Are cigarettes good for you?

Of course not. They’ll do less for your health, in fact, than most hideous car crashes.   But that’s not the point, is it?  We already know that they’re unhealthy.  This has been drilled into our minds for what may as well be eons and yet 19% of the US smokes.

But whatever.  These are boring statistics that really aren’t what you’d call “unpublished”.  What I’m more interested in are the aspects of the “tobacco entity” that allow this habit to continue.  Why?

Because I smoke.  It’s expensive, has turned what used to be swimmer’s lungs into the biological equivalent of a tired old leaf blower, and in my circles smoking is more deadly to your social status than it is to your mortality.  But I do it anyway, because (here’s the good part)…

Hot or not?

Hot or not?

I enjoy it.  Genuine enjoyment and pleasure happens when I spark one up.  Turkish Royals, pink BIC, hell yeah.  I love it while driving, while eating, after sex, while at work, while hiking, or after I leave the gym (yes, you read that right).  Pretty much any activity I do, besides sleeping, is made better with a cigarette.

I’m addicted, hopelessly.  I say this with a tiny dash of shame, or much less salt than Emeril uses.  I’ve been smoking my entire adult life, for 12 years.  I’m 24 (hello?!).  Before you count years on your fingers I’ll go ahead and tell you that I was 12 the first time I took a puff – a beautiful, blue, billowing…never mind.  Anyway, this despite being brought up in a good family, in an excellent school (where I did well), and in an affluent area of town.

My next point, and this is the big one, is that I don’t know what life is like without cigarettes.  I have never actually lived adult life without them and the thought of not having tobacco at arm’s reach is downright scary.  How could it not be?

I don’t do drugs, I exercise, and I’m very conscious of what I eat.  The juxtapose of cigarettes in my life is nearly laughable.  I know I can’t smoke forever, but for now I shall.  So if you’ll excuse me, I have something to take care of…outside.

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“What-ifs” – Good or Bad?

Sitting on Zach’s bed, I stared at the TV and pondered a timeless question, “How did this happen?” Throughout the day I had been helping him move into a new apartment, and seeing all of his things; the little knick-knacks around his room, brought back memories.

I knew I still had feelings for Zach. I knew I still loved him. I knew that he was the only boy I ever really felt comfortable with. But just as he had expressed regret that we hadn’t taken things farther, he had made plainly clear that “those days are over.”.

But something in me still thought that there might be something between us that was more than friendship. Part of me thought there still may be a possibility for romance. But laying there, a body’s width away from him, I couldn’t muster the courage to take his hand, to look him in the eye, and tell him how I felt.

We all imagine situations and examine them through the filter of an almighty variable “What if…”. My better judgement told me (well, shouted really) to let things go; to forget it; that the spark between us was gone. But my own internal “what if” kept holding me back. As we moved furniture and unpacked boxes in his new apartment, I couldn’t help but imagine how it would feel if this were our apartment; if we were together.

I looked at Zach and suddenly the cold reality of the situation seemed to slap me. We weren’t together. There was someone else for him. Most horribly, I blew it. A year ago when he moved to into the city I completely ignored the emotions between us. As he would later tell me, “I would have dated you in a heartbeat.”

But then I started to think of my soon-to-come move to Chicago, and the new start that I would have there. My “what ifs” began again. Only this time, they were what-ifs for the future. These are the good kind; the kind that give us hope and stir ambition. Maybe I’ll be happy there. Maybe I’ll make great friends, and maybe, just maybe, with a little luck, I’ll finally find someone that I can be happy with.

So as I begin my journey to a new city and a new chapter of my life, will my ambitions lead me to great things, or will they leave me wondering, “What if?”.

What I keep in my closet…

I love my closet.  Just as an action-movie hero has their secret compartment filled with guns, I have my closet.  It is, after all, nearly the same thing if you dress to kill.

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The source of my powers… The bigger, the better.

I was going through some old clothes recently and came upon an interesting flanel shirt.  It matches literally nothing else in my wardrobe, but I keep it around anyway.

My little brother, Max, has always looked out for me.  Whenever I need him, he’s there.  One night, when I was 18, I was hideously manic.  I was that kind of no-longer-in-control manic episodes.  It was just a la-dee-da, “do whatever comes to mind” type of night.  It was spring, but it was still a cold night, and the rain made it feel even colder.  This next part’s where the mania comes in.

Buzzing high up in mania, I decided that I wanted to walk through the woods behind my parent’s house, just to feel the rain against my skin.  Needless to say, I was soaked and freezing before long.

Wandering around in between the trees in nothing but jeans and a t-shirt, I became aware of a voice calling my name.  It was my brother.  When he came up to me I was shivering violently – my lips nearly purple and my skin completely white and pale.  I began to get upset, just as much with the rain as I was with myself.

My brother, wearing the flanel shirt, took it off and put it around me.  It was soaked in seconds but the gesture seemed to calm me a bit.

These days, seeing it in my closet is a reminder of how unstable things used to be, how well things are going now, and the bond that Max and I share.  That’s why I keep the shirt.

A Mercedes tells its story…

Yesterday I pulled on the door handle on my car (pretty mundane stuff).  But instead of opening the door, the handle came off in my hand.  So today I went to a junkyard to get a new one.  While the scrapyard gentleman removed one from a carbon copy of my car, I wandered about.   A Porsche Cayenne caught my attention.  It had apparently caught fire and burnt to a German crisp.

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…to a crisp.

Weaving through the rows of cars, I came across a white Mercedes E-Class.  The view from the rear suggested that the car was only a few years old, and in great condition…or at least it was at some point.  The front, however, was a devastated hunk of contorted metal.

From inside shone the crisp, white, and nearly luminescent color of crumpled airbags.  They seemed to have come out of every nook and cranny.  In the passenger footwell was a can of Axe body spray and a pair of green and yellow Adidas gym shorts.

Behind the passenger’s seat were two cans of RedBull, one empty and one unopened.  I guessed that the driver couldn’t have been much older than me.  Coming around to the driver’s side, there were a few more items that held more of the driver’s (and the Benz’s) story.

The leather inside was a dark tan color.  Looking around the driver’s seat, I noticed many deep-red blotches.  They were the unmistakable color of blood.  In the driver’s footwell, thrown in almost as an afterthought, sat two items which revealed the story’s climax.

A CPR mask, tossed on the floor, hinted at something devastating.  The second item was barely visible, so I opened the driver’s door to get a closer look.  White with more red stains, it was a sheet.

I noticed that the seatbelt was completely reeled in, as it is when no one is wearing it.  Between the mask, the blanket, and the position of the seatbelt, it became evident that someone had taken their last drive in the car that I was peering into.

Suddenly I became dramatically aware of the brevity of a two-ton vehicle plowing down the road, and what can happen if things go wrong.  I was staggered.

Then I began to wonder.  Who was the driver?  Where were they going?  Was it something mundane?  The grocery perhaps?  Or maybe this person was on the way to the gym, ready for an ordinary workout.  While standing there, staring into that Mercedes, another question came to mind which was completely overwhelming.

What were this person’s last moments like?  Images of what may have happened seemed to rush though my mind.  Did they see it coming?  Were they scared?  Did they have any idea how serious the crash was going to be?  Did they even know what hit them?  No matter what, they certainly couldn’t have been prepared for what was about to happen to them.

Walking away from that white Mercedes, I realized a universal truth of life:  We are all, no matter how different in life, going to someday be humbled in the face of death.

To leave things on a positive note, I am pleased to report that my habit of not wearing my seatbelt has been completely kicked.

My favorite book has blank pages.

There’s a certain excitement inherent when I see a blank page. All of the stories or chronicles that it could hold leave me with a sense of anticipation. So you can imagine how an entire blank diary must make me feel.

Last month I went through the things in my grandmother’s condo. She died two weeks prior and while she hadn’t lived there in over 5 years, it was still filled with her belongings. Five years ago she moved in with her boyfriend of 25 years, so all of the day-to-day items were gone. Left behind were decorations and personal items she had gathered throughout her life.

She traveled the world, and everything in that house told the story of where she’d gone. I found an ashtray from a hotel in Amsterdam. There were hand-painted porcelain dishes from Japan. Inside a cigarette tin from the UK laid a folded five pound note. A piece of stationary note from The Ritz in Paris had a bit of wine spilled on it and what appeared to be a last name and a phone number.

As I gathered a few of these things and put them in a small box I came across one more item that made me gasp with excitement  It was a journal. The cover was a colorful weave of fabric and it had a frayed string tied around it. I untied the string, hoping to find some record of where she was when she got it. To my disappointment, each and every page was blank. But no matter. I put it in the box with everything else and left her condo for what would be the last time.

It sits on the dresser...waiting.

It sits on the dresser…waiting.

The journal now sits on my dresser, waiting for words to fill it. It’s beautiful. From the weave and color of the fabric it looks to be from the Middle East (in my very non-expert opinion). There’s a smell of spice or incense coming from it. I want to write in it. At first, though, I couldn’t seem to think of any subject which would be worthy of a book with such personality.

A few things came to mind. I thought that perhaps someday I’d meet someone who is so special to me that he would be worthy of the journal. That seemed a bit risky though. I wouldn’t want to have to burn it, after all.

Then, it occurred to me something with which I could fill the diary that would fit its personality perfectly. I don’t know where it came from and I probably never will. But I want to see the world, as she did. I want to explore to the four corners. As I do, and I will, I’ll record that journey in this book.

Who knows where it will someday end up. Perhaps someday someone will find it in my condo and, while sitting on my couch, take a trip around the world.

On parting with a great love…

I recently made the decision to part ways with one of the greatest loves of my life:  Smoking.  I decided to stop “cold-turkey”.  Then I left Fantasy Land and caught a train back to Reality.

So I’m tapering back and today (it’s 3pm) I’ve not had a single drag.  This may not be a big deal for some, but for me it’s an epic achievement worthy of a giant bronze monument downtown.

I will admit it’s had some affect on my mood.  I’m a bit…testy.  To help ease this I’ve had my iPod set on Adele and AFI for most of the day.

To adapt a statement of the great philosopher Adelus, 21st century AD, I could gaze at water and set it aflame.

Everyone wish me luck!  Lord, I’ll need it.

How spark plugs hold the answer to life…

Early this morning I was driving and I had one of those “That’s it, I’ve had it…” moments and made my way to my mechanic.  My car had been running a bit…off, lately.  It seemed to be struggling somehow, and as I had been putting off spark plug replacement for a while, today seemed as good a time as any.

As I was changing them I had a revelation:  Out in the driveway, working on an automobile, one can learn things about life.  So here is my examination of the parallels between changing spark plugs and the answer to life:

Yes please!

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  

If you go to AutoZone right now and ask for spark plugs, you will most likely be steered in the direction of a company called Bosch.  Is it because they are the best?  No.  They’re not even the most expensive.  It’s because their margin of profit is higher on that brand.  In fact, those plugs are shit.  That’s why I go to my mechanic, who once was a sales rep for AutoZone, for a recommendation before going elsewhere to buy them.

You get what you pay for.  

I acquired my current car in the not so distant past from a woman who had kept meticulous service records.  According to them, it had not really been that long since her last plug job was done (on the car, I mean).   It was not until I removed the old ones that I discovered the reason for their early failure.  Apparently someone had used two different brands, both of which were crap.  I did some checking, and both brands are available at my local Meijer store.  I rest my case.

Something about putting American spark plugs in a Japanese car doesn’t seem right…

Keep things consistent… It’s less confusing that way.  

There are a few basic no-brainer rules when it comes to spare parts.  One of the more basic ones is don’t mix and match.  Just don’t.  Ever.  With those two different types of plugs in the car, the computer couldn’t adjust for a consistent fuel burn, eventually causing a juddering feeling, especially when going up hills.  Mrs. Previous Owner had literally managed to confuse an inanimate object.

Whatever you’re doing, have fun with it.  

Growing up, I had a neighbor that had literally 16 cars.  Some were new, and a few were project cars.  I could sometimes hear him working on them, and there were times when I thought he was going to have a stroke.  It was not uncommon to hear, “Gawd, damnit!  …CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!” as the wrench, or whatever tool he happened to be holding, bounced along the driveway.  This usually happened when he was working on his Mercedes, but that’s another topic.  I, on the other hand, have a fairly enjoyable time working on my car, which is why I do it in the first place.  While it may not seem pleasant, there can be a great deal of enjoyment in getting your hands dirty from time to time.

After smoking a victory cigarette I took the coupe out to make sure I hadn’t cocked anything up, and just as I expected, life in the Accord is much smoother.