Sunday, February 20, 2005

Up next, Ozzy Osbourne on the dangers of trans fats

I'm about halfway through Johnny Cash's autobiography. It's a pleasure to read and catches his tone very nicely. The narrative isn't over-endowed with structure or any kind of thread, but it's what you would expect to read with Johnny Cash's name and a credited cowriter on the cover. No doubt most of it was dictated and run through the quick-edit hopper.

He talks about how his older brother, who died at the age of 14, disapproved when Johnny would smoke a cigarette. A quote I particularly enjoyed was: “Even back then, no matter what older folks say now, everybody knew that smoking hurt you.” True! Of course they did! Folks in my parent's generation often justify their past smoking by saying "We didn't know it was bad for us, or for our kids." I've always found this hard to believe. It would be a whole lot more honest to say "Hey, we were addicted--we couldn't help ourselves."

The simple fact is that cigarette smoking is an addiction, one of the fiercest ones you can develop. When you're addicted to something, you’ll turn a blind eye to just about anything that keeps you from getting your fix. Was it really necessary for anyone to see verified epidemiologic proof of the association between smoking and various fatal respiratory diseases to know that it was profoundly dangerous? Of course not. All you had to do was look around, or consider your own experience. You smoke for a while, and one day you realize that you can't run for any distance before you're wheezing and gasping. Then there are the sharp pains in your chest after climbing a couple of flights of stairs. And how about those exciting, protracted coughing fits? Consider the denial involved in experiencing these things and saying, Naaah, these cigarettes aren't doing ME any harm! Then consider the further denial of saying, decades later, We didn't know.

By the time I was of smoking age, the data were in. Nonetheless, I smoked from the age of thirteen into my late twenties, knowing perfectly well it could kill me. Smoking had nothing to do with feeling invincible or the immortality of youth. I may not have been the happiest guy in the world, but I had a lot to live for and no wish to die. No, I smoked because I was addicted, pure and simple, and no amount of baby-having or lecture-getting or insurance-rate-up-going was going to stop me until I was ready to face the real problem: the addiction itself. Which I finally did, and it wasn't pretty, but I don't smoke anymore. I'm glad for that.

No real point here, I guess. I'm not even an anti-smoker. That quote just brought to mind an old myth that always bothered me. Of course, I'm avoiding the real question: Why would someone read Johnny Cash's autobiography and focus on the cigarettes?


Blogger tqwhite said...

Me? I smoked only because it was cool and kind of fun. Camel Straights, no filter, turkish tobacco, totally badass cigarettes for my black leather jacket period. I loved them. Three years, quit easily. Lucky me.

I also knew they were bad for me and, until I quit, I had no way to know that I wasn't addicted. I smoked as if I was. Thing is, I was invincible and I knew it.

Too bad that's not true of everybody.

2/23/2005 12:09 AM  
Blogger portia said...

Hey, came by your blog via flea, and you're a great writer. Your reasons for writing make me think of my dad (a writer trapped in an engineer's career) and that I should really suggest he takes up a blog. So thanks for the encouragement, and the beautiful letter to your son (with whom I share a birthday!), and keep up the good work.

2/26/2005 5:55 PM  
Blogger alice, uptown said...

No matter how "bad" cigarettes are for you, as any stranger will let you know (those who tried that with me got the response, "really? was that on the evening news last night?"), you probably had a damn good time smoking. I did, and I stopped after 25 years -- it's been more than two years, and I still miss it.

2/28/2005 3:00 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Oh, yeah, I definitely enjoyed it. There was nothing like that first cigarette in the morning with a cup of coffee. I can still taste it. Life without smoking seemed bleak and pointless at first, but that didn't last long. Now, it's all about the martini . . .

2/28/2005 4:05 PM  
Blogger alice, uptown said...

Have an extra dry one for me.

Addictive tendencies run so rampant in my family that I rarely drink. If I didn't get migraines from alcohol, not drinking would be a lot harder to manage.

So I make do with the best pharmaceuticals Western medicine will dispense. (Proud Prozac poster adult since 1988.)

I'm glad I found your blog. I like the way you see the world.

3/01/2005 12:48 PM  

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