Rickter Scale: Family tragedy not enough to kick the habit

The Rickter Scale is a weekly column

Rick Stiebel/Columnist

My name is Rick and it’s been four minutes since my last cigarette.

My mother was 59 when she died of lung cancer in 1973. My brother Max, who restricted his smoking to those little Colt cigars when he worked in his art studio in the backyard of his home, was 64 when the same disease robbed us of his immense talents in 2006. Another brother was diagnosed in stage 4 last summer, months after his 72nd birthday, a cruel, callous, cold-hearted curse bequeathed six months after he quit.

On the positive, personal side, it appears our family history for expiration dates is curving upward. My father smoked into his 90s, only stopping after fractures from a fall laid him up in hospital for a couple of weeks. I think of dad telling me how easy it was to finally quit occasionally when I’m standing at the top of a long flight of stairs.

Maybe it will be my nemesis, Dr. Richard Stanwick, who finally forces my hand after his war on smokers restricts us to seeking solace in secret caves. Even though the degree of hatred in the voice of a woman 50 feet away who screamed at me “I hope you die of cancer!” while I was puffing away in the rain recently rocked me, it wasn’t enough to push me over the edge.

During my daily battles with the habit from hell, the money that goes up in smoke rarely enters the equation. Addicts don’t crumble under the weight of monetary considerations, and it’s become easier to shrug off the waste as my frugality increases with age. I am a minimalist when it comes to clothes, entertainment, a host of bad habits and, as should be painfully obvious to regular readers, all forms of self-improvement tapes, books, DVDs and therapies.

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The reasons for quitting are myriad and profound, starting with the bride, who has gifted me with so many reasons to live, including finding another use for the silver cigarette case she gave me on our wedding day 25 years ago this September. I know how much she loathes the filthy habit, how hard it’s been for her to deal with my encyclopedia of failures.

Then there’s my son, Chris, who rarely says a word about it because he’s never one to waste words doomed to fall on deaf ears. My collection of family and friends factor in as well, along with the buzz from living a journalist’s dream this column provides. The crux of the conundrum is that whenever I step back far enough to analyze the whys of that ceremonial last cigarette, I can’t get past the starting gate. The combination of the fear that I won’t be able to handle what it’s like coupled with the dread of another fruitless attempt has short circuited all efforts so far.

That’s what pushed me through more than 2,500 tortured words and a month’s worth of Rickter Scales more painful for both of us than anything the bride has edited up until now. Thanks for hanging in and hey, if you happen to know of a can’t-miss cure or have a suggestion that even borders on the absurd, we’d like to hear from you.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.

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