©01 The Media Desk
There is a group of smokers that have essentially been forgotten by the radical do-gooders of the anti-smoking army.
They have been after everybody from people that live in apartments downstairs from pregnant women to commercial truck drivers in a company owned power unit. You can't smoke in state parks or below decks on a cruise ship, no smoking at hockey games or within twenty feet of a public entrance to an office building. No smoking on airliners on local runs or inside the Holland Tunnel.
But even with politicians trying to tell parents they can't smoke in their own house if their kids are home and lawyers beating on the hospital room window of everybody with lung cancer, there is a population of smokers that has been ignored.
The social engineers are working to prevent prisons and military bases from selling smokes in their commissary, and college campuses are putting questions on admissions forms asking if the applicant 'uses tobacco'. Anti-smoking ads are more common now than Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man ever was. They want to prohibit tobacco companies from sponsoring sporting events with one eye toward targeting alcohol producers next, and then they will have their cross hairs on fatty food outfits. Oh, sorry about the gun reference... but they've already gotten the arms companies on the ropes. Darn, that was a boxing reference. But then, violent sports aren't the most Socially Correct thing going either. Poor Old Mike Tyson may have to pump gas for a living. ... ... Oh shucks, the energy industry has about had it too.
So, who is this mysterious population? Seems they've got specific messages for almost everybody... We've already mentioned soldiers, and prisoners, and sports fans, and women... office workers, coal miners, truck drivers, astronauts, underwater welders, stay at home dads, the senior citizen tournament squash team, computer programmers....
The borderline mentally ill.
If you are sick enough to be in an institution, they have nurses and orderlies to make sure you don't smoke. If you got in trouble with the law and have been shipped out to a work farm they have guards to do it. And they have stop smoking classes, and they will issue you the gum or the patch or whatever, and then counsel you until it's easier to stop smoking to get them off your back than to fight for your right to kill yourself slowly.
But if you are well enough to stay out of the state's clutches and avoid jail, nobody is paying attention to you. You can float from homeless shelter to soup kitchen to charity work project and back again scrounging for change and collecting cans to buy your smokes, and nobody bothers you. Food, sometimes that's a problem. Most of the time you can work the system. Emergency food stamps here, a free meal there, hit the right church at the right time, hang out behind a certain restaurant right after the lunch rush... food can be had. Panhandling isn't as easy at it used to be, but pick up a few bottles here, find some change there, 'hey buddy, got a dollar?' and buy cigarettes.
The Desk works part time with a homeless shelter, and has for three years now. It knows the territory. MOST of the clients always have money for smokes. The Desk literally watched some of them count out nickels and dimes to come up with enough for a pack. They didn't have bus fare to get to the State Service Center to file their paperwork. They had to do extra chores around the shelter in return for permission to do a load of laundry because they couldn't afford the Laundromat. Their car would sit with an empty gas tank for two weeks, their kids needed school supplies, and there was a dozen other expenses they couldn't meet. But they always had their cigarettes.
That's just the regular clients. Their priorities were, and are, a little mixed up. You don't spend money to get your nails done when your kids are sleeping in a homeless shelter. Or do you?
But they could get themselves back on track. A little counseling, somebody to push them the right way. Sometimes they just needed a fresh start. The Desk watched it happen many times.
The ones that were slightly mentally ill are a whole different story.
Some of them, all they could do was smoke. They were incapable of holding a coherent conversation, let alone a job. They were not bad off enough to be in the State Hospital, they didn't meet the requirements for an assisted living arrangement. No insurance, no family, no nothing. But there they are, on the street. And somehow, they seemed to always manage to get hold of some cigarettes.
They seem to have heard the message that smoking isn't exactly a health food. But they have no intention of stopping. Even if they could stop.
To quit smoking voluntarily takes self-control. Usually a lot of it. Unless you're locked up in a maximum-security unit of a state prison, which the Desk also knows something about, then quitting smoking isn't much of a challenge at all. You are locked in your cell for twenty-three hours a day, with no cigarettes, no tobacco period, and smoking your toilet paper just doesn't quench that urge. After a month or so, it goes away. You'll be fine... unless you electrocute yourself trying to hot-wire a light bulb to set fire to your toilet paper so you can smoke it.
But in the free world. And down here under the highway bridge, or on the back steps of a homeless shelter, or in line at a soup kitchen... self control is an endangered species.
They stand in the slow moving line, muttering to themselves, eyes down, hair a tangled mess. Wearing ill fitting clothes, clutching a worn gym bag with everything they own in it. Waiting for their free lunch.
Smoking the tail end of a cigarette they picked out of the ash tray in front of the Post Office.
Three puffs, then carefully put it out and save it. For after lunch.
They won't see the advertisement on the side of the Team Green Indycar. They wouldn't know Joe Camel if he spit at them. Magazine advertisement is lost on them. They have never cashed in their Miles for anything. They smoke whatever they find, whatever is on sale when they get a handful of coins from payphone change slots or get from turning in a bag of cans.
No lawyer sued RJR on their behalf. They weren't called up to testify to Congress about how smoking has ruined their life. Actually, smoking may be their life. The only thing they do that is not directly survival related. Unless you count the addiction as a survival issue.
It's all they got.
No really. It is all they got.
Tomorrow's smoke. That's the goal. Find either a couple of cigarettes or enough money to buy a pack so I can smoke tomorrow.
They are not worried about twenty years from now. In fact, a few of the ones the Desk has dealt with over the last several years, both working at the prison and at the Shelter, haven't been capable of worrying about anything further ahead than next week. Time beyond the reach of the TV schedule was lost on them. Today, maybe tomorrow, at most, the rest of this week. That's the focus.
The Desk did an intake for a client that could not grasp the concept of her thirty day stay at the shelter. You could not explain four weeks to her. She understood that she could stay through Monday, she was fine with that. But going much beyond that, you lost her. The calendar on the wall meant nothing to her. Then one of her relatives stopped by and told the staff that she wasn't acting, but not being able to work out how the passage of days applies to you is not enough to get you a room at the State Hotel.
Did this client smoke? Yes. She almost chain-smoked. And she couldn't tell you how many she smoked a day. Not only was tomorrow irrelevant to her, yesterday was as well.
What happened to her? She did her thirty days, then got an extension for a few days until another shelter could take her in.
If her relatives didn't at least supply her with money for her smokes what would she have done? The Desk cannot answer that. She couldn't work, she wasn't getting SSI or anything like that. She was one of those that has been missed by society's Big Net. But her, and a lot of people like her are out there.
And those people that know what is best for you...
Don't eat deep fried opossum, don't use eye shadow, don't smoke cheap cigars, don't wear tight girdles, don't drink beer, don't drive fast, don't wear high heeled shoes, don't sleep on your back, don't use a diving board, don't use anti-perspirant when you're pregnant, don't type on traditional keyboards, don't drink black coffee with an oil slick on top of it, don't use electric jackhammers while standing in a mud puddle....
They know what is best for you.
Just ask the social do gooders. They will tell you.
Except when it comes to the ones they have forgotten.
Maybe the mentally ill don't get lung cancer.
Or maybe the busy-bodies just find them inconvenient.
The desk will get off its soapbox now. It has a opossum to fry while smoking a cheap cigar and drinking black coffee and warm beer on a diving board while driving too fast to pick up an electric jackhammer to use in the rain.
So... you don't like this. Prove it isn't true... The DESK will post your proofs. email: drleftover[~at-]themediadesk[~dot-]com