I’m in Portland. I had never been here before. Things I had heard about the city prior to my trip: “it’s like Northern California but less boring,” “it’s like Silver Lake but with more white people,” and “don’t stay at the Jupiter Hotel because you’ll hear people having angry sex with prostitutes through the walls.” I don’t know if any of these things are true, because I’ve only been here for about two hours and I have been mostly eating during that time. Portland is beautiful. That’s all I’ve had time to observe so far.
One factoid I’ve picked up, however, is that none of the hotels in Portland seem to have balconies and you can’t smoke, like, anywhere. Which I understand. Which is all right. I quit smoking cigarettes for eight months last year and I’ll probably try to quit again between New Year’s and my birthday, even though I’ll feel sad about it, and empty, just like I did last time. I get no satisfaction, after quitting, from knowing that I am healthier, or that I will live longer, or that I’m not being judged by other people. I’m young and stupid and I missed cigarettes more than I enjoyed the benefits of not smoking. I’ll quit again because I feel like I have to, and I’ll be one of those people who misses the weird ritual, every day.
That’s just how it is.
But I’ll quit, and because I know that I have to, I got an e-cigarette. An e-cigarette is a little larger than a regular cigarette and comes in two or more parts (battery, cartridge) that you assemble into a “personal vaporizer” that delivers nicotine through water vapor. There’s no smoke and since nicotine is not a known carcinogen (though obviously it’s addictive, not great for you and really terrible for any babies you happen to be baking inside of you) you can smoke these inside without feeling guilty, and while you’re not exactly smoking a B-vitamin or anything, you don’t feel shitty after lighting one up. Then again, you don’t feel stupendous: there’s a kick in the back of the throat and a plastic flavor that, when combined, make smoking an electronic cigarette feel a little like lighting a Barbie leg on fire and then puffing away on it.
One very big plus: after smoking an e-cigarette for most of the day, the Parliament I lit up while walking home from dinner tasted like a cigar 5” in diameter. Not pleasant! Surprisingly harsh! And, of course, afterwards my mouth tasted like an ashtray, whereas after smoking the e-cigarette, I don’t taste anything. This means that it’s easier than you’d think to cut down from, say, a pack of cigarettes to four or five a day. Is it “fun” to go outside to smoke a quarter-pound metal personal vaporizer? No. Is it “fun” and “fulfilling” to light up an e-cigarette while you’re watching Mad Men? Not really, because it’s not a cigarette. Nicotine is not what makes a cigarette a cigarette, I’ve concluded: being semi-delinquent and lighting something on fire is what makes a cigarette a cigarette. Huddling in the snow, sipping a glass of whiskey, stepping off a plane (oh, but here I reveal myself to be such a sad-hearted sentimentalist, the kind of person who knows the truth but refuses to see it as truth: why can’t smoking be harmless! Because then it wouldn’t be smoking), all the homeless men who’ve come by my outdoor roost at the coffee shop for a cigarette and then stayed to tell me the street crime gossip.
Am I able to sit here in this hotel room and not go insane, knowing that I do not particularly want to slink outside and stand in front of the main entrance hiding my smoking hand behind a bush so passersby don’t heckle me? Yes. This is nice to know. I am in the hotel room, “vaping;” there is a culture of e-cigarette smokers, a vocal online message board contingent, and they refer to using their devices as “vaping,” which sounds like a word that should mean “gaping void” or “vapid gap” and I suppose that is, actually, what the device is trying to fill (regular cigarettes are “analogs”). You can’t crush it under your shoe, you can’t flick it into a can or run to the corner store just before you go out, trotting in heels, to buy a pack of them. You have one heavy metallic device that you charge in a little USB adapter, and whether or not you like it, you’re “vaping” and never “smoking.” But it gets you thinking: if you’re willing to shell out between $50 and $150 for an electronic cigarette starter kit, part of you might really want to quit, even if it’s just the part that’s too shy to smoke outside the main entrance to a hotel. Who’s to say that part’s not the smart part, and the stupid part is the one that’s appealing to you with nostalgic visions of bar patios?
It beats the gum by a country mile, though, and that’s the most important thing. I think a person could probably get used to it, if that person loosened up a bit and stopped being so emo. Especially now that Mad Men has gone on hiatus.