In which our intrepid hero recounts one particular, ongoing misadventure.

Where have I been, these past couple of weeks? Well, the answer is simple: all over Tasmania.

And whilst a few places had broadband terminals or wi-fi, the vast majority had only downthrottled pieLINK terminals—machines so slow that they took more than three minutes just to login to Gmail.

I apologise if you’ve emailed me recently—I’ll get back to you as soon as I can—but at two bucks for 15 agonisingly slow minutes, even checking email pretty quickly depleted our wallets.

But I’m not going spend this post chronicling the trip (Mim K/W is doing just that anyway), or bitching about being chased across Tasmania by swarms of feral bumblebees. No, I have a more personal misadventure to share.

My name is Dave, and I am—no, screw that.

Blotches and welts cover the insides of my arms, the nicotine-patch equivalent of trackmarks. Where once I was just a reasonably cool guy with a mildly unsociable habit, now—and you can see it in the pharmacists’ eyes—it’s as if I’m asking for methadone, not Nicabate CQ.

That’s right, I’ve finally been cajoled into giving up cigarettes. It’s been two weeks now, and it’s driving me nuts. I had a pretty stressful Australia Day, and once the paramedics finally removed that perfidious metal band from my hand, saving the finger, all I wanted was one lousy smoke. Sucking a lozenge just isn’t the same.

The New York Times is on the money—

[Psychologist Paul] Rozin notes, for example, that smoking has lately been moralized. Until recently, it was understood that some people didn’t enjoy smoking or avoided it because it was hazardous to their health. But with the discovery of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, smoking is now treated as immoral. Smokers are ostracized; images of people smoking are censored; and entities touched by smoke are felt to be contaminated.

—although most people aren’t that uptight about it. So long as it’s done out of the way, most people are okay with smoking. But for some reason, they expect quitters to be contrite.

Suddenly, I’m a few rungs down on the social ladder, perhaps even moreso because I refuse to take people’s pity and moralising seriously. Perhaps it was the aromatic hydrocarbons fogging my brain, but I never noticed how patronising and self-righteous otherwise pleasant pinklungs could be.

(Bill Burroughs probably had an essay on that sort of behaviour tucked away somewhere—he was pretty cluey about these sorts of things, after all.)

Perhaps the only really good thing to come out of this are the patch dreams.

I’d heard about them before, that bizarre and vivid phantasms would visit my sleep on the road to Clean. I’ve experienced the semi-legendary rarebit nightmares before, and my patches came with dire warnings about disturbed sleep and horrifying nocturnal visions. I thought I was prepared.

Thus far, however, my dreams have been amazing. I always had vivid dreams as a child, and I could lucid-dream my way out of even the worst nightmares quite easily. The depth and complexity of my dreams were astounding, but somewhere along the way, I lost them. Now, they’re back, and they’re cooler than ever.

To cite one example, I dreamt of intelligent aliens who looked like purple-tinged mats of cyanobacteria in their native state, suspended in some sort of clear, viscous liquid from their homeworld. The vast bulk of their mass was given over to what might be called a nervous system, long filaments of neurons chained end-to-end.

For certain tasks, this primitive structure was sufficient, but more complicated thought often required them to bunch nerve filaments together. When their filaments were tangled in this way, nerve impulses could carry between filaments, and they could think in a manner more similar to humans. Nonetheless, they had the advantage that they could rapidly reconfigure this three-dimensional neural web, allowing them to adapt more quickly to puzzling situations.

If allowed access to living human brain tissue, they could, with training, even meld painlessly with humans and become a sort of mental symbiont. They found humans’ weltanschauung fascinating.

This explanation was related to me, in the dream, by a head-sized alien who had chosen a wise, middle-aged, male persona for itself. It self-deprecatingly referred to itself as 17-Filament Collision—an allusion to the state of inner confusion that (apparently) occurred when, say, 17 nerve filaments bunched up together in the wrong place.

Old 17 and I had a deep and interesting discussion, unfortunately cut short by a ringing phone in the waking world. My afternoon nap interrupted, I never found the friendly alien again.

I’m going to miss these dreams when I’m finally free from the shackles of nicotine.

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