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Death by Zeitgeist

Or How I Learned to Quit Smoking and Love the Gum

By Devoot Majundar
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

There’s a piece of Nicorette resting between my gums and my lips right now. I’m not supposed to chew it or swallow it. Instead, it’s my own personal almost-intravenous nicotine drip. It takes an eternity for the gum to kick in, compared to the seven seconds it takes me to smile every time I light up. Used to light up, that is.

Last month, I decided it was time to quit smoking. After a year long tribute to the middle-aged white woman, my run with the menthol cigarette has ended. I suppose the irony of being a bio major with a cancer addiction finally caught up with me. While I was on this whole “let’s write about something positive” kick, I thought I might chronicle my year of Koolness.

Growing up, the absolute worst kind of people in the world to me were “upper crust” real estate agents. And every single middle-aged, divorced, bourgeois, aspirant, she-banshee real estate agent I saw was also a chimney-stack of menthol smoke. Somehow, in the process of discovering myself in college, I became that she-banshee.

It all started with a profoundly dumb student film. Imaginatively called The Vendor, it was a Course VI dork’s demonstration to the world that he could cram in as much bad acting as possible in 70 minutes (light saber scene included). I had the great job of playing the evil, old, bitter guy.

Some might be misled into believing I have the “old and bitter” role down cold. Unfortunately, my acting skills have always been of midnight infomercial quality. As a result, it was suggested that I use a cigar as a prop to enhance my malice factor. So, I bought myself a pack of chocolate-flavored cigars and aimed for “better than SNL” acting.

This was fine, only nobody ever sent me the memo that said that you’re not supposed to inhale cigar smoke. Apparently the mouth cancer is for cigar smokers whereas the more lucrative lung cancer is reserved exclusively for cigarette smokers (who inhale, you see).

After an afternoon shooting in Central Square, I managed to inhale three hours straight of chocolate cigar. This was perhaps the longest, greatest artificial high that I’ve ever felt. So you see, it was never about coolness for me -- it was all about the sweet release of smoking.

The cigar, however, was a terribly inefficient way to smoke, once I realized I couldn’t even inhale it. Moving right along, I decided to find my inner cigarette smoker. Like many, I began with the clove cigarette, which uses the very strong clove flavor to mask the fact that you’re inhaling what asphyxiates thousands every year: smoke.

In the coming months, I would discover the hip but subtle “Kamel Red Light,” the gay favorite “Parliament Menthol Light,” and of course the real estate agent’s dreamy golden box: the “Marlboro Light.” For those who care, I never really got hip enough to try “American Spirit” or (whoa, now) roll my own cigarettes.

There were a few salient moments that permeated my death trek. There was the time that I went up to the roof of Baker to have a smoke and fainted on the elevator on the way down. I woke up, frightened both because of what had happened and because of all of the “oh my god, Becky” sorority girls who have now turned my dorm into the sorority mixer dorm.

There was the time that I couldn’t resist a cigarette while at home. Now, my parents are fantastic inasmuch as they can’t particularly smell the smoke. When you come from a country where smoking is what the real men do (because that’s what the British did, I suppose), smoking is not as repugnant as it is to those among you who creamed themselves when the Z-Center arrived.

So, once at home, there was the 2 a.m. experience of crouching behind my car with the trunk open and lighting up. After all, if I got called on it, I could just say I had left something in the car. The overwhelming sense of how pathetic I am started setting in right about then, this last Christmas break.

Aside from that, I’ve got a dead grandfather and uncle owing to the nasty habit. So, after loading up on $80 worth of Nicorette, I quit. It’s been difficult, and I’ve cheated. But as I’m going to have to be saccharine and endearing next year to make friends in graduate school, it was just about time to retire the habit.

I suppose the moral of the story is this -- even a predisposed, low self-control, natural drug addict like myself can quit. I’m certainly not a better person for it. And like the 60 percent of people who end up smoking again after a year of quiting, I might end up on the rebound. But the next time you see some self-posessed, smug loser with a cigarette, remember my story. I might just be dead by then.