network of good friends. Most of whom were smokers…four of us were known as the “drunk girls” (more on that later) as we would dance, smoke incessantly and do shots of tequila on Sunday afternoons at Dan Lynch on 14th Street. Hey, don’t threaten me with a good time!
Denise and I were smokers. Carol and I were smokers. Hell, she was such a scary smoker, she would remove the patch and light up, crush out the stub then put the patch back on and be ready for another cigarette in 15 minutes. One night after work at a bar Carol, had taken off her patch, was trying to light a cigarette not remembering she had one in the ashtray in front of her. I had to point all of this out to her. She just slapped herself on the forehead. Carol was NUTS (in the good way). Remind me to tell you about her daughter and Maverick Records. She loved, loved, loved smoking.
Alison and I were smokers. She shared with me an article on “smoking porn”. Guys who get off on watching videos of women inhale cigarette smoke in a very specific manner. She mastered the snap puff. Alison so enjoyed smoking that our bad (we would learn later just how bad) running joke was: even at the tender age of 5, one could always find a pack of cigarettes in Alison’s purse. After steak dinners at Frank’s, she and I would have brandy and cigars. Dipping our cigar tips in the the brandy before having a draw of smoke from its rolled drunken head. Delicious.
One day, Alison announced she was quitting. Well, of course, that meant I would too. And we did. She took up Tai Chi to help her cravings. My friend Red Donna quit by walking around her kitchen island while flapping her arms. I decided on hypnosis. My French boyfriend was hypnotized over the phone by a guy in Alabama and it worked for him. So, on said French boyfriend’s referral, I called Alabama man.
We had an initial phone interview wherein he gave instructions. I must set aside an hour, have no interruptions and be lying down in a comfortable, dark place. I was hypnotized successfully. This was such a shock! I was hypnotized over the phone. What did that say about me as a person? No matter, It had worked!! I had quit! It really, really worked….for exactly one year to the day.
I called Alabama man again and it worked again. For a few weeks. Cigarettes are a strong addiction. They are deceptive and seductive. They are calming. Cigarettes are evil. As we all know, they can be fatally dangerous. They kill you for God’s sake. I use to cough so hard in an attempt to get a clear my throat of crap I thought I’d “catch an aneurysm”. I had lost friends to cancer, yet it was impossible to stop.
While on holiday in Tuscany with friends, it turned out that the ever elegant and sublime, Hafeez and I were the smokers of our group. Hafeez and I decided to judge which Italian cigarette was the absolute best. We bought every brand of Italian cigarette at the tabac shop. Once back at the villa, we lined them up on the grass under the stars. Laid ourselves out on the grass on a perfect Italian night…then, as we counted shooting stars, we rated the quality of each brand. Linda was the winner by unanimous vote.
At 43 my abusive love/hate relationship with smoking had been on and off for nearly 20 years. It was the same year that Gerry, my love, my destiny, and future husband entered my life. Smoking, was one of the many things we had in common. We loved holding a drink (martini) in one hand and a cigarette in the other, spending hours at posh bars in midtown discussing the world, comedy, movies, acting, our growing love, listening to jazz quartets and laughing our heads off. At the beginning of each day, we would vow to quit. By evening we were at the Brooklyn neighborhood pub, bumming cigarettes and singing Karoke. Or at the “grotto” smoking with the girls. Once while attending a wedding in London, we took so many cigarette breaks we were barely accounted for at the reception. Cigarettes were defining us.
Gerry and I were married in Italy in August. On the fifth of August eighteen of us left our rented villa in San Stefano, with a 100 year storm looming, and set off for Certaldo, Italy. There, our friends witnessed the magnificent, romantic, unforgettable wedding ceremony administered by a mayor straight out of central casting and a translator. Back at the villa photos recorded the gloriously, beautifully, (secretly) decorated dining room, the incredible food (I can still taste the pasta) and happy celebrants seated all around. People sang songs. We danced to West Side Story (it was all Dorian could pull up on his new iPod). We laughed. I kissed the hands of the cooks. I rubbed the chef’s calf inappropriately every time he came by the serve up more pasta…professing my love for his food. The happiest of days! It was glorious. It was perfect. It was a disaster.
In nearly every photo there is a smoldering cigarette either in my hand or dangling from my lips. Back home in the states, I was distressed, angry, and desperate. I could never erase the cigarettes from the photos. I made up my mind to stop smoking….for good. But how? I had quit only to start again over and over.
Leafing through the back of a village voice one day, I saw an ad with a photo of a black man’s face, a “do rag” wrapped around his forehead, his index finger poised over his eye and a banner that screamed “I CAN MAKE YOU STOP SMOKING IN ONE HOUR.” I immediately thought, “THIS is the guy!” I called the number and spoke with Dr. X (his name still escapes me) who explained the fee was $500, cash only. He could guarantee that I would never smoke again. “Really? ” I ask. “Really.” he says. We agreed on an appointment, he provided me with an address on the Westside in Harlem.
I arrived at a building at my appointed time. I am never on time, but I was this day. It was a nondescript store front next to another nondescript store front. I entered into a small brightly lit office where two straight back chairs were positioned against the wall opposite the door. Another chair was next to the door and a single desk occupied most of a wall across the room with a closed door next to the desk. At the desk, sat a thin, neat and kind, young black woman. She wore a short puffed sleeved, white cotton, blouse, which made her look efficient and childlike at the same time. She was so courteous and gracious. She smiled broadly and gave me forms with instructions to complete them fully adding, “The Dr. will be out to see you shortly. ” “Do you like him”, I asked? “Oh yes. He’s very good at what he does. We have a high success rate.” She went back to reading the book opened on her desk.
A young black man entered the room wearing a short sleeved white shirt and dark pants with a thin black tie. He exchanged pleasantries with the young woman. They laughed softly and he sat down in one of the chairs across from me. I thought, “Isn’t that the Farrakhan uniform he’s wearing? Or is it Mormons? It’s Mormons. And Farrakhan people. Oh my god, I am in Farrakhan territory. Oh, this is not good. Am I at Farrakhan’s office? Wait, is he alive? Yes, he is. Doesn’t he hate white people? I am not sure. Oh this is not good. It’s fine…it’s fine” They both smiled at me.
I completed the paper work got up and handed it along with the $500 cash off to my young black friend. She reviewed the work, tucked the cash into a drawer in the desk as the young man across the room beamed at me. His teeth so white, so perfect I wanted to kiss him. I sized up the space and decided yeah, this may not have been the best idea. I just blew $500 I couldn’t spare.
I sat down. I combed my hair. I sized up the room. I considered whether or not I could take the young woman in a struggle. I could. If I fled, how far would I get before…before what? I don’t know? What am I doing in Harlem? I am asking Farrakhan to make me stop smoking. Oh this is perfect. Just perfect. No, it’s fine. Keep your wits about you. Woman, you are a stupid ass. What if I get in there and he tries to hypnotize me into doing something against my will? Like what? I don’t know…but this is not right. Yet, there was my young friend, seated at her desk, reading and emitting the calmest, sweetest vibe. It put me at ease. But…. Well, if I die here, at least smoking won’t be an issue any longer.
At that moment the door next to the desk opened, for a second I can see a larger dimly lit room, annexed to the office. Then when I looked up I thought, “That’s M C Hammer! M.C. Hammer is getting hypnotized too?” Well, I thought it was M C Hammer because of the monochrome over-sized pants and silky shirt. I expected him to break into the crab-walk dance any moment. Alas, it wasn’t M C Hammer.
M C Hammer closed the door behind him and then picked up the clipboard, briefly reviewed my completed form, then looked up with a generous, knowing face and said, “Hello my Sister, I am Dr. X. Welcome.” “Hello”, I said. “So, you wish to rid yourself of this poison that is controlling your body. Your very life?”, he asked. I just stared at him thinking, M C Hammer is going to hypnotize me? Then broke into too big of a smile and began my usual nervous run-on sentence , “Yes, I do. See I started when I was 13 and even though I don’t really smoke now… Well, I do, but it’s not that much. But, I want to quit like, all of it. Once and for all. And all I think…” He cut me off when he took my hand in his and as my dance partner gently led me toward the door to the dimly lit room. His touch was so reassuring and calming, I followed willingly. “Well then. Let’s begin. Come into my hypnosis room.” In the back of my mind, I thought for a split second, I will be murdered or something… something.
He pushed the door open and I entered the most….the most… It was like a black Elvis lived in the room. The feature wall was smokey mirror panels. There were 1970s style posters of Nubian goddesses casting a slow, knowing gaze though long eyelashes. Pink over-sized luscious lips, slipping into a Mona Lisa smile. Skinny black arms angled from a paisley patterned halter top, an impossible long hand on a hip. No hurry in the posters – just Cool. Cool. Cool. Two ceramic leopards stood sentry at either side of the doorway. Feathers of dried grass rested in huge fake urns. Two enormous La-Z-Boy loungers were against the wall to my left. A small table to one side of the lounger closest to the door held a glass of water.
“Do you need to use the facilities?” he asked. “Huh?” My brain wasn’t with me. I had so much to take in with this room I was standing in. I couldn’t stop processing the vibe of the room and M C Hammer standing next to me. “Uh, no thanks, I am fine.” “You shall sit here, my Sister.” My dance partner sweetly guides me to my La-Z-Boy. It is HUGE! I sit. “Now I want you to find a comfortable position and melt into the chair. Let us begin to rid the process of ridding you of this poison.” I felt a pang of panic and immediately suppressed it. Trust this. Trust this – crazy, fucking, Elvis meets M C Hammer, experience. And, my GOD, this chair is FANTASTIC.
I nestled into the chair and readily relaxed. Then he sat in the La-Z-Boy next to me. For an instant I seized up, my shoulders in my ears. He calmed me with his voice. He explained that he would be sitting next to me during the session. His voice instructing me to trust the space. Close my eyes. Soon my shoulders fell away and I rolled into another world. The hypnotized world where you are present but at the same time not present, where you hear a voice but remain asleep. Where the voice guides you to calm pools and calm space. You rest at an in-between place. This relaxed state deepened. Like having been administered liquid Valium, I felt so comfortable and happy I could have stayed in this space for the rest of time.
At this point I had been listening to his voice and been under for some time. Then his voice said, “I am going to place my hands in front of your eyes.” Panic fluttered across my brain. “I want you to remain relaxed. In a moment I will place my hands in front of your eyes and ask you to open your eyes.” From the research I had done and from having been hypnotized in person twice before, opening your eyes in the middle of hypnosis is HIGHLY unusual. The idea is to remain in the altered state, mentally available not concentrating on any activity that would take you outside the state. I felt suspicious but that feeling was in a deep crevasse far in the back of my head. “Now, my hands are here in front of your eyes. Open your eyes.” I did. “Now close them.” I did. “Now open them.” I see the palm of his hand and the soft lighting all around its edges. “Now closed them.” I do.
“Now, my Sister, I want to ask if I can touch your hand.” My left hand was on the arm rest of my chair my hand tilted up toward the ceiling my palm exposed. He was next to me in his chair. I thought….”I knew it! Here it comes…omg, what do I do?” He said, “May I touch your left hand?” I said “yes.” He said, “I am now touching your hand.” I felt his thumb and index finger take that fleshy tender piece of meat between my thumb and index finger and just as a bit of panic set in to my mind, he squeezed that nerve center as hard as he bloody well could which froze my mind. He said. “Open your eyes.” I saw his hand and was in a panic but the pain in my hand was overwhelming. “REPEAT AFTER ME!” he demanded, his voice booming and filling the room. “I WILL NEVER SMOKE ANOTHER CIGARETTE AS LONG AS I LIVE.” I repeat, “I will never smoke another cigarette as long as I live.” “SAY IT AGAIN!”, he shouts like a preacher at Sunday sermon. “I WILL NEVER SMOKE ANOTHER CIGARETTE AS LONG AS I LIVE!” “I will never smoke another cigarette as long as I live.” I say, consumed with fear and confusion. “SAY IT AGAIN! I WILL NEVER SMOKE ANOTHER CIGARETTE AS LONG AS I LIVE!”, he shouts even louder, squeezing even harder causing more pain than I can stand. “I will never smoke another cigarette as long as I live.” I whimper. “SAY IT AGAIN!”, he commands. “I WILL NEVER SMOKE ANOTHER CIGARETTE AS LONG AS I LIVE!” “I will never smoke another cigarette as long as I live.”
Then his hand released mine. “Close you eyes.” His voice once again gentle, his fingers and hand gone he releases me back into the place of hypnosis sleep. I stay there for long minutes before he talks in a normal tone and brings me back to into the room. He counts from 7 to 1 and tells me to open my eyes. I do so and am present. I reacquaint myself with my surroundings. Colors are bright in spite of the darkness. The softly lit Elvis Room and M C Hammer are there and my witnesses to the event, the Nubian princesses and their leopards, smile upon me. I feel light and airy.
M C, my trusted dance partner motions for me to rise out of the chair. I take his hand. All sort of gushy feelings swirl around inside me. He opens the door to the main office. Bright light blinds me for an instant. I get my footing and as I swing my purse over my shoulder, I hear him say, “You are now cured of that poison. You will never smoke again. ” “Thank you.” I say. Feeling truly blessed. I begin to leave the room, then turn back to him and ask, “Can you hypnotize me for weight loss?” “My Sister, why would you want to change anything, you have a beautiful body. Have a blessed day.”
I went home that night and retold my story to Gerry taking the fleshy part of his left hand at the tender spot between my fingers and squeezing with all I had as I retold my tale. I watched his face contort into pain and shock and demanded he repeat after me, “I will never smoke another cigarette as long as I live.” “I will never smoke another cigarette as long as I live.” Say it again! Say it again! Say it again! All the while hitting that pressure point. I let go and look at him. “Owwww.” he said
Neither of us have never smoked again.