In I, the Marlboro Man, I talked about how, when I was 10 years old, I willed myself to become the Marlboro Man. A reader was kind enough to respond with, “Dude! You left me hanging there at the end. Did you manage to make it through? Are you a smoker today? Give me more!!!”
So here’s the story of how, why and when I quit smoking:
By the time I was twelve years old I was smoking a pipe. It was lame, and embarrassing, and I had to do it in private, but I was really very fond of tobacco—and a pure tobacco experience means smoking either a pipe or a cigar. And I knew I didn’t want to be a twelve-year-old Al Capone. So a pipe it was.
Pipe smokers tend to collect pipes, and I was no exception. By the time I was seventeen, I had my collection down to the five pipes I liked best. That’s where I drew the line: five. I figured anything after five pipes just couldn’t be about the tobacco anymore.
Man, I liked those pipes. I still remember each one exactly. I’d jettisoned some great pipes to get it down to those five.
At seventeen years old, I had a job as a live-in manny to the two two-and-a-half-year-old sons of a scion of one of the world’s wealthiest families. These people were as wealthy as wealthy gets.
How wealthy were they?! you ask? Well, here’s just the smallest example of the kind of money these folks had: At around eleven o’clock one Saturday night, the husband and wife of the family got into a huge fight. The husband stormed out of the house with nothing on him but the slacks and sports shirt he was wearing.
Five days later a new, huge, golden Mercedes pulled into the driveway. It was the husband. He was back. He was wearing a full-length fur coat. He hauled four or five large Louis Vuitton suitcases out of the trunk of his brand-new car. He had gone to to Paris. His wife rushed into his arms. All was well again.
Anyway, this couple hired me as a live-in caretaker for their two boys. And by “caretaker,” I mean I never left those boys, 24/7. Wake ’em up; clean ’em; feed ’em; change ’em; dress ’em; teach ’em; clean up after ’em; hang out with ’em; put ’em to bed. Love them the whole time.
I lived with the boys in the downstairs part of the house; there was nothing down there but them, me, and what looked like an annex of Toys R Us. I slept in a little room just off the boys’ bedroom.
I used to keep my pipes in a rack on a small table beside my bed.
One morning I woke up to find that the boys had woken up before me. I knew this because I saw that someone had been doing something to my pipes. Having just awakened in the dim morning light, it took me a bit to figure out exactly what.
It turned out that the two boys had taken my pipes, one by one, and dipped them in Kaopectate. And showing a thoroughness, manual dexterity, and attention to detail I’d never noticed them exhibiting in anything else they’d ever done, they had also very carefully filled to the brim each of my pipes’ bowls with that same lovely diarrhea-thwarting product.
The boys were thrilled about their accomplishment. They were positive I would respond to it with a gratifying show of enthusiasm. I didn’t quite, but … whatddaya gonna do? They’re kids.
There was certainly no saving my pipes. Once it hardens, Kaopectate becomes cement. For a while I tried to dig and scrape the stuff out of the bowls and stems of my pipes, but it was hopeless.
I was too bummed about the fate of my beloved pipes to ever buy another one, or really ever smoke tobacco again. As young as I was, I still understood that once toddlers dunk your pipes in Kaopectate, it’s time to take the ol’ hint from God, and leave smoking behind.