I finally agreed to a cheap one-year introductory online subscription to The New York Times. They lured me in with an article about math and physics that I wanted to read. Devious.
You may be wondering where I’ve been getting my news all these years. Well, for every newspaper charging readers, there are a hundred not. The catch is half are in German. But, online translators are free! Besides, I’m almost used to the German papers. I still can’t read them without translators, but I feel a happy familiarity. It seems like it’s all the same words every day come back to see me and chew on my pens.
I haven’t been totally riding free all this time. I’ve subscribed to The Seattle Times and The Washington Post, both owned by Jeff Bezos (haha, just kidding, ST.)
Then there’s television news. We dropped cable TV entirely about a year ago, so that’s gone, but PBS NewsHour is still showing episodes on YouTube. That’s how I found out last night that the Food and Drug Administration may ban menthol cigarettes. It’s good my parents aren’t alive to see this. It would bring them so much pain to not be able to stock up cartons of Salems anymore.
When I was a teenager, those were the only cigarettes I ever stole. I knew where my parents’ stash was. It was my job to fetch packs when my parents wouldn’t get out of their easy chairs. One day I nabbed one and only one pack from a half-used-up carton and spirited it off. My father couldn’t count to 10, and my mother was too lazy to, so they never would notice it missing. I then spent months sucking down the one pack at the rate of one single cig every three weeks or so. I didn’t want to get sick.
Eventually I switched to Camel non-filters, which I bought myself when I was of age. Back in my youth, I was something of a purist. Cigarettes were supposed to have tobacco. What’s this filter business? I didn’t want my corn mixed with my peas. After being started on coffee, I quickly dropped the sugar and creamer. Salads had to have just one kind of green. Music should either be a cappella or only instrumental. They called me Weird Wes. I did enjoy my burgers with melted cheese on a bun, but only with salt, pepper and mustard — none of the other add-ons.
Smoking cigarettes had a big effect on me. For example, when I was driving a cab, I had an uncanny ability to predict for my dispatcher to within 15 seconds how soon my current fare would be at their destination so I could respond to another call. I did it by knowing that a cigarette took me seven-and-one-half minutes and gauging what part of a cigarette the trip would take.
I lived in Switzerland for a year in the late ’70s. I never found Camel non-filters for sale. They all sold filtered Camels in a hard box. I had to learn to ask, “Kamel box, bitte.” Approximately rhymed with “Tamil hoax.”
As of this July, I will be cigarette-free for 24 years. But I still have vivid dreams of waking up, dressing and walking to the nearest grocery store to buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke on the way back home. When I really do wake up, for a minute or two I think I’ve started smoking again, and start to think, oh well, I was bound to lapse some time, and I’ll make plans to buy another pack. Just then, I’ll be shocked to realize my own brain was trying to trick me! My own sneaky, sneaky brain.
It’s just those kinds of experiences that make me open to the idea of the government banning menthol cigarettes. Ordinarily I think people are better off finding their own ways to get off addictions. But when your own brain is double-dealing with the cigarettes behind your back when you’re not expecting it … maybe it’s time to call in Homeland Security after all.
It’s like my brain is Rudy Giuliani. The FBI tells my brain that Vladimir Putin is trying to kill me, his host, with cancer sticks. So Giuliani, my brain, says, “Thanks for the tip; I’ll get right on that. That won’t happen on my watch.”
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read more of the May 5-11, 2021 issue.