Observations on the human condition.Come spring, She Who Must Be Loved will have been making it easy staying away from tobacco for 17 years. Add the year we were dating, and I haven’t had a nicotine fix in nearly 18 years. Way less than that, though, since I’ve thought about it. Not seriously, but still …

I’d been using tobacco for more than 30 years. I tried cigarettes when I was real young. Swiped some from Dad’s supply of Marlboros. Didn’t like ‘em. I don’t know exactly how old I was, but it was somewhere between fourth and eighth grade, when a few of us would slip off down a trail behind the two-room schoolhouse and try to impress each other with our budding manhood. Some of us were not very manly.

Then I graduated from high school and joined the Navy and took up smoking a pipe. And cigars. They mostly gave me something to chew on, and were, indeed, relaxing. Unlike cigarettes, a pipe involves a certain ritual that makes one appear more worldly. So I thought, and so a few people who guessed my age with more years than I had actually attained told me. My future wife liked me with a pipe, as long as I didn’t smoke it, which didn’t make a lot of sense to me. And her first engagement ring, which I surprised myself to even need, was the ring from a Bering Plaza stogy.

Then smoking started to become politically unsavory, and I took up chewing. First it was twisted logs of broadleaf supplied me by a friend and Tennesseean who understood the attraction of good bourbon and good chew. Later, I switched to Copenhagen; it was easier to carry when I was in the woods, where lighting anything is a poor idea. Plus, the Health Police were becoming more brave, and a dip of snuff was easier to hide than a mouth-borne chimney.

I always figured, probably like a million or so other tobacco users, I could just not do it anymore, any time I wished. After 20 or 30 tries, I proved that’s true. Partly, it’s like not thinking of elephants. Try it sometime, not thinking of elephants. Just sit there quietly and don’t think about elephants.

As long as there’s a lot going on, the pesky pachyderms stay outside the tent. Let things get quiet, though, and they’re right there, yelling to be fed. One night about 2 a.m. I was sitting, writing, and the elephants came and surrounded my desk. I drove 14 miles to the nearest 7-Eleven for a can of Cope.

One day, a couple weeks after I got the message She Who Doesn’t Like Anything Tobacco might like me less if she figured out I was using, I bought a can of snuff and headed for the next town. Suddenly, I rolled down the window and chucked the brand new can of snuff into the woods. I don’t know the time of day, exactly, but I know the spot of woods. The only thing I still feel guilty about is the littering. I hate that, and if I thought I could have found the can, I’d have gone back after it.

But I haven’t used tobacco since. I don’t think it should be against the law – people who don’t like it shouldn’t do it and should stay out of places occupied be people who do – but I think I like me a little better now that I don’t do it.

And I don’t have to drive to the county seat at 2 a.m. for a can of Cope.