Ivan, Non-Smoker

Audrey Thompson


Smoking in Vietnam
Smoking in Việt Nam
Ivan and Seymour smoking in Mattoon
Smoking in Mattoon
Ivan, Fred and Linda in Bartonville
Smoking with Linda in Bartonville
Ivan and Audrey in Urbana
Smoking with Audrey in Urbana
Ivan in Champaign
Smoking in Champaign

Two days ago, Ivan quit smoking. He is using those nicotine patches to help him get through this difficult time and he is sighing a lot. He is not exactly cranky but he is edgy and it is not wise to tease him or anything like that. Yesterday, he put a sign up outside his cubicle that said, “I am quitting smoking. I am a Vietnam veteran and I used to work at the Post Office. All that stands between you and certain destruction is this little patch I’m wearing. Be very nice to me.”

The sign is important because little things irk him, right now. The first day of the new Ivan, we were driving along the road and he swerved a bit to avoid a car that was pulled up at a precarious angle on the hill next to the shoulder of the road. “I had to swerve to avoid that guy,” said Ivan. “His car could have rolled right over onto ours!” He added resentfully, “You weren’t even worried about it.”

“No,” I agreed. “That’s because I knew he wouldn’t roll over onto me. I am protected by a magical aura. No car has ever rolled off the side of the road onto me and no car ever will. I am safe.”

“If you have a magical aura, how come we never win anything?” demanded Ivan. “Other people get phone calls telling them that they have won trips to Disneyland or brand new Jaguars and we never win anything at all.”

I didn’t mention that we never enter to win anything, because unfortunately the person who won the trip to Disneyland also did not enter to win anything. She just happened to answer the phone when a radio station called. So I told him, “It’s not that kind of magical aura. It doesn’t do everything. It just does one thing. My magical aura is for protecting me against cars that might roll over from the shoulder of the road.”

“Pretty sucky magical aura,” said Ivan.

It’s not just the crankiness. Quitting smoking plays havoc with one’s financial judgment, it turns out. Ivan resents any insinuation that his judgment has been impaired, but the fact is that he paid $6.00 for six sticks of gum and he insists that he got a fabulous deal. Our friend Deanna had told him that, when she quit smoking, she found it very helpful to chew ginseng gum, and Ivan thought that was a wonderful idea and rushed out to buy some ginseng gum the next day. I will just mention that I myself had offered the suggestion that he could buy lifesavers at the gas station, but he did not rush out and buy lifesavers. “Enemy lifesavers,” he said. He scoured the town for ginseng gum, but couldn’t find any, though you would think that a metropolitan place like Salt Lake City would be positively teeming with ginseng gum.

By now grimly determined to have ginseng gum, Ivan got on the internet and found a deal for a free sample of ginseng gum. It cost only one dollar for shipping and handling. Amazed and delighted to find an offer for free gum, he ordered six free samples for a total of only six dollars.

I am not really upset by the six dollars. Six dollars for six sticks of gum, I can handle. It is not what I would have chosen to do, myself, but I remind myself that it is better than paying hundreds of dollars for tobacco. What bothers me is what these ginseng gum folks must be thinking. “Aha,” they are no doubt saying to themselves. “Some poor sap is trying to quit smoking.” Any day now, they are going to email Ivan a super-special deal on gum: “Free twelve-pack, only five hundred dollars!” And he is going to send off for it there and then, and afterwards come home beaming, expecting accolades because of all the free gum he is getting. That’s what is bothering me.

Do not think that this is the only money he is spending. Every day, he buys himself some new computer toy as a reward for not smoking. He has only been a non-smoker for five days now (I am not writing this all in one day, you know; I no longer have that kind of stamina), and already we have a new motherboard, a new computer case, new memory, new computer fans, and a new DVD player for the computer. Actually, I only just found out about the new DVD player when I showed Ivan what I had written so far, asking him, “What else goes in this list?” “The computer fans,” he said. “Oh, and the new DVD player for the computer.” Very casual, you know.

The new computer-DVD player, Ivan tells me, was “only” $90.00, and so could not be passed up. It is instructive to compare his non-smoking views about such trinkets with his smoking views. Before Christmas, when he was still smoking, Ivan had zero DVD players. At this time, he urged me to buy him a TV-type DVD player for a Christmas present. When I explained that I had already bought all his Christmas presents, he had the happy idea of surprising himself with one for his birthday. At first he was going to buy a $90.00 DVD player, but then he found a much, much better one for only $130.00, so he bought that instead. Dutifully, he put it aside till his birthday. After all, he had only been able to justify his splurge by saying that it would be his birthday present; he couldn’t very well open it before his birthday.

Now that Ivan is a non-smoker, however, every day is a holiday to be celebrated with new little trinkets. Trinkets for him, not for me. He does not come home from these shopping forays loaded down with gifts for me. On the other hand, it isn’t clear that the rationale for the trinkets is that he is especially deserving of these little rewards. He doesn’t actually say, “Poor me. I think I should have a DVD player for my computer.” What he actually says is, “Ninety dollars! No one could pass that up. I will buy it immediately.”

When people warn you that quitting smoking can make you crabby, they are not telling you the whole story. Ivan is only a little crabby. Personally, I am finding that I am getting much crabbier than he is. It is not the crabbiness that wears away at you, little by little; it is the sudden disappearance of large amounts of cash. The only way that I can think to handle this is to try to sell him stuff myself. Many years ago, my parents had a garage sale, and when Dad found out that Mom was selling perfectly good socks for only 50¢ a pair, he said to her, “That is a terrific deal. I will buy all of them.” Mom said, “Tell you what. You can have them for free.” Dad was thrilled; it’s not often that you get perfectly good socks for free. Unlike Mom, I intend to make a profit. I am going to buy some hard candy — probably lifesavers would not be a good idea — and whenever Ivan starts to complain about having a headache or feeling cranky, I will say, “Would you like some candy? I can offer you a free bag of sour balls. Only twelve dollars shipping and handling.” I expect to make a fortune.

Ivan in Moab
Not smoking in Utah

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