08 March 2006

Smokers, Bloody Smokers

Yes, apparently there are a few things getting on my nerves today, and I don't even have time to mention the three jam-packed buses that drove by without picking up passengers, meaning that the dozen or so people waiting (not so) patiently had to sit (or stand, since there were nowhere near enough seats) there for 45 minutes before a bus finally came along with room for them. By that time, I'd already walked most of the way home, and contented myself with giving the driver the finger, for which I felt bad, since it's not really his fault that the management of the bus company and the government who's responsible for it are completely corrupt and stupid.

But I digress: probably the reason I was already in a bad mood was having to put up with gross, disgusting, selfish people who can't spend ten minutes at the beach without lighting up a cigarette (or cigar) and stinking up the fresh air for everyone around them. Not to mention using the beach sand (or even the water) as an ashtray. It's almost always an annoyance, but today I got it especially bad: on one side of me was a corpulent businessman who spend his whole afternoon conducting business from a beach chair while waving around an enormous, smelly cigar, and on the other side were three doofy men of a certain age, i.e., the age where they acquire bellies almost identical to those sported by pregnant women, and feel an even greater compulsion to display them publicly.

This particular crew got through an entire pack of cigarettes in an hour, and then switched to rolling their own. They did no swimming, no sunbathing, nothing you would normally associate with going to the beach. It was almost as though one of them had phoned up the others and said, "Hey, whaddya doing this afternoon? Wanna go down to the beach and smoke a whole bunch of cigarettes?"

I take that back. On a couple of occasions, one of the men did wade out into the water until it was knee-deep, and stood there smoking a cigarette and flicking the ashes into the surf. Very in touch with nature, it was.

It's not just the beach, though; in recent months I've developed a new hatred for smokers, and I say that with full knowledge that some of my best friends, etc. etc. Although that's becoming less true, too. Fewer and fewer people smoke these days, and those that persist in clinging to the habit tend to be those with particularly weak wills or low self-esteem. They're either teens or twenty-somethings desperate to fit in and look "cool," or they're pathetic old addicts too beaten down by life to think about doing something so rudimentarily sensible as to stop poisoning themselves. And, of course, others.

I've always tried to avoid going too much on a rampage against smokers. After all, I once was one myself, and it's such a pernicious habit that if I'm not careful, I could always slip back into it again (though please take me out and shoot me if I ever show any signs of actually doing so). Plus I wanted to avoid the stereotype of the ex-smoker who becomes messianically opposed to others doing what he used to do. But what's weird is that it's been a long time since I smoked, and yet my antipathy for smokers is getting more, not less intense.

I think it might be because I've finally begun to get a taste for a world in which people are no longer allowed to randomly poison anyone else in the room: in New York, California, Ireland, Canada, and many other sane places, smoking has been completely banned in buildings open to the public. England and Australia will be following suit soon. And now that I know that breathing fresh air has become a right rather than a privilege, I want more! I want people banned from smoking on the beaches, on the streets, in the parks, anywhere, in fact, except within the foul confines of their own smelly houses and cars (with the windows rolled up, natch). The yappy girl across the street comes out on her porch to have a cigarette and the smoke comes drifting up to my window. It's all I can do to refrain from yelling, "Oi! Get back inside and stink up your own house!"

Do I sound uncharitable? Probably. I know in my heart that smoking is a terrible addiction, just like drugs or alcohol, and that many people will die because they're unable to kick it. I try to adopt a similar attitude toward the drunks and junkies passed out in the streets around King's Cross: while they're unpleasant to look at (and sometimes to smell), they're also deeply troubled human beings who are wrestling with a life-threatening condition. Some of them will recover, some won't, but they're all human beings and deserve at least some sympathy.

But at the same time, they don't deserve (or benefit from) indulgence. To free them completely from the consequences of their actions only makes it easier to keep on killing themselves, and the same goes for smokers. There's a limit to how many laws we can pass regulating drug, alcohol or tobacco use, but there should be no limit to other means of persuasion, such as ridicule and social ostracism.

If you think about how most people start smoking - the teenager who's trying to impress her friends or is so bored or insecure that she needs something to do with her hands - or about why they continue - the 20-something Williamsburg hipster sucking down on his fag as frantically as any 12 year old who saw a movie where it looked "cool" - you'll quickly see how nearly every smoker, at least in the early years, does it mainly for the image. And if we go along with it, i.e., refrain from pointing out how ridiculous and pathetic they look, then we're essentially saying, "Sure, go ahead and kill yourself and poison everyone else around you while you're at it. It's just one of many equally valid lifestyle choices."

If you still smoke, and are still reading this, you might be getting pretty mad at me by now. Mainly because you know everything I'm saying is true. So do yourself a favour and quit before it gets too hard and you're too old and life is too shitty. And then you can start nagging the rest of your friends and save me the trouble.


Spoke said...

I love it! I could just see you out there "smoking" more than the smokers...
I smoke cigars. I like them. I smoke them outdoors away from people. I was watching a soccer game on tv the other night. A fat rich man was sitting in his good seats in the world class venue watching his team. He puffed a big ol' cigar. What an ass! I wouldn't...couldn't do that.
Health..? I won't get too far into health issues, but when my dad died from emphysema (?) I asked his specialist about my cigar hobby. He said he wouldn't say I'd never get throat,lip,gum,lung etc. cancer. But he did say that the way I "did it" was very low on the risk level. I suppose its plain stupid to endulge in them really. Some guys smoke 2 a day...YIKES. I'm a 2-monthly max type guy.
Thanx for the subtle reminder to us. Now,lets get into perfume next. Or bloody diesel pick-ups idling for 20 minutes outside my window or folks that cuss loudly in public or tailgaters or people that moan about debt while eating out thrice weekly and going to motels monthly and getting hair do's and french manicures...
Thanx Larry, now I'm pissed!

jesikaland said...

I recollect that it hasn't been too terribly long since you last smoked, as I fondly recall us filling the Chelsea Hotel with more than a pack or two. I also recall the carton of dangerously strong cigarettes you brought me from London once. While those were high on the novelty factor, and probably did score me a few cool points with the NYU hipster set, I always thought I could feel my lungs disintegrating as I finished one. (Ooops, after saying that, it occurred to me that I think those were your favorite.)

Kidding aside, I am long overdue for accepting a cigarette-free existence. My problem no longer hinges on feeling or looking cool. Although, I don't know how much it ever had to do with that in the first place. For me, it's always just been something to do. Maybe "something to do with my hands" at times, but in the last few years, it's just something to do in general. Kind of like how the first thing I did when I firnly decided I was not going to get any sleep at 5 am this morning was to go out on the patio and have a smoke. I didn't need the smoke. I didn't even really want it. But it was something I could do.

Perhaps I could have just posted comments to blogs, as I am now, but I would have read yours, and then I probably would have wanted the cigarette. At least I've already gotten it out of the way.

Smoking tobacco is evil. I never started smoking cigs in my new apartment, or my new car last fall. I have a box of Nicoderm patches in the bathroom, and it's been sitting there for months. You're right. I'm not mad, because I know you are right. I'm wise enough to admit that now, but i'm still not wise enough to stop smoking today. Someday. . . .

Jenna Alive said...

Oh, Larry, how I love you for saying all the things I'm not necessarily articulate enough to say...

I never bought into smoking looking "cool" because long before I got all the neat-o media images, I had morbidly obese, toothless, filthy rednecks chainsmoking in my living room (ugh, relatives) and refusing to open any windows or doors because it was "too cold." Suffer the little children, am I right?

So now, when I see all these hipster retards and their "high art" photographs of their dirty hipster friends with cigarettes hanging out of their mouth or smoke rolling from their nostrils, I don't see James Dean, I see Aunt Uvee's and Uncle Gary's nasty, fat asses. For me, watching someone smoke is akin to closely examining someone taking a dump. More than just a little unappealing...