So you wake up one hungover Sunday in October. The usual fug and yawns, the clutching at a glass of water, the wondering what happened. The first of many terrifying memory flashes… the wishing for not remembering what happened. Maybe (if you’re lucky) the fridge is keeping the last slice of pizza cold for you, a slice which now awaits your mouth, which tastes and feels like the inside of Casey Stoner’s motorcycle glove. Your teeth, your teeth have socks on. It’s nasty, but hey, you’ve done it before, right? Probably the night before last. Odds on the week before that. Perhaps following a crippling pattern grooved deeply you're your routine over the course of a decade. You might not be getting better at it, ‘improving’, if you will – imagine if you’d poured all that money, time and energy into piano lessons instead – but you have survived. You live. And this might even be a fact worth celebrating, perhaps with a greasy breakfast behind sunglasses, followed (in no set order) by a half-assed wank, a DVD and a snooze.
But then that horrible little ebb smacks you in the fug – egad – it’s an hour later (even) than the midday you thought you’d managed. You don’t scream, you don’t cry (it would trigger a headstab) but there’s the feeling of something gone, irreparable. You spend the rest of the afternoon in your recovery pattern, but even as the haze lifts around the very, very late sunset, a realisation settles to replace it, one heavy with the sense of something little, yes, but gone totally. Never to be repeated.
Now think big chunk – close your wrinkling eyes and imagine being told with certainty that a decade had gone. How would you feel? I imagine the same sad settling would take place, on a crippling scale. A whole decade… never to be filled with the half-memories of hungover Sundays: no more cold pizza, no more half-assed wanks. No more Mondays back at work wondering where it all went pear-shaped and turned professional. It’s a depressing thought, surely. But oddly – despite the overwhelming evidence – smoking does not have that effect on people.
Indeed, walk past any of the new smokay corrals across our fine city, and you’ll see them out there: by themselves they look lavender soft and wistful – they’re thinking misty thoughts. In groups, they’re positively jolly, wheezing and rasping through a joke, sharing a light, rolling, lighting, and chatting each other up.
I saw them at my local, while I was on my way to rent some DVDs – they smiled at me. Could someone please explain why they’re so brimming with ashy smiles and tarry-eyed confidence? I wondered… and then I thought about Darwin and the Beagle. After returning from the Galapagos islands, Darwin realised that isolation would have a profound effect on the emergence of a species: separated populations, each in different microhabitats, and each with their own genetic inheritance and peculiar mutations, would, over time, create new species utterly unlike those on the next island, though separated by nothing more than several kilometres of sea.
‘Dodos!’ I thought, ‘what have we done?!’ In an effort to isolate smokers (and so further stigmatise and marginalise that original, mentholated, extra-mild ‘dying breed’ in our midst) maybe we’ve ensured their triumph over the deadly effects of their preferred harm. Maybe, rather than ‘bagging the fag’, what the ban has created is the conditions for eternal smoking. It goes like this: we know that people may be genetically pre-disposed to addictive behaviour. We know that only certain groups of people have the genes that increase their likelihood of getting cancer from smoking. And we would speculate that, generally, those people ‘still smoking’ are more likely, overall, to be the ones who have survived their habit, or at least for long enough to reproduce, inflicting their genes, their habits, and their tendencies on their offspring… but where will such offspring come from? Acts of reproduction, surely, but with whom? Well, given that smokers are now all concentrated in a small, isolated area with other smokers (small areas that now exist all across Australia, and, indeed, in the UK and elsewhere); given that smoking is social (many people smoke just to be able to start conversations with other people); given that, despite their poor fitness and lowered sperm counts, smokers can still sire children (and might even do a whole lot more siring than non-smokers, given their addictive tendencies) and given that, more than anything, that natural selection and mutation would tend, over time, to favour those who weren’t killed by their habit… can you see where this is going?
All this flashed ran through my mind while at the video store. On the way back, despite the sunny afternoon and the sound of the bees in the bottlebrush, I couldn’t stop thinking about daylight saving, my stabbing head, and all that lost time. It made me blue in thought. Then, as I passed by the pub again, I noticed a man in his fifties, red in face and leaning against the rail of the smokers’ corral. He had nicotine-yellow hair, gold chains, and a twinkle in his eye. It was not the face of a man meditating on lost hours, it was the face of a man winding his way through the repeated highpoints of an extremely enjoyable afternoon. He saw me looking at him, then turned and offered the requested cigarette to a grateful looking woman in her twenties to his left. Then he turned back to me, and winked.
in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked
- ► 2008 (29)
- ▼ October (5)