Thursday, July 15, 2010

I Love Smoking

I was up late last night, wandering the halls of the Fortress of Solitude, adjusting the frames of my extensive 17th century portraiture. And I noticed something. I smoke a lot. For some odd reason, my smoking has increased in the last week, to almost double what I used to smoke. I've gone from a pack-a-day to almost two-packs a day in the space of a week. I don't know why, because I'm not stressed about anything. But I'm not really bothered by my smoking increase; I'm bothered by the fact that the price has just gone up.

Here in New York, in an effort to close a $9 billion budget gap, they've raised the tax on cigarettes to something like $5.85 a pack. It's as though they're hoping to close their little budget gap just with smokers alone. I could buy the original excuse, that it's a sin tax because we smokers use up so many medical resources, but the truth is the state knows it has a captive audience. It has nothing to do with sin; the state just knows smokers will pay the goddamned tax. Why don't they raise the tax on gasoline? How about alcohol? Really, there are a million things they could tax that would get them unelected pretty quickly. Politicians are cowards. I think the tobacco companies should drop their price each and every time the state raises the tax, as a nice "fuck you" to the politicians. Take the price down to a buck. Hell, sell them at a loss.

Those of you who have met me (and really, God help you if you have) already know that I love to smoke. I love it like I love nothing else in the world. Because it's always been there for me. When I am sad, smoking is there to tell me "it'll be okay." When I'm happy, smoking says "let's celebrate with a smoke of victory!" When I'm nervous, smoking says "it's okay, I'm right here with you." It's really the longest, most successful relationship I've ever had. It doesn't judge me. It doesn't ask me to change. It always gives me what I want without all the begging or sucking up. And it really doesn't demand much from me in return; it doesn't ask me to take out the garbage, or do the dishes, or go to the party with all the people I really can't stand....

First, there's the ritual of smoking. There's the tamping of the tobacco. They opening of the cellophane, and removal of the foil. Pulling out the cigarette. The satisfying click of the Zippo snapping open. Oh, and that first drag. It's especially pleasant in the morning, that wave of nicotine rolling across your brain like the incoming tide. It's perfect when you're enjoying a tasty cocktail. This is where the smoking ban in bars really hurts. You can drink inside, but not smoke. You can smoke outside, but not drink. Really, the state just wants to make everyone miserable by not letting them enjoy both alcohol and tobacco at the same time. But the two go together, like peanut butter and jelly.

And I think the ban on smoking indoors is a crock. Allegedly, it's to protect all us service workers from having to breathe second hand smoke. I have a secret to tell you: ninety percent of restaurant and bar employees smoke. Your chef smokes. Your server smokes. They busboys smoke. Hell, the cat downstairs in the kitchen to keep away the mice -- he smokes. Note to government: You're not helping anyone in the service industry. You want to help us, pass paid sick leave for hourly employees or fix the goddamned economy. Otherwise, you're just humorless killjoys.

I learned to smoke in 1988, when I was studying at Fudan University (Motto: thanks for the money round-eye). That was the big year when Deng's reforms started to bite; people were allowed to open their own businesses, and were doing so with gusto. The entire country was like a boomtown right out of Deadwood. It was four in the morning, and we found ourselves in a "bar" in a giant, soul-crushing Stalinist apartment bloc. I use quotations because the "bar" was thrown together by some guy in his basement. I told you, everyone was opening up their own businesses. The "bar" consisted of a plank of wood over two milk crates and some wooden crates for chairs. It was 5 am, and this Chinese guy (who I'm convinced was a gangster) offered me a cigarette. Now, Chinese are very polite, so when I said I didn't smoke, Chinese gangster dude got serious pissed off. Cut my throat and leave me in the Huangpo river kinda pissed. I took the cigarette and never looked back.

I remember getting off the airplane at JFK that summer. I'd been standing in passport control for an hour. Waited another hour for my luggage to appear and pass through customs. By that point, I really needed a cigarette. My dad met me at the airport, and when we walked outside I whipped out a blessed cigarette and lit up. Non-plussed, my dad looked at me and said "I hope you learned how to speak Chinese, too." God, I miss dad.

He died of cancer at the age of 55. He smoked three packs a day. I tell people that, and they can't imagine it. Chain smoking just isn't something you see much of any more. He'd keep a lit cigarette in every room of the house, all of them going at the same time. It's ironic that I'm the only one left in the family who continues to smoke. Mom quit. My sister quit. I do the morbid thing where I subtract my age from my father's age to see how much longer I have left before I die (12 years). I've tried to quit many times. I've done the gum, the patch, Zyban, accupuncture, hypnosis and cold turkey. None of it works. I enjoy smoking too much. Hell, I'm jonesing for a cigarette right now.

But I think the time is rapidly approaching where I must give up smoking. Much like a person finally realizing it's time to give up on an abusive relationship. Because I'm up to two-packs a day, and packs cost $12.

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