Homeless in Minnesota: big problem, no joke

By

Lech Harris
Well, after two months of bumming, buying half-packs, and fumbling together shabby rollies, it is official: I’ve discovered the wonders of nicotine.

For a while, I liked to view myself as a freelance smoker—a self-autonomous agent, willfully dipping myself into a faux-European culture. When someone in the local pub asked, “Hey, bloke, do you wanna fag?” I’d casually respond, “Sure! I love fags!”

At which point I realized a major flaw in America’s anti-smoking system: throughout all of those health classes we endured in public school, which taught us all about the terrible health-consequences of smoking, no one ever told us that it’s quite an enjoyable thing to do.
No wonder people do this, I thought.

I quickly rushed back to my flat, still buzzing from the strong European beer and nicotine, and Googled “benefits of smoking.”

The search produced 1,580,000 results—and one site in particular, forces.org, which purports that, aside from the desirable mental effects, smoking has numerable health benefits: including improved restenosis, resistance to rare forms of skin cancer, and reduced risk of breast cancer.

And my favorite: “Kids of smokers have LOWER asthma! You certainly won’t see this one on the health news of BBC or ABC, as they are too busy trying to convince us that smokers ‘cause’ asthma in their kids – and in the kids of others.”

Well oh well, I thought to myself, as I lit up another one. Looks like the curtain’s been lifted.

Another site, igreens.org.uk, was more candid: “Benefits of smoking: It gives pleasure. [And] It labels you a risk-taking pleasure-seeker. This may make it easier to get laid, as other risk-taking pleasure-seekers head towards you.”

I thought back to when I was a child, waiting to be picked up after school, and I noticed the meter-maid smoking a cigarette.

“Why are you smoking?” I asked.

“Because I like it,” she spat back, dryly.

Of course, I thought. She liked it. She wasn’t a victim, but, like me, a self-autonomous pleasure-seeker.

In any case, delusions of autonomy wear off pretty quickly. I started smoking a couple per day, then a couple more, and a couple more…
I don’t know too many people anymore who smoke because it’s cool. Ever since that episode of Seinfeld when Elaine dumped stud-muffin shortstop Keith Hernandez for his habit—”You smoke? I didn’t know you smoked”—the cool factor has taken somewhat of a toll.

No, it’s not the image, or the shortness of breath, or the stench, that drives most people to smoke. It’s the buzz. Well, and maybe the restenosis-thing.

These days, I find myself trying to forget the wonders of nicotine.

Unfortunately, my ignorance is already behind me, ‘somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields’ of tobacco rolled on under the night.
I still hold out for the purity of my senses, the ‘orgastic future’ of ordering a beer without wishing I had a cigarette to accompany it. It eludes me now, ‘but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning’—
So we smoke on, backs against the wind, borne back ceaselessly into the nearest tobacco shop.