Text by John Hargrave     Images by Jerad Sloan

The date is April 15, 1978. The rest of my fourth grade class is jubilantly running atop the red Georgia clay, hollering good-natured fourth grade taunts at each other. Our physical education teacher is imploring me to keep up, but there I am: pudgy, covered with spaghetti stains from lunch, struggling to keep up. I've forgotten my white tube socks, so I'm running in black dress knee-highs and sneakers. I hold my arms out at a strange angle so my hands flap loosely up and down as my mouth lolls open, wheezing. I'm asthmatic.

The fact that I'm asthmatic undoubtedly comes as no surprise, since 85% of those in the computer industry have some combination of asthma, profuse sweating, or recurring rashes. Nonetheless, if it weren't for the fact that I have to suck down Primatene Mist every few hours to remain alive, I'd undoubtedly be smoking.

The past half-century has seen some wonderful smoking propaganda: from the heyday of tobacco, with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball cheerfully asking the American public to blacken its lungs with carcinogenic tar, to the first Surgeon General warnings, with the Marlboro man looking slightly ticked about having to share ad space with a huge white rectangle stating that smoking causes severe birth defects, to the current wave of anti-smoking hysteria, with signs hung on the sides of buses like "Imagine Running For This Bus And Actually Catching It: Smokers Have Less Stamina."

I like to think of myself as the yin to society's yang, so allow me to counteract the recent ad campaign by telling you why William Morris might not be such a bad guy after all. Because I feel sorry for my smoking friends, I really do. Their habit has been banned from the workplace, from public restaurants, from buses and subways and planes. I mean, no one would think to outlaw breathing, for Heaven's sake. And yet that's all they're doing, just that they happen to be breathing a lit plant.

Each time I go by the "smokers' door" here at work and see them sitting outside in the sleet, their drenched lips pursed in an ice-encrusted O around their life-giving tubes, I can't help but feel a pang of guilt. What have they done to deserve being pelted with hailstones and arctic temperatures? Couldn't I at least give them a closet in which to enjoy their hobby?

Smokers share the only real sense of community left in the workplace. You can see it in their eyes, that common bond of persecution. One of my smoking friends tells me that smokers suffer less stress, since they actually take a few breaks a day. Man, I usually don't even take lunch.

And let's throw out the second-hand smoke argument right now. What in Hell's name does that mean? "Second-hand smoke" is purely a phrase of the 90's: forlorn, victimized. "How can I protect myself from that awful cancer when all this second-hand smoke is riddling me with disease?!" Observation: second-hand bullets seem slightly more hazardous to your health, but no one seems concerned with outlawing them.

"Good Lord, what's that in your pocket, son?"
"Just a gun, mister."
"Oh! I thought it might be some cigarettes! All right! Run along then, young scamp."

Any ten impartial observers will tell you that it's cool to smoke. Can you picture a real artist or hacker that doesn't smoke? One that might drink healthful fruit shakes and exercise regularly? Answer: no.

Travel to any European country and you'll realize how impoverished and diseased we are, with our smoke-free zones and smokeless workplaces. You can't walk outside without someone blowing a fag in your face, without choking in that glorious nicotine haze. The way life should be.

Smokers support the economy by paying all that tax. I remember my fourth grade teacher saying, "If you saved all the money the average smoker spends on cigarettes, you could buy a new car every year." I guess it stands to reason, then, that we non-smokers are polluting the planet with our new cars, while the dirt-poor smokers walk to work each day.

A lot of the bad P.R. gets pushed on the cigarettes themselves: Cancer Sticks. Nails In The Coffin. Death Tubes. I say, give 'em some pep! Quit being so dismal! Why not call them Relaxation Rolls? Or Love Sticks? Howzbout Your Passport To Bliss?

Perhaps we could find a compromise by having all the smokers switch over to those little beige nicotine patches, effectively shifting the balance of power from evil corporate tobacco companies to evil corporate pharmaceutical companies. It would let us whiny non-smokers breathe in peace, but still be able to feel righteously superior. "I hear he has a two patch a day habit," we could say, solemnly shaking our heads back and forth. "His poor children. I'll bet they can't even run a mile in gym class."

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