The Communism of Smoking

February 1, 2007 at 11:49 PM | Posted in Notes on Society | Leave a comment
  Back in nineteen and eighty-four, that magical year when George Orwell’s vision started to come into fruition beyond his wildest dreams, I was at university.  Doesn’t that make me just sound international, by the way?  It’s how I hear foreign students refer to it when they go away to college.
  At this point, though, I wasn’t "away at university," I was at home attending junior college, living in my parents’ basement.  St Louis Community College at Florissant Valley.  We had–and still have– endearing, disparaging names for it.  Harvard on the highway.  Drive-thru SLU (st louis university), The University of Florissant Valley, Cut-rate Columbia.
  I recently graduated, and attendance is down from the hey-day of the 80s, when I would have to park way the fuck in the back by the tennis courts.  I mean, they were just asking for me to get high before class, it was so secluded.  Am I wrong?  Was that their intention?  Were they trying to sabotage my education from the get-go?  I smell a conspiracy. . .
  But speaking of international, we did have then the beginnings of an international feel.  Flo Valley  was becoming a miniature Berkeley, a cultural haven in the midst of a lower-middle class industrial socio-economic environment.  (wow, criminy!  I almost ran out of words there, just when I was trying to sound impressively educated.  Good thing I knew when to stop.)
  It wasn’t an in-your-face multi-culturalism like I experienced at SIU-Carbondale, a large university.  It was more subtle, in smaller doses, and basically added a touch of spice to the white-bread instead of dunking it in a melting pot gumbo.
  We had just enough diversity to make it diverse.  Mostly white, with a large black minority, and a smattering of internationals.  Most of those were Asian, and it was here that I truly came to appreciate Asian porn.
  I know that people in other countries have a distorted view of life here in the Americas.  Here in the States, I mean.  The old cliche of cold war-era Russians forming their opinions of the US based on old gangster movies is, I’m sure, not to far ("Chicago!  Bang-bang!") from the truth, just as US citizens have no idea what life is like beyond our borders (I mean, Christ, for one, if they did, they would realize there is no appeasing the Arab world.)  Not everyone loves peace, you brainless dolts.
  But Asians, in particular the Japanese, should have a pretty fair grip on the reality known as Livin in the USA.  Their youth thrives on and mimics our culture, whoring it.  But they may be behind the times slightly?  I don’t know, maybe they have caught up since then, but back in the 80s, before Al Gore invented the Internet and Global Warming, they may have lagged a bit, or just picked up on the wrong social cues.
  So there we are, in the Spring Semester.  I was working 3rds in  convenience store for minimum wage, which at the time was 3.35 an hour.  I would be up in the morning for school, and then sleep afternoon and evening.  I was leaning against the wall, in the hallway on the lower level (read: basement) of the Math building, waiting for the instructor to open the door for my 3rd and final try taking Calculus 1–I was going to pass it this time.
  I was tired, feeling old.  I was quiet, which those of you who know me may find hard to believe.  In any event, piss off.  This was before there was a smoking ban in buildings, by the way.  But it was coming soon.  This was the 80s, after all, and smoking, like Communism, was about to go down for the count.
  It was still acceptible to smoke, but people were beginning to be more concerned about the dangers, and tried to be kind to one another about it.  This was before the all-out war against tobacco, so there was still some civility.  Of course you could smoke.  The polite thing to do was ask, "Do you mind if I smoke?" and try not to blow it their way.
  A far cry from the 50s and 60s, where the polite thing to do was offer one to other people, like a stick of gum.  "Care for a smoke?  Would you like a cigarette?  Need a cig?"  We recognized then the addictive nature of tobacco, and that was akin to asking, "Would you like to tie off and try some of my heroin?"
  And yet, here was a young Japanese dude, about my age (roughly 20), offering cigarettes to people.  His accent was thick; no doubt he was not to long off the sushi boat (Yeah, a stereotype, I know; shut the fuck up or I’ll Jap-slap ya.)
  Out of the corner of my sleepy, slitted eye, I saw him proffering his goods.  He thought he was being polite, fitting in.  Everyone else saw him as an uncouth dinosaur from a by-gone age, a relic of an unenlightened time–the dark ages of the 1950s.
  I understood at once, and I wanted to pull him aside and explain, but I didn’t.  These were his lessons to learn on his own as he became acclimatized.  I hope the enlightened college students he offended would eventually understand, but it wasn’t likely.  People in college–at university, or any other setting in academia– invariably judge themselves to be more enlightened and understanding, but it comes across as a smarmy condescension.  Especially the elitists ranks of instructors and professors, and this they feed to the students, hungry for knowledge and being fed bullshit, hypocrisy, and agendas instead.
  Sorry, off topic.  But you get my drift.
  I had a friend, Joe, back at SIU.  Not so much a friend as a bizarre acquaintance, a friend of a friend–before that was even trendy.  Lots of interesting stories about Joe, but I learned how the communist mind-set works.  He wasn’t a communist (more into anarchy; it was a trendy thing for college students and an easy way to absolve yourself of responsibility) but he *was* a smoker.  I witnessed this exchange:
  Joe:  Hey, give me a cigarette.
  Hapless victim:  What?  Why?  I don’t even know you.
  Joe:  It’s very simple.  You and I belong to the cultural subset known as "smokers."  We are members of the same society.  We share the same ideology.  We are brethren.  We both smoke.  I don’t have any cigs.  Therefore you should give me one.
  All the while, Joe is getting inside the guy’s personal space, facing him directly, and putting his hand out.  It was a very aggressive stance, and it made me feel like I witnessed a mugging.  The guy gave him a smoke, then changed direction and walked away.
  Joe turned to me and said, "Smoking is like communism." 
  Today, in our enlightened society, smoking and communism have passed each other on the acceptibilty wheel.  Now, smokers have their secret cabal, and meetings outside in the dark, in the rain, in the snow and cold, whispering to each other in huddled masses.  Their whole agenda is to get someone else to do their work while they smoke.  Communist have open meetings and rallies, open support among elite stars and actors–which makes me think that McCarthy wasn’t just being paranoid–and their agenda is to get everyone else to support them.   Communists are protected under the Bill of Rights, free speech and so forth, while smokers are treated as pariahs when all they want is the freedom to smoke.
  And so, I have become one of them.  Not a communist; those people are insane.  No, I’ve become a smoker.  Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, I’ll admit.  But it is more like my own little rebellion against the establishment.  An experiment in anarchy.
  Not cigarettes, either.  I smoke little cigars, cigarellos.  So even some places that begrudgingly allow smokers draw the line at my kind.  I am now one of the persecuted minority.
  Here I am, forty-one, and I have taken up smoking.  It’s a matter of timing:  I figure before it will kill me I’ll die of something else.  Like satyriasis. . .
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