Quitting ‘cold turkey’?

Don’t most of us use expressions that mean nothing, that can’t really explain why those combinations of letters come to mean something we agree on but don’t always know why?

I’m referring to the archaic expression “cold turkey.” Where did that come from? When I smoked for 25 years about 33 years ago, friends, family, doctors and others advised me to “quit cold turkey.” By that they meant I wasn’t to hide an emergency stash of Salems in the trunk of my car, or to allow myself just one cigarette in the morning upon arising and just one more at night, or to simply stop buying those cancer sticks.

Although cold turkey has no doubt worked for many, a great number of smokers choose to “taper off.”

I think quitting, when I did, in 1984 was as difficult as trying to ferret out a reason why the term “cold turkey” ever came about. I used to hear it a lot — mostly from adults whose bellows and exhalations filled our house. All eight of us Trujillos smoked for a time. Mom smoked Luckies, Dad smoked pipes and Roi Tan cigars. Uncle Juan bought a pack of Camels every day, and the rest of us smoked — my late brother, Severino, was a smoker, as was I. Our three sisters were no strangers to cigarettes, although my recollection is that they smoked small quantities, and not for long.

But rather than attacking (or rather preaching about) the evils of smoking, I’m also interested in how “quitting cold turkey” got its meaning. I did some research on the topic and discovered that most places I searched merely provided repetitious accounts of what the heck the turkey has to do with it. And I also learned that references to gobblers as a striving to get better health can refer to many things.

People try to quit gambling cold turkey, or sweets, or drinking. And most will agree that the term doesn’t mean we can indulge in occasional sips, tastes, swallows or drafts of what we’re quitting. It means cold turkey. It means that we fling that last pack of Chesterfields as far away as possible and swear to ourselves (and others) that “this time I really mean it.”

Nobody had a harder time giving up the weed than I. I picked up the habit when I took a summer job selling tickets at what was in the ‘50s the Las Vegas Drive-In Theater, operated by a man named Gus Daskalos. After the crowds drove in, I’d collect from a trickle of late arrivers. That provided time on my hands.

I’d copped a few cigarettes from my mother’s stash and had a near coughing fit on the first drag. That could have been the ideal time to quit. The second cigarette treated me better, and by closing time at work, I congratulated myself on my decision to buy my first pack, on the way home, at Boni’s Liquor store on Grand and Columbia.

I was addicted in minutes!

Ironically, most members of my family knew of the dangers of smoking but yet continued to buy and enjoy the smokes. But realizing the actual harm, I’d still rationalize my purchases, and very soon I found myself trying to quit.

That was a fiasco.

As I enrolled in college and later took a newspaper job in Gallup, N.M., I continued to buy packs, sometimes even skipping breakfast, to save up for a pack or two.

My love affair with Salems continued for years. When I married Bonnie, a true-blue non-smoker, non-drinker, I’d try not smoke in front of her. Now I see that stepping outside for a cig was much like what we see today: people downtown stepping out of their place of work to take some quick drags.
A few years later, while a student at the University of Virginia, I attended a quit-smoking series of lectures. Some of the attenders returned the following week to announce they wouldn’t be back — because they’d defeated the addiction in a few short days. My trial lasted a bit longer, but it worked.
It’s amazing how much more energy I felt, how much longer I could remain on walks near our home in Charlottesville, and how pickup games of basketball with fellow students didn’t leave me winded.
Although I say I didn’t intend for this to be an advice column on kicking the habit (or maybe that was my original intention), I think it was a good choice. And I believe the initiatives to ban smoking in so many public places have made us healthier.
Today’s column will be my final effort for 2017. I hope to see all of you in 2018. And if by then the cold-turkey idea has come to visit, please give much thought to quitting smoking.

• • •

I was elated to read about the conclusion of an incident that could have ended in death.
Here’s what happened: Albuquerque fire fighters Eric Adair and Christopher Epley were recognized for saving a child who was choking on a candy cane while watching the Twinkle Light Parade.
The men took the child, about age 8, to their fire truck, where they both performed the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging a candy cane from the girl’s throat. The girl and her mother quickly left the scene.
The men’s heroics are commendable. But we wonder whether a candy cane, with its length, hardness and curves, ought to have been given to the girl in the first place. Tossing candy to children is common in parades.
How did the child acquire the candy? From a parent? Was it tossed from one of the floats in the parades?
And will the donors of that bit of candy be agreeable to helping the girl’s family pay dental bills down the road?

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