Have I ever noticed I can tell a personal story about somebody only after they have been gone for some time, and nobody can ever guess who I’m talking about? I used to have this friend from Sweden, and he said he never drank or smoked when he went back home. I assumed he never cheated on his wife either, but why would he when he was at home? After all, “she was there.” Anyway, he seemed to live two different lifestyles and I couldn’t understand how he could just turn it on and off. That was until I started going back to America on a regular basis last year. I went from smoking two to three packs of cigarettes a day, and drinking so much I’m embarrassed to write how much, to drinking nothing and smoking next to nothing. What could it be about going to America that does this to me? Was it the weather and the blue skies with little puffy white clouds in them? Had I, like my Swedish friend, begun to develop geo-specific behavioral traits? Or was it, that when I go back home, I actually have to pay for drinks? Cigarettes cost over double what they cost here as well, and I don’t smoke the cheap ones (All of you guys who smoke Zhongnanhai should be shot.). Maybe it was that I shat something solid for the first time since the last time I was back home, though I credit this to the change in diet and eating habits. As in, I had a habit of eating all the time. A day would start with syrup-soaked pancakes and butter-drenched bagels for breakfast, foot-long sandwiches for lunch, and end with a beautifully home-cooked dinner. Perhaps the Olympian-amount of TV I watched diverted my drive for a shot and a smoke. And let’s not forget about the police. The suck-fest that is being pulled over by the cops far outweighs the need for another round. So between stuffing my face, watching Sportscenter, and my fear of being tasered on the local news, not drinking was actually a snap.
Smoking, on the other hand, I wasn’t able to cut cold turkey like I was with the Wild Turkey. It’s 10 to 10 in the morning as I write this, having just arrived back in the Zhou, and I’ve already had more cigarettes this morning, than I had over the past 2-days in the States. Grant it, I’ve been up since 5:30am with the jetlag, and unlike in New York, one can actually smoke here. No matter how I rationalize it, it’s still a lot. At least here it’s less awkward. Smoking is commonplace. Standing outside the Guggenheim, lighting one up before I go in, people are looking at me like I have a 2nd head. Maybe that awkwardness was due being with my mom the whole time, but isn’t she the one who used to have me run down to the store to pick her up another carton of True Greens? She taught me how to smoke though, so if anyone is going to understand the need to light up it is her; even if she did quit 25 years ago. Why exactly am I writing this again? And why have you read this far? It’s 10 in the morning. It’s time for a drink! Barkeep! A quadruple whisky.
By Tim Hoerle