Saturday, September 18, 2004


For the first time in, well, as long as I can recall, I'm housebound on a Saturday night. My wallet has now been fully decimated by the raging costs of Washington DC and my academic lack of income. I can't yet negotiate with my conscience the possibility of dipping into my student loan money for recreation, so that means that I'll be spending the most gorgeous and crisply cool night of the season listening to old mix CDs and trying not to think about how many people are out dancing and drinking at this very moment.

Which brings me to my open-ended question: what is one to do in a large city late at night when one has only a pittance with which to work? Surely I'm not the only of-age poor student here, but I absolutely refuse to be gainfully studious on a Saturday after six p.m.; that subgroup excluded, how are the remainder managing to turn out the weekend?


Friday, September 17, 2004

Literate DCers meet, drink, get chatty 

Last night witnessed a summarily well-received DCist-sponsored blogging fete at Reef, and there was much rejoicing. My only regret is that I had to leave for the bar directly from class, so I ended up lugging around a bag full of books and papers for a few hours, so instead of a hangover I've had a numb shoulder today (which, all things considered, is fine with me).

Reef is impressive, a little on the quaint side but certainly a great place to mix conversation and alcohol. The addition of several large and well-maintained aquaria is a soothing feature, and the owners don't mess around with low-class guppies or catfish--no, they hook you up with all sorts of oddly-shaped and electrically colored exotic species, especially dramatic considering that the aquarium lights provide most of the (soft) illumination for the interior. From the second-floor vantage, the floor-to-ceiling windows are another expert addition.

Some very nice people, I've learned, are behind all of these local blogs that I've been reading since I found out that I would be moving to the District, something for which I'm grateful. Much happiness to all, continued successes in your endeavors, and many thanks for all the friendliness that I never thought would exist in such a politicized, polarized town.


Wednesday, September 15, 2004


"It is the premise of this book that cigarettes, though harmful to health, are a great and beautiful civilizing tool and one of America's proudest contributions to the world."

Introduction, "Cigarettes are Sublime"
Richard Klein

If I had the sixty dollars to do so, I would purchase this book and display it prominently to incite exactly the kind of discussion that Klein intends. I'm so easily fatigued anymore by the mindless enthusiasm that people put behind anti-smoking campaigns, most generally because it seems that the urge to move the population away from smoking has less to do with health than it has to do with the violence and pride that people put behind their personal convictions. I still smoke, more occasionally than I'd like to admit, but my eventual termination of the habit won't be mediated by a stupid public's urgings to do so; rather a personal acknowledgment, something interior, as to the Kantian sublime of smoking is what calls to me to at once quit smoking and then to have another one, to the entanglement of sin and pleasure, to the infinite joy out of profound shame. When I think of explaining this to one of those I'm-coughing-at-a-comical-volume-while-not-looking-at-you-so-you'll-put-that-out people, I sigh in active frustration, or rather I blow silken ribbons of my own sublimation in their direction while maintaining full eye contact. Therein lies the difference between us, the civilized, and them, the halfwits.

This weekend at the Adams Morgan fair, a booth filled with cheerily grinning tan people were passing out stickers that said something I'd "I'd LOVE to see a smoke free DC!" I mostly just avoided them, but, goodness, they were absolutely everywhere. When I finally decided to have a cigarette, after my plate of Ethiopian food and as an accompaniment to my coffee, I decided to move to an empty, shady spot at the edge of the road where I could quietly enjoy myself while watching the crowd. En route to said spot, one of these tanned fellows with bleached teeth from the non-smoking campaigne approached me,

"Hey, healthy guy, would you like to support the Smoke Free DC campaign today?"

Grinning, and with no ill will in my voice, I chuckled, "Sorry, guy, I'd actually rather have a cigarette. Take it easy."

Thinking that would be the end of it, I kept walking towards my chosen seat. Moments later, from behind me, I hear the healthy guy chime out, "Those things are killing you, you know, and everyone around you."

Sitting down, I turned and faced him, just a half-dozen feet ahead of me, standing where he had been when he first solicited my assistance. I plopped my official embroidered George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services shoulder bag onto my lap, pointing to the title as I fished for some matches, "I know. The irony is killing me, too," I offered, still smiling, again thinking that he would finally give up the act.

I knew this wasn't going to go away so easily when he shifted his weight to one leg, as if he were planning to stand there in his sassy contrapposto, the David against my Goliath.

"You're really going to light that up? Man, I can't believe you. There are children out here today, old people."

I said nothing in my unspoken wish for this fellow to simply go away, and struck the match. It went out in the breeze. Taking another one out of the book, the crusader's politesse faded,

"Those things smell like shit, dude."

Finally getting the tip burning, I took a nice, thick drag as I prepared myself for the higher ground. "You think these things smell like shit? Have you ever smelled shit? It shouldn't smell like fire. I think these things smell like fire. Shit usually smells putrescent, acidic."

"Yeah, I think they smell like shit," he countered.

"Oh, alright. That's strange, though. I've smelled shit before, and I've never smelled one that resembled burning paper or tobacco. Sometimes when I burn the filter the oder gets a little more acrid, but it still isn't like shit. Are you sure you smell shit in these?"

"Oh, bravo guy, you know very well I mean they smell like shit, not that shit and cigarettes smell the same."

I couldn't believe he was still in it! He was actually trying to go at it with me! This was slightly fun, and I'd probably get to have at least two cigarettes in the process if he'd go along for long enough.

"Right, you mean to say that they smell shitty, in that you're trying to express that they smell bad. I think they smell delicate, a bit like caramel, you know, in the way people who make dietary alcohols cultivate subtle similarities to other flavors and odors in their recipes."

"You know what cancer smells like?"

"Yup, it smells like shit, literally. Rotten and tangy like spoiled meat."

"Back to shit, are we? And you're still going to sit there and smoke?"

"Sure," I began, "but not because I'm going to think about the smell of disease. Life is delicate. I appreciate the little things, details that give me a moment's pause, time to think on my own."

"You need to think about a lifestyle change, dude."

"Oh, I do, frequently. I've even tried to quit a couple of times, but never too seriously. I define myself with my vices, which I think most of us do. You've just chosen a very visible, hated one and constructed a social life around its eradication. That's a very dangerous thing to do, you know, to devote oneself to the flag and banner of a cause regardless of its cause. Your discussion isn't dissuading me from smoking, and it certainly isn't making us friends. I certainly would consider it gauche to publicly attack you for something like eating meat, going to tanning beds, or consuming trans-fats."

"Don't assume things about people you don't know."

"That's my point exactly. Cigarette?"

I probably shouldn't have added that last bit, but it felt like a cutting punctuation to an intriguing dialogue that was entirely lost on a drone to the campaign, and it finally got him to turn away.

As an endnote, I've written before about the ineffectiveness of these social pressure campaigns against smoking. Educate youths about the dangers of cigarettes at the very least, simply to make sure that everyone goes into whatever habits they may choose (and, yes, everyone finds a way to unhealthful habits) with full knowledge of the potential repercussions. Accept, however, that free will is the ultimate fulcrum upon which such activities hinge, so a grinning, abusive campaign condemning smoking culture is a brash waste of public funds. If anything, a tirade from a life-long non-smoker coupled with aggressively antisocial advertisements absolutely validates a smoker's commitment, and rightfully so.

If one wishes to facilitate the move to a non-smoking public culture culture, spend that public money on programs to provide effective aids to smoking cessation, like nicotine patch and gum kits, support groups, and networks of individuals who can provide coaching on the process from experience (think comparatively about the behavioral results of replacing pharmaceutical assistance to heroin addicts with insipid ads that remind abusers that "JUNKIES are NASTY! NEEDLES are for NERDS!"). Don't give thirty bucks to that hopelessly impotent Stamp Out Smoking ad campaign, just go to the pharmacy, buy a pack of Nicorette, and ask the smokers standing outside if any of them would like to try to start kicking the habit, courtesy of you, a concerned citizen. I guarantee you, it will be a much more impressive action.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Brown Bunny 

...is playing at Visions Cinema and Bistro Lounge. Any DC people want to go see it?


Monday, September 13, 2004

Jesus v. Lucifer 

I'll leave this for the religious among you to discuss to profundity, but I find it interesting that my two simultaneous responses to today's biostatistical applications class were "Oh my God," and "I have seen the face of Satan himself." What an odd parallel, that, in times of duress, we linguistically equate our calls for metaphysical assistance/damnation.

I find it irritating that I'm finally beginning to feel the pulse of Washington DC just as my courses are launching into the conceptual range that forces one to allocate serious amounts of time to understanding material rather than just the simple if not overwhelming amounts of actual work.

As a reward, I'm buying myself a ticket to see PJ Harvey next month at the 9:30 club. I've already convinced Amber to come down from State College for it, I'm working on Michael, I've mentioned it to Curtis from my graduate program, and I'm certainly going to try to pull Harvey queen herself Megan up from yon Little Rock for the occasion. Am I leaving out anyone?


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