I, the Marlboro Man

As a kid I understood that I was much happier as a kid than I was ever likely to be as an adult. Clearly, adulthood was all about jobs, houses, cars, bills, lawn maintenance, taxes, the nightly news, and who to vote for. Whereas my chief responsibility in life was making sure not to swallow any of my Lincoln Logs.

Clearly, childhood was better.

At the same time, though, I yearned to be the coolest, sharpest, most fear-inducing kid in the world — the most undeniably adult kid in the world, basically. As such, I was forever on the lookout for anything that would help me realize my Inner Stud. And I had a pretty decent collection of stuff that had so far done exactly that for me: my genuine Hohner harmonica, my Converse high-tops, my fake but still satisfyingly menacing pirate sword — even, in an intrepid, “Dr. Livingston, I presume?” kind of way, my butterfly net.

Yet, I needed something more. Somehow, being a harmonica honking, basketball playing, butterfly collecting pirate just wasn’t doing the job.

And then one day I realized that the single most critical difference between myself and Clint Eastwood was that the Hang ‘Em High kid smoked, whereas I … really enjoyed candy cigarettes.

But of course! Smoking! My very own father smoked — and if he wasn’t the ultimate man’s man, then my name wasn’t exactly the same as his except for the stupid “Jr.” on the end. So, moving with the shadow-like stealth of the James Bond I had practically already become, I filched some matches and a cigarette out of my father’s bureau drawer. Stifling an unmanly-like giggle, I ran out into our garage, and squatted down in the darkened corner behind our water softener, where even Sherlock Holmes — another manly smoker! — couldn’t have found me.

I peered at the cigarette, admiring its narrow, two-toned uniformity. I slowly dragged it beneath my nose. It smelled potent, tangy, intoxicatingly manly. Ah, yes. There’s nothing like a good smoke after a hard day’s homework you never actually did. I saw that now.

Dangling the cigarette from my lips in true Humphrey Bogart fashion, I managed to light a match. This was it.

Good-bye, Junior. Hello, Big Bad John.

I brought the flame to the end of the cigarette. I sucked in the fulsome, expansive way I’d seen my dad do a million times before.

The shock of how horrible it was hurled me forward, where I banged my head on the water softener before toppling over sideways on the floor. My head was spinning, I was coughing almost to the point of throwing up, my stomach had become a burbling swamp — and, unbelievably, my pants were on fire. I had dropped the lit match onto my thigh. (My sturdy, tin-like Sears Roebuck bluejeans saved my life: they were scorched, but beyond getting screamingly hot for a second or two, my skin was fine.)

I pushed myself up onto my hands and knees. I dizzily located the bent and dirty cause of my sudden catastrophe where it had come to rest just beneath the water softener. Examining its now sorry condition, I suddenly understood why only real men’s men smoked. Cowboys, secret agents, and sophisticated playboys smoked because ordinary guys couldn’t smoke. Look what had happened to me! One puff — one puff! — and I was instantly reduced to a nauseous, farting, flaming floor crawler.

Clearly, being a man wasn’t for boys.

And then I felt my resolve stiffening.

Through my red, tear-filled eyes, I located my matches on the floor behind me. I gingerly straightened the dingy, mangled cigarette. I brushed off the ash at its tip. I put it back in my mouth. Hands trembling, I lit another match, and lifted the flickering flame toward my face.

If it was good enough for my dad, it was good enough for me.

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  • Ingrid

    John, so many people got drawn into cigarettes as children trying to be cool. I haven't heard a story as funny as yours, but rest assured both of my parents are in the same boat with you. My dad quit a while ago. My mother still struggles with quitting. I thank God for asthma. If I didn't have it I'd probably be a trying to break the nicotine habit too. Great post. By the by, I received my copy of penguins and I applaud you and God for putting out such an excellent piece of literary work. I must admit it is funnier than the bible. I hope that wasn't blasphemous.

  • great post!!! 🙂

  • Arnette

    My experience was much like that…but I was no quitter either. Not until about 10 years after I'd started and was so hooked on the nicotine that I'd have sold a lung for a pack of cigarettes during the quitting process. But I did and haven't looked back for 20 years beyond that. It's much better if you can quit. But my sisters haven't and my mother couldn't (God rest her soul) even with cancer. I pray for my sisters that it won't get to that point with them before THEY quit.

  • windy blue

    Well back when Humphrey Bogart made movies, it was the thing to smoke, I think they thought it made them look like a hunk.

    Clint Eastwood, well tough, looking, Sherlock holmes well he had a pipe of some sort. yes it was marlboro, Wiston, Camel ( with out the filter) Salem, but one did not know about Cancer. What was that. Some thing people never spoke about nor really heard about.

    the cigarette companies made millions, and people suffered.

    Oh, I thought smoking was smart too, and the thing to do.

    But I quit, many years ago, and I work with woman who deal with smoking and if a person could see what their lungs look like in a month, they are BLACK. And with smoking comes all kinds of other health issues. Its horrible. And now people are getting educated on smoking and what it does to a person.

    And what a pack of cigarettes cost's today, forget it.

  • I've never smoked tobacco in my life… and these days at those wonderful "clubs" we have in California one can now purchase the THC sacrament in edible and even drinkable forms. Much better.


  • And for those of you tsk tsking about my smoking choices, check out this fine piece of scholarship:



    THE biblical Israelites may have been high on a hallucinogenic plant when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, according to a new study by an Israeli psychology professor.

    Writing in the British journal Time and Mind, Benny Shanon of Jerusalem's Hebrew University said two plants in the Sinai desert contain the same psychoactive molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca is prepared.

    The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an "altered state of awareness", Shanon hypothesised.

  • This is HILLARIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!! I love it.

    but than again I also come from a smoking household (both parents smokers). I am now 46 and smoke 2 packs a day and can't seem to quit this killer.

    I tried different pills, patches, all kinds of stuff and yet I still smoke. And all the lectures in the world including Dr. Oz (on oprah) showing the sick lungs and stuff, I can't quit.

    I always thought I can quit when I want to, I am not addicted, that is all BS that someone is addicted. Until I tried to quit.

    But I know ONE day I will kick it, or it will kick me!

    Anyways, love your post!!!!!!!!!! 🙂


  • LittleDrummerGirl

    Brian —

    And the burning bush? Another hallucination? Surely God is not that dramatic, right? He wouldn't, for example, align the planets in such a way that a certain "star" would shine right over a non-descript stable in a little town called Bethlehem, would He? I'm sure it's possible that the Israelites could have been high, but I'd rather believe that when God introduced His Law to His people in Old Testament times, lightning and trumpets would be standard.

  • breezy

    Although my first officail drag didn't occur until the very mature age of 13, my Mom will tell anyone willing to listen about my chewing tobacco habit at the tender age of two. My digging into my fathers ashtray had become so compulsive that it was immediately placed high on the mantle or top of the china cabinet as soon as he snuffed one out.

    One afternoon, my muffled "No" in answer to her,"Honey are you touching Daddy's butt again?" (imagine the looks one would get now if one posed that question in public!) propelled her into a run to find me and relieve me once again of that filthy, nasty habit I had. Of course, during the early '60's, smoking wasn't considered anything but 'cool', yet.

    As she rounded the corner, she came hip to face with me, resplendant in my fluffy white dress complete with lacy panties (I was raised catholic in the '60's, if I wasn't in uniform, I was dressed in lacy dresses fit to be baptised in). "Honey, you're not chewing on Daddy's cigaretts again, are you?" she asked in that slightly hysterical, what am I gonna do with you, voice. "No, momma", I professed and gave her my sweetest tobacco stained smile ever.

    My desire to emulate sexy mature women like Lauren Bacall, Frenchy, Rizzo (of Pink Ladies fame in the musical Grease) and Brenda Polard (the foxiest girl in school, according to all the boys in Jr.High) is what drew me to start smokin' for real.

    My physical experience was much as you described it, John. I was not lucky enough to have been able to hide the coughing and spitting up that resulted. A whole gaggle of girls had surrounded me and where wickedly egging me on.

    Those sweet innocent (cough, cough) encounters lead into the nightmare of a 20 year habit…

    I no longer smoke (Thank you, merciful Father in heaven) but I dream of smoking sometimes still. My smoking influenced both of my siblings, who still smoke to this day. When warning my children, I am constantly confronted with the fact that I smoked and was able to quit. Mom was right, as she always is. What a filthy, nasty part of my life that turned out to be…

  • Brian: I'm sure your sources are misinformed. Those plants were planted there by Prof. Timothy Leary before his incarnation into his 20th century American form. If I remember correctly he was originally an aeombic transplant that evolved in India before migrating to the Sinai desert where he was got high before getting burnt by lava, java, coke, or something…. I'm sure it was on visit to Sinai sometime in the 1960s or 70s that he planted those plants there so others could experience his hallucinations too. Really… it all true.

  • breezy


    I just knew one of you was going to draw attention to this artical (Moses was high…) although I was betting on Morse posting it first.

    As a Phd who adamently agrees with the medical use of God's beautiful herbs, you'll get no tsk, tsking from me. Although ingesting through baked goods or beverages is preferable (lung health, wise), there's nothing like a toke for fast acting pain relief

  • John, your story makes makes me hallucinate with laughter. While on the subject, did Mork (as played by Robin Williams) smoke too. You kind of remind me of him–me thinks its the forehead or something. Or, maybe its the affects of Venus spinning backward….

  • When I think of smoking, I think about my grandfather and father. They both died of cancer – directly related to their smoking.

    Maybe if they had made a different choice, they might still be with us.

  • I smoked for, gosh, I guess 20 years before my wife and I both quit cold-turkey one weekend 9 years ago. We’d planned it for two weeks (we wanted to finish the last 2 cartons we had), and we’d already cut way back before then. We’d gone from almost 2 packs a day each to 10 cigs each, and after that giving them up entirely was easy. Well, you know, not exactly “easy”, I guess.

  • Ya’ll,

    John’s story didn’t strike me as that funny, but rather tragic – especially the ending.

    I’m hoping all ya’ll who smoke are able to quit.

    When I think of smoking, I think of riding down the road strapped in the back seat of a 1960s Pontiac while my parents up front both smoked. This resulted in hours of tortured breathing for me. Ironically, my parents routinely scrubbed down the walls of my room with rubbing alcohol to prevent breathing problems.

    My dad later died of colon cancer – don’t know if that’s related to the smoking or what. My mom quit smoking.

    So as a youth I had no problem passing on the smoking thing. I thought it was more cool to drink – another form of substance abuse that led to even more serious problems. By God’s grace I’ve stopped and I pray help reaches others battling self-destructive habits.

    And I’ll ride with someone smoking and driving any day rather than ride with someone drinking and driving. I hate the smoke, but my odds of survival are better.


  • Hanie

    Hi John, your story is hillarious. The only time I tried smoking when I was about 6. It was the old fashioned rolled tobacco usually smoked by the elderlies back in the old days and it belonged to my late great grandad. After one drag, I practically collapsed behind the kitchen door and passed out for the entire afternoon. Never did that again. Infact, I got soooo grossed out on cigarrete that I have this cigarette-related phobia (kinda mental block of sort) – would never touch cigarette pack, matches, ashtrays (even new ones on supermarket shelf) or ANYTHING and everything that is associated with cigarette. At home, I only have one miserable lighter that I use to light my scented candles.

  • Greta Shappard

    John, I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time!!!

    You are positively the best word-picture-painter I have ever read.

    Been there, done all that…..led to a teen-age addiction of two packs of Exports a day.

    Then someone said a prayer over me and glory be . . . the addiction was gone!

    Golly, gee . . . that was 62 years ago!

  • Wow. These comments have been really interesting. I forget what a huge deal smoking is and has been for so many people. Both my parents, too, smoked like chimneys. It’s such a destructive habit. Anyway, thanks for these rich glimpses into the role cigarettes have played in your lives.

  • Hey, John!

    This same situation is what led me to fully put my faith in Jesus. I thought it was a huge sin – our church even had it spelled out in the “special rules to Christian living.” But in retrospect I guess it’s good I got so sick, ‘cuz the smell of a freshly lit cigarette still brings back memories of my dear ol’ grandpa…and that’s a good thing!


  • Hi, John.

    I agree with Samwrites2: the ending of this post, as it stands, is indeed tragic. Smoking is one instance where it's good to be a quitter—the sooner the better. My father-in-law quit, but it was too late. He died of lung cancer. The x-ray images of his lungs were horrible, clearly showing week by week how his lungs were being taken over by the cancer cells. His death was very painful—both for him and for his family.

  • Hi, Mel. Yikes, that's awful about your father-in-law. What a tragedy.

  • Dearest John,

    This was great! I wish I had been so lucky, but I had a "fort" full of friends to teach me how when I started. Like everything else bad for you, I took it up easily. Unfortunately the quitting, until recently, wasn't even a consideration. So after burying my father and 2 husbands from ailments partially caused by smoking, here I am smoking more than ever and still only considering it 40 yrs after I started. (http://lauriannsnewlife.blogspot.com/2008/01/to-smoke-or-not-to-smoke.html). I have always said if I was to quit they would have to give me a lot of drugs and the kind that would make me sleep thru the withdrawl period.

    For Rob Miles- Good for you and your wife. When my dad found out he had emphysema, he and my stepmother quit right away. I get so nasty, I would divorce myself! LOL.

  • Dude,

    You left me hanging there at the end. Did you manage to make it through? Are you a smoker today? Give me more!!!

    I came across your blog christianity.com and enjoyed your post. I am a smoker, but I started much later in life, when one should know better. Quitting is a lot harder as an adult.


  • Tys: Okay, I’ll go write right now a Whole Post about How I Quit Smoking. Thanks for asking. I appreciate it.

  • Hjordes

    ROFLOL – still laughing! Well, at least you were a guy. I wanted to be just like the Marlboro Man, and I’m a GIRL!

  • JohnB

    day 1.
    Walked outside right after getting up. Looked for a cigarette, and realized “Oh yeah, I decided to quit today. Went down hill from there. Can’t concentrate on anything.

    Day 2.
    Am compelled to get up from my desk, and start to walk outside before I realize I have “stopped smoking”. I sit down and try to concentrate on the problem at hand. 15 minutes later, same thing… Snapping at everyone.

    Day 3 starts tomorrow. Hope I don’t rip someone’s head off…

  • Writeright

    My very own father smoked — and if he wasn’t the ultimate man’s man, than my name wasn’t exactly the same as his except for the stupid “Jr.” on the end.

    JOHN – I think the word you wanted was THEN my name wasn’t exactly the same…

    I tried smoking as a teen when I was babysitting down the street from my home. The parents of the twins I was caring for smoked, and had left some cigarettes lying around. I thought it was like having Hell in the back of my throat and I worried because I knew I would catch my own kind of Hell if my mother (a minister’s wife) ever caught me smoking. I am glad I didn’t like it as it wasn’t a problem for me because I never really started smoking. I’ve been married twice and both my husbands were smokers… thankfully my current husband quit smoking about the time we got together as I can’t stand being around smoke. Had to have surgery on my sinuses and I am sure it was due to sensitivity to smoke after living with a smoker for 13 years…

  • Anonymous

    I quit with the help of a group called Smokenders which no longer exists in its go to meetings form. That was 24 years ago when I was 40. You are doing very well. It takes 3 days for the nicotine to clear your system. Drink plenty of water: avoid coffee and caffeinated sodas. After 3 days most of the withdrawal will be over. You will still have very strong habitual tendencies to deal with. Leave the table after eating and substitute brushing your teeth for lighting up. I have no will power but got a lot of mileage out of remembering that the “pleasure” of smoking is really relief from the discomfort that smoking causes. The cigarette is not my friend. Be especially on guard during the crisis times of 3 days, 3 weeks and 3 months. These times each have their unique temptations. I will always be a recovering (or recovered) nicotine addict. There is no cure.

  • Anonymous

    Exercise is good. I think I can remember running until the desire to take a puff left me on occasion. And of course pray for help each morning and thank God each evening. It doesn’t hurt to have angels helping!

  • Anonymous


  • Sssterling

    Oh John – it isn’t just the smoking story – it’s the painful and familiar trying to be the most adult kid in the world part that hurls me back into my own childhood. How thrilled I was when people told my parents how “mature” I was for my age. You make me laugh, ruefully.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, it’s weird, isn’t it? When you’re young, you’re always wanting to be older. When you’re old(er), you’re always wanting to be young. Which, I think, just goes to prove that you’re never really happy until you’re dead.