I ate my wafer...


Reader Advisory:
This is going to be a long, rambling post. Unfortunately for all of you, I was up nearly all night working on papers, and this will make little sense…

A Brief Defense of Tobacco…

So I was sitting on the porch last night taking a break from the horrors of Medieval History, and I smoked a cigarette by myself, a rare occasion. Of course, for the simple reason that I should have been thinking about other things then, and that I should be proofreading and revising papers now, I’ve been thinking/ writing about tobacco, especially in the context of Hillsdale. Certainly, thinking about my friends and acquaintances here, I immediately associate people with certain types of tobacco: Krupa and Bodine with unfiltered Lucky Strikes, Amber with Camel Red Lights, Seraphim and Jared with pipes, Metzger with illicit Cuban cigars, or “Birthday Dunhill’s”, Prizio with “Backwoods” Cigars, sipping on a half-pint of Jack in the bitter cold of January, Dr. Tsao with Marlboro Lights, etc. As I was pondering all of those connections, I started to draw analogies of the truly great conversations that I have had here with a room filled with smoke. If you think of each person’s contribution to a conversation as a cigarette in a room, and define a good, intense discussion as a smoky room, the analogy works pretty well, as even people who aren’t talking are always present, and the quality of the conversation/ haze of smoke in the room isn’t dependant on anyone person, but the combination of several. Anyway, I realized that in the last four years I have radically changed my opinion of smoking, especially cigarettes from a generally disgusting vice of the slow-witted to something closer to a nearly perfect accessory to college life. Having said all that, I doubt that anyone would associate me with a particular tobacco item, even now, I think I can count every time that I’ve smoked alone on my fingers, and I can’t imagine smoking away from Hillsdale. All that aside:

Tobacco answers some primitive needs:
There are several authors that attempt to link smoking with a primitive desire to show mastery over fire. (I’m too lazy to go find links. )I tend to agree, every decent book on wilderness survival emphasizes the moral building, psychological boost nature of building a fire, even if unneeded for heat or cooking. It simply is reassuring to know that one is still master of one’s destiny enough to cause combustion. Think about the movie Castaway, the man is on a tropical island! He’s warm, he doesn’t really need to cook, but the value of aquiring fire to building a sense of security and control is incalculable. Watching the tobacco smoke rise, and drift in its complex patterns is part of this. So is blowing smoke rings, or listening to the subtle crackling as one draws on the cigarette, or cigar, or pipe.

Tobacco is an inherently reassuring post-stress ritual:
There is something reassuring about the simple mechanics of smoking. At least for me the whole ritual of smoking is worth more that the Nicotine. Oh, and on this topic, screw butane lighters, matches or an old Zippo is so much better. Even the most anal anti-smoking activist would associate smoking with a distinctly masculine response to stress. Last Monday night immediately after all hell breaking loose in the union I bummed a cigarette. It was my first reaction as the crisis passed, and very welcome while I was reflecting on why I had instantly grabbed the security radio and chased after an fairly large group of obviously violent men. I can only imagine how many times more comforting the whole smoking ritual is after, oh, throwing a live grenade out of your foxhole.

Tobacco complements the other vices so nicely:

Cigarettes and Coffee. Cigars and Whiskey. Pipe smoking and Brandy. Cheap cigars light fireworks nicely. Cigarettes and beer. Think about good vice-filled movies: the Blues Brothers, Casablanca, pretty much every war movie ever made, etc. Tom Hanks should have smoked in Saving Private Ryan. We all recognize this cohabitation of vice in cigarette ads; it seems that making links between sex and smoking is at the root of most of them.

Tobacco is social:
At least for me…remember, I don’t really smoke alone. What else is the stoop of Galloway for? The Union? The “Highlands” or "Mustard" House porches. Ray's Tavern, the Hunt Club, etc, etc. Why the heck else does Scott Hill, with his nearly lethal asthma smoke at parties? Peer pressure is a retarded D.A.R.E. explanation; no one has EVER pressured me to smoke, or for that matter use Heroin. I know many non-smokers that would consider smoking as a social activity as the accompany smokers on cigarette breaks, etc. Overall, the concept of cigarette break is a 5 to 10 minute social time out watching the glowing red ember mark move slowly up the cigarette while standing, either in silence or conversation with good friends.

Tobacco is for the youthful:
James Dean syndrome. It is not that my heavy smoking friends are unaware of the health consequences of smoking. Rather, everyone knows that part, but there is an undeniable, perverse attraction to disregarding the inviolable fact that every cigarette is statistically worth a couple of minutes off ones life. I can’t really imagine 40 year old adults thinking about it in those terms, but it is a powerful attraction to college students. This is in part a response to the modern anti-smoking crusade. How many of us have sat on the stoop of Galloway with a cigarette while an endless parade of IV people walks by. There is a certain attraction to being a social pariah to THOSE people.