Archive for April, 2007

Smokers Kill Yourselves

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

So I picked up one of the only Vonnegut books that I haven’t read, A Man Without a Country. It’s a quick, wonderful read. Vonnegut vowed to give up writing after finishing Timequake, and then his publisher released a collection of random early work. So he technically wasn’t writing, just publishing. Then there was the Kevorkian pamphlet, which I decided to avoid based on the price/page ratio. It seemed that he was on the verge of being repeatedly repackaged and resold to a devout fan base. Hence, I avoided buying Man when that was first published, particularly since I had read a few of the pieces already via In These Times. What a mistake! Boy, is it refreshing to read these notes from an old friend!

I have to address one funny little Vonnegut-ism, though. He claimed that he would sue the makers of Pall Mall cigarettes for “a billion bucks.” According to the packaging on the cigarettes, the Pall Mall people failed to make good on their promise to kill him if he kept on smoking. Of course I laughed when I read that, and the witticism is used simply as an introduction to a political topic. Still, it reminds me of a lot of smokers I’ve known.

Years ago, I was dumb enough to attempt a career in smoking. After I hacked my way through a pack of Camels, I bought another and couldn’t finish. They made me feel as if my veins were full of sludge, while the wonderful cyclone of dizziness rarely persisted. Plus I flat out stank (breath, hair, clothes, skin, disposition). I did acknowledge that some people enjoy cigarettes, and, of those folks, some people seemed destined to be smokers. I, however, failed to join their ranks.

Now, I know that during the last decade or so smoking has become the new leprosy. I see them huddled in their leper clusters outside of office buildings, in alleys, getting in that morning smoke, pre-lunch smoke, post-lunch smoke, afternoon-break smoke, early-evening smoke, after-work smoke, etc. I never cared much about it. Yes, I do think that second-hand smoke hurts people, but, unless I’m in a closed space (such as the fucking Metro at an all-ages show), I never found it personally insulting for someone to smoke. I do get pissed when I see dipshits tossing spent cigarettes out of their cars. The world is your ashtray, you son of a bitch. Smoking, though, just like drinking, is a personal right.

Then I read Vonnegut’s little funny. For many people, the anti-act of not quitting smoking is a form of laughing at death. Yes, these things will kill me someday. Sigh. What’re you going to do?

Let me tell you what my dad did. He smoked for over forty years. Cigarettes, and then a pipe. About seven years ago, after both his brother and his father developed cancer (and beat it), my dad gave it up. Zyban-enhanced cold turkey. As Homer said, “going cold turkey isn’t as delicious as it sounds.” That Zyban screwed up his sleeping and made his gums bleed, but he stuck with it because he saw the crap that his brother and father went through and didn’t want it to happen to him. Five years later he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in March of 2006 after a 14-month battle.

You see these catch words tossed about when it comes to cancer. Survivor. Battle. It seems like propaganda, but, having witnessed it all, it really did feel like a battle, and it wasn’t just about my dad. It affected all of us, everyone who loved him. He never reveled in living the smoker’s life, and it took him years to finally commit to quitting. It was a real insult for him to get cancer after taking those steps to better himself.

My point: The “someday these things will kill me” passive acceptance is bullshit! If you smoke enough cigarettes, an upright piano will plunge from the sky and crush you during some random street crossing. Or maybe you’ll spontaneously combust. Or the smoker may die in his/her sleep, floating off to a better world. That seems to be the implication. Heart attack. Aneurism. Something clean, instant and final.

Plenty of smokers will not get that lucky break. They will live in pure misery. They will be stripped of their humanity and privacy. They will irrevocably hurt the people who care about them the most, along with the people who might not care much about them, yet are in some state of obligation.

Smokers who are aware of their own denial are the biggest jackasses on the planet. If you’re not going to quit, please don’t bother laughing in the face of death. Rather, come up with a solid plan for suicide. You know that the things are going to kill you. Yet you prefer to gamble the sanity of anyone who has gotten close to you. So please do them a favor and go for the dramatic, instant death now, while you can. Jump off a bridge (a high bridge, preferably an expressway overpass). Crazy Glue your finger into an electrical socket. Scale the wall at the polar bear exhibit. Picnic on a train track. Do it clean, instant and final, laughing at death the entire time. Just give the rest of us less of a mess to clean up. If life itself is such a casual gamble, why bother?

I still feel that people have the right to smoke, and I find some anti-smoking legislation to be silly and even offensive. Lately, though, smokers just look demonstratively ignorant. Vonnegut’s death, by the way, was not related to his smoking. He was one of the lucky ones.

Rented a tent.

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut died last night. He was the reason I started writing. Perhaps the Artistic Me would have turned out differently if I had made the choice after first reading Kerouac. As if I don’t ramble enough already. As Mini-Kerouac, I probably would have been much more focused on writing as lifestyle. That is, drugs as writing, drinking as writing, rampant sluttery as writing. I’m glad that Vonnegut got to the young/impressionable me first (does anyone discover Vonnegut and/or Kerouac at a stable, non-impressionable age?). Instead of convincing myself that I needed to write what I know, thus pushing to experience Life and get it all down, I went the other way and wrote what I imagined. And above all else, Vonnegut showed me that humor, pessimism and humanity could all brew into warm, tasty stew. It is possible to be both pessimistic and loving within your art.