Just great. All I wanted to do was quit smoking and now look at me. My life has been turned upside down.

It’s not the nicotine, though I miss it like a mother misses a child when she sends him off to college. Sometimes I want to call nicotine at supper time just to talk. Hello, old friend. How are you? I sure miss you, friend. Perhaps you could come home for Christmas, or maybe Groundhog Day. Come by any time at all.

No, for me it’s the math. I was doing fine, sucking the lead out of pencils and crying a lot when a mean lady said this horrible thing to me.

“You know, with the money you save, you could buy a motorcycle.”

A motorcycle! How could she!

It’s my pony, you know. I had a little beat-up Honda when I was a kid and I’ve wanted another ever since. Little girls want ponies for Christmas every year and seldom get them. With the same childish yearning, I go about dreaming of motorcycles – of throttles and low, pavement-hugging turns – every time spring comes around.

And each new spring has found me on four wheels again; found me locked up inside the same metal prison of the freedom-inhibiting car. I look at the men and women with their two-wheeled rides on the first good day of the new season and I hate them a little.

Here’s my problem. Whenever I go about longing for something frivolous, there are two incarnations of me hovering over each shoulder. One is Practical Mark. He has neatly combed hair, freshly ironed shirts and a bow tie. The little sissy. He’ll never have a pony, a motorcycle or a girlfriend because he is consumed with things like savings accounts, interest rates and social diseases.

“A motorcycle is expensive,” this fine, young lad says in a voice that twangs with the uptight tone of his being. “Perhaps you should think about a more cost-effective purchase, such as a savings bond.”

Fortunately, his counterpart is Hedonistic Mark. That rakish dude is always nearby. His hair is wild like he just rolled out of bed. His eyes are red and crazy because he’s been up all night. Don’t let this one near your sister, man, because he’s a sweet-talking dog.

“Get yourself a bike and let’s ride,” he’s been rasping at me lately. “You’ll look great out there on the open road with that pencil dangling from your lips. An asteroid could hit tomorrow or the next day. Don’t you want to ride before the crap hits the windmill?”

I love that reckless bastard.

Some of you have the hedonistic alter-ego and nothing else. You’ll go in debt up to your eyebrows buying toys you can’t afford because the assertive side of your character always wins. That character knows that no one here gets out alive and if you don’t suck all the joy you can from the world, that one chance will be gone. And so I see you out on the road each summer, hauling a boat, a pair of jet skis and a Harley behind a gleaming new truck.

I admire you a bit, even if I occasionally wish you’d drive that jet ski into a shark’s mouth.

Then there’s the other guy who will save every penny he makes, never take a vacation, never buy anything that is not essential to his existence. He will live in a tidy house, drive a tiny car and grow very old and very rich. He will die wealthy and never have a single ounce of fun. They will bury him in a refrigerator box, as specified in his will because, gosh, those caskets are dear these days. His relatives will fight over the inheritance and when they get their hands on all that tight-fisted dough, they will buy go-karts and hang-gliders.

Wretches.

But that’s not to say that toys for the adult don’t serve some function beyond simple indulgence. For some, the lakeside camp and the boat parked there serve as rewards for many years of toil. You work hard, you get something to show for all the blisters and ulcers. The flashy convertible is the dangling carrot you’ve chased those long years, the light at the end of the tunnel. You put up with the screeching boss day after day because in the back of your mind, you see yourself winding down Ventura Boulevard in that cherry-red ragtop. It keeps you sane and keeps your boss from suffering serious groin injuries.

Unless you are independently wealthy, you’ve probably had to dangle your own carrot somewhere along the way. We’re a reward-oriented species. Our brains are wired that way. Zoo animals perform tricks and generally demean themselves so they can get mounds of meat or bushels of bananas when it’s over.

And so suddenly, as I’m giving up a deadly habit, it’s not the idea of pinker lungs or a healthier heart that keeps me away from the smokes. Oh, no. It’s a full-color photo of the Suzuki DR650SE, a mean and versatile machine as nimble on the knobby trails of the back woods as it is on city streets.

A longer life? That would be nice and all. Something Practical Mark, with his 401(k) and sensible shoes would enjoy. But for Hedonistic Me, it’s all about the math – those increasingly larger figures that emerge when you add up the cost of smokes over the weeks, months and years. Certainly enough to afford that dangling carrot with the 4-stroke engine, the one hanging so deliciously close for so long I can describe its every contour from memory. So dangle away, tantalizing vegetable, I might get you yet.

Of course, the situation being what it is, there is always the possibility that I might simply snatch it from the string, light it up and smoke it. There’s no nicotine in a carrot, but right now a lung full of beta carotene might be just fine.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter. Send practical or hedonistic advice to [email protected]



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