July 31, 1999
Allergic to California?

Working on it, in my own inimitable, plodding *fashion.* [Read this: I'm waiting for the caffeine to kick in.] Check back later ... and please remember that this is a NO SMOKING WEBSITE. Thankyouverymuch.




"Try blowing it out through your nose," Gillie said. "You get a better high that way." And she scrunched her skinny thirteen-year-old legs against her chest, taking another pull on the stolen Marlboro. Twin ribbons of smoke dribbled from her nostrils.

"It hurts when I blow it out of my nose," I protested. 

Squatting miserably beneath a row of mothballed winter coats and outgrown Sunday School dresses, I held my cigarette between unpracticed fingers. Grandma's walk-in closet felt like a sweat lodge. Smoke curled around the bare light bulb dangling above us and wrapped itself in ringlets around my cousin's head. I looked at the cigarette in my hand, and my stomach fisted again in queasy protest.

Gillie delicately tapped her ash into one of my old rain boots. "That's because you've got to 'eat' the smoke," she said. "Then when it comes back up through your nose, it doesn't burn." She tipped her head back against the closet wall and took another thick, expansive drag, holding it for ten seconds, then twenty, then expelling it in a rush. 

She smiled at me. "See? It doesn't even hurt anymore." And with that, she leaned over and noisily vomited into my other rain boot.

~ Written for a college writing class, 1998 ~


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I think I'm allergic to California.

To be specific: I think I'm allergic to the bazillion and eleven exotic new allergens I've been exposed to, since moving here last winter. David says it's probably the eucalyptus trees. *I* say it's probably the fax toner.

Either way, I'm mostly miserable these days.

(At least, I'm miserable respiratorily. Emotionally, I'm my usual happy optimistic selves. I'm just walking around at the moment *cleverly disguised* as an iron lung candidate.)

My battle with "allergic asthmatic bronchitis" -- previously chronicled in relentless, mind-numbing detail on this website -- rages on. I'm sitting here this morning surrounded by the paraphernelia of my new lifestyle: the NasalCrom dispenser. The little packets of pseudoephedrine. The peak flow meter. The big roll of Charmin. The Halls Mentho-Lyptus wrappers. The sticky, Tussin-covered teaspoon. And my new best friend, the Ventolin inhaler. (My motto? "Albuterol: Don't Leave Home Without It.")

It looks like a Drug Emporium exploded on my desktop.

We haven't exactly figured out what I'm allergic to, yet. That's another dozen trips to the allergist (and $120 in co-payments) away, most likely. Maybe we'll never know. But in the meantime, I'm doing my damndest to stay away from the stuff that I know for a fact is likely to trigger another attack of wheezing and hacking. Like Avon perfume. Or household cleaners. Or Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Or AIR, basically.

Or  --  more than anything else, right now  -- cigarette smoke.

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Last month in Tic Tac, David and I, along with Son # Only,  spent an entire afternoon helplessly trapped in the back seat of a compact car with two chain-smoking members of my family.

It was a little slice of hell.

Rolling down the windows didn't do any good: that just blew the smoke directly back into our faces. And looking annoyed didn't help, either: these particular relatives are notoriously oblivious to horrified facial expressions. ("We don't even have to wash dishes anymore!" they announced happily as we sat in their backyard enjoying a family barbecue. And then they set their plates on the ground for the dogs to lick.)

For three hours they drove us around the TicTac area, as we sat in the backseat enduring the assault of second-hand smoke,  praying for non-stop green lights. Once in a while we would park somewhere and climb out of the car to visit another sacred family monument -- the spot where my childhood home used to stand, for instance, before they razed it to build a soccer field -- and my head would stop spinning temporarily. But then it was right back into the bowels of Camel Non-Filtered Hell. It was one of the longer afternoons of my life. The very next day I began to feel ill. By the time we flew home, a day or two later, I was in fullblown respiratory distress.

I've been sick ever since.

I don't blame my relatives for me getting sick, of course. Not entirely, anyway. I'd already picked up a cold bug from a co-worker, and it was busily incubating in my lungs before we'd even gotten off the airplane in TicTac. And these brutal new "California allergies" of mine merely exacerbate the problem. Most of this stuff is beyond anyone's control. As for being forced to drive around in a carful of rabid smokers, that was as much my fault as anyone's. At some point or another, I should probably have just spoken up and said, "I'm sorry, but your cigarettes are making me want to heave." Or David and I could have offered to drive them around in our rental car, in which case we could have said "Sorry ... no smoking allowed. Hertz Rules." But when you haven't seen your family for several months, it's sort of tough to be openly critical of their behavior. Y'know? I love these people. I don't want to offend them. I don't want to spoil the visit. (And I certainly don't want to jeopardize that annual "Star Trek: Next Generation" calendar. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it.)

So I just kept my mouth shut.

But I'll tell you this: I am never, ever, ever getting into a car with smokers again. Not even if Alameda is sinking into the bay, and they're the last ride off the island.

Not EVEN if they're stopping at KFC for Honey BBQ Wings first.

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All of this virulent anti-smoking sentiment, of course, is coming from a woman who smoked cigarettes, on and off, for almost twenty years. When I told David that I never actually enjoyed smoking -- "I hated the taste," I said, as though this makes me somehow more virtuous -- he wasn't much impressed. 

"How dumb does THAT make YOU, then?" he lovingly pointed out.

Childhood experiments with my cousin Gillie aside, I managed to successfully avoid picking up the smoking habit until I was in college. Growing up, I really, truly hated the smell of cigarette smoke. On those few occasions when I felt compelled -- either by peer pressure or curiousity -- to sample a friend's cigarette, I wasn't much surprised to discover that I loathed the taste as much as I loathed the smell. "I do NOT understand the appeal of smoking," I wrote in my eleventh-grade journal. "That is one habit I am NEVER going to start." But a couple of years later -- deciding that I needed to at least learn how to inhale, just so I could look cool in the Student Lounge at college -- I asked my best girlfriend Joada to teach me how to smoke. We went directly to 7-11 and bought two packs of Salem Slim Lights. That afternoon, in her basement, she gave me my first lesson. I picked it up quickly, and soon I was sitting around the Hot Dog Hilton with the rest of the writing students at school, drinking Tab, composing pretentious poetry and smoking cigarette after cigarette. I felt extremely hip. And rebellious. And adult.

And queasy, most of the time.

I still hated the smell and the taste of cigarettes. But I stoopidly continued to smoke, in sort of half-hearted fashion, for another two decades. I married a smoker. I quit during each pregnancy, but always resumed the habit after the Tots were born. My best girlfriends were always smokers. Smoking was an integral part of most of our favorite social activities. Part of me realized that it was absolutely ridiculous to maintain a habit I loathed ... but I didn't quit. There was something about that morning cigarette-and-coffee routine that I found vaguely soothing. Smoking in the afternoon seemed to calm me down a little, especially after a long day of kids and housework. Smoking helped curb my appetite. And, of course, it was gobs of fun to smoke while I was drinking all that cheap chablis and ordering everybody to "!sdrawkcab epyT" in the Baby Boomer Chat Room on Friday nights.

So even though I mostly hated it, I always found reasons to continue. (Sort of like my marriage. But that's another story for another day.)


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So how did I finally kick this vile, filthy, nasty habit, you ask?

Simple.

I got out of bed one morning, kissed my sleeping family goodbye, walked out the door ... and moved to Oregon with a man who had no idea I was a smoker. I simply up and quit. When I went through mild nicotine withdrawal, in the days that followed, he assumed it was heartache and homesickness. He was only partially right. A month or two later, the occasional secret cravings for cigarettes faded completely. 

That was two years ago. The relationship is ancient history ... but I haven't had a cigarette since.

This is NOT a stop-smoking plan I would recommend for anyone else, by the way. Trust me on this one. Buy the patch instead.

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Next week Daughter #1 -- my beautiful, precious, precocious, seventeen yr. old Jaymi Lynn -- arrives for a much-anticipated visit with David and I, here in The Castle. She is the first of The Tots to pay us a visit since I moved to California. Daughter #2 and Son #O both came to see me last year, when I was living in Oregon, but for one reason or another Jaymi was never able to make it. So this is a chance not only to enjoy some overdue Mother/Daughter time together, but also for me to show off my new, improved, clean-and-sober lifestyle a little. 

She saw me in TicTac last month, of course. And I've been talking to her for months, via e-mail and the phone, about how healthy and happy I am these days, especially since I quit drinking and smoking. But this is a chance for her to actually see for herself the way we live, and the changes that have occurred in my life and health and outlook -- no more empty wine boxes under the kitchen sink! no more burn-holes in my bathrobe! -- and for the two of us to talk about everything that has happened the past couple of years.

I can't wait. But I'm also a little nervous at the prospect.

She's going to be utterly AGHAST when she sees how tiny The Castle is, for one thing. I think she's expecting ... well ... a castle, forcryingoutloud. Wait till she walks through the door and realizes that you can fit our entire apartment into the garage of the TicTac house. For another thing, I think she's expecting the Bay Area to be like the "California" she's seen on Baywatch: nothing but sand and surf and sun sun sun, year-round. I just hope she brings a ski jacket to wear over that bikini.

And ... for another thing ... Daughter #1 is now a smoker. Some more of that karmic irony, come around to bite me in the butt again.

She had the class to write and warn me about it in advance, earlier this week. "As you know, I do smoke. I will respect you and David and not smoke around you too much as I know you have both recently quit. If it really, really bugs you, then just let me know."  I immediately wrote her back and told her that yes, it really really bugs me ... partly because I've been sick recently, and it's difficult for me to be around cigarette smoke, but mostly because I love her and want her to be healthy ... but that I wasn't going to make any judgements or deliver any lectures. 

(At least, not until I have her face-to-face. Then she's gonna get an earful.)

"And don't forget that ski jacket," I told her. "It gets pretty nippy when you're standing outside at night, smoking those cigarettes."



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