I noticed a lot of people in New Paltz smoke, so I wrote a piece about it.
In 2006, Kurt Vonnegut told Rolling Stone Magazine “I’ve been smoking Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes since I was 12 or 14.” Vonnegut had a lot of thoughts on smoking, calling it a “classy form of suicide”, and planning on letting it be the path to his demise. In 2007, he fell off a ladder and died that way. Though, I’ve noticed a lot of people I know smoke. Maybe it’s because a lot of people I know go to art school. English majors have that image of Mark Twain sitting over his deck with a pipe in his mouth. Journalism majors have an image of Hunter S. Thompson with a long plastic cigarette holder sticking out of his mouth.
Maybe it’s a simple act of rebellion. All one needs to do is put the cigarette to their mouth and inhale. Than one walks through the night watching the little light at the end of their cigarette, as smoke rises up into the night’s sky. I would be lying if I didn’t say that it looks sort of classy and cool, even in this age of what we know about the negative effects of smoking. Many of the smokers I know say they started to smoke while a teenager. Than, maybe of them warn against the dangers of smoking to others while at the same time they marvel at the spell that the little steam of smoke coming up from the end of the cigarette going up into the sky. It’s almost like something out of a fantasy novel when they breathe smoke out of their mouth in the middle of the night as it hits the outside fence of a bar. Even today when we know the effects of smoking, with the risk of lung cancer looming, there’s something about it. There’s magic to it and trashiness to it, and this mix makes smoking appealing to those who are young and artistic.
Many people I have admired have smoked. Some people want to shorten their lives. Maybe it’s understandable for some. Why commit suicide when you can do it slowly and do it with a community of people standing outside between classes and jobs and looking up at the night’s sky or the foggy day. So, what is the appeal of smoking? Well, a friend of mine who has smoked and quit said smoking makes one “feel like they have something like they have nothing”. Another friend of mine who smokes says they started smoking cigars when they where younger. A clerk at a local store I spoke to who smokes complained, “I pay for the roads here. I should be able to enjoy my cigarette”, referring to how much cigarettes are taxed. They cost seven dollars a pack. Ironically, the cheapest brand is Pall Mall. The red package behind the counter of Convenient Deli, with those New Roman Times font on the red package and a Latin saying under the two lions with their crowns “In Hoc Segno Vinces”, which ironically means “in this sign you will conquer”.
Every day I see them sitting by the bench with a cloud of smoke going up from their bunched together cigarettes. The contrast can often be ironic. I see these college students smoking and they smoke for mixed reasons. Some are understandable, of which they are stressed out from work. My addiction is coffee and something’s I get a headache and shaky if I don’t have a cup. Though, a coffee addiction isn’t going to give you cancer. It will give you a stomachache. Yeah, I smoke too, so maybe I guess I shouldn't be looked at as some sanit or something. Lets just take that note there. One time, an annoying kid with his girlfriend came up to me in the middle of the night as I smoked by the Deli on the side of the freeway telling me they perfer to be healthy. Can this cirgiratte make people like you avoid me? See, it does work for something.
Anyway, I see both the arty types who are in college smoking and see the construction workers smoking. They both seem to be on opposite ends of the ladder. Different universes and different ways they smoke. The workingman and the college student both brought together though the long paper wrapped around tobacco. Vonnegut said he was going to sue the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company because he was 83 years old and “those lying bastards promised to kill me on the package!” I guess in a way the English people and the Journalism people share a bound over the smoke. I have an imaginary drink code for the two types of writing.
I always describe journalism as coffee. Straight and to the point, the caffeine is obvious and bitter. The taste is real and keeps you awake and alert. Tea is English. Tea is sweet, and the steam coming from the cup makes one feel like they are in a Japanese shop, in a fantasy land or in a peaceful state. Though, most beautifully written pieces have an underlining state. That hard caffeine is the realistic meaning behind those nicely written letters. Smoke, though, is bad for you and makes one smell bad. If I ever want to kill myself in a way that's not painful, I'll buy a hundred pack of Pall Malls and smoke them in one day till my heart gives out. Makes one’s teeth yellow. It’s a weird mix of hardhat workmanship and what a friend describes as “serenity”. Serenity indeed. A serenity that goes up into flames. As for most people, don't smoke. For the rest of us, pick your poison.