August 22, 2005

Coffee and cigarettes

As promised (in the comments of a previous entry, so if you don't know what I'm talking about, what's your problem? Too fancy to read comments, are you?), here is the story of my time on the front lines of cigarette-related activism.

This was back in the early days of the smoking ban in restaurants. My then-girlfriend Cheryl and I were delighted about the ban, because, you know -- cigarette smoke smells gross! I don't even like smelling it when I'm not eating. I am certainly not some bluenose who thinks people shouldn't be allowed to smoke; hell, I'd be perfectly happy if restaurants had a section for people who wanted to shoot up heroin. (No smoke, and the people would be nice and quiet.)

But we lived in the East Village, home to many people who smoke a lot and like to think that they are rebels, maaaaan -- so there were a lot of people with no interest in obeying the new law. Once, Cheryl and I and our friend Charles were at Sidewalk (a hipster bastion of a restaurant) and a woman at the next table lit up. And Sidewalk was one of the few restaurants that actually had a smoking section! (In another room, with separate ventilation, as required.) You will be unsurprised to learn that we were not sitting in that smoking section. Cheryl asked the woman to put her cigarette out and she replied, "No hablo inglés." But she learned how to speak English pretty quickly when I tried to grab the cigarette out of her mouth! Or maybe "Hey, what are you doing?" was the first sentence in her Spanish-to-English phrasebook. Eventually a waitress came over and the woman grudgingly put out her cigarette (only, of course, after arguing with the waitress for quite some time, and continuing to smoke all the while).

The more memorable incident happened at the Cooper Square Restaurant on 5th Street (where we once met Quentin Crisp). The restaurant (which has since moved to the other side of Second Avenue) had a seating area that was almost-but-not-quite outside, in an area that would normally be taken up with sidewalk, but completely glassed in. At the table next to ours, one of the windows to the street was open, and one of the two men sitting there lit up a cigarette. We tried to ignore it, but having the window open was doing nothing to help ventilate the smoke; really, the wind was just blowing the smoke back inside. We called over the waiter, pointed out the problem, and asked him to tell the guy to stop; the waiter went over, talked, and came back with a shrug. "The window is open..." he lamely explained, clearly having been too timid to stand up to the guy.

Soon we were having our argument directly with the smoker, and with a guy at another table who felt a need to chime in and question our love of civil liberties. It was pret-ty annoying, I tell you what, to be asking for something very simple -- that someone please not smoke in a place that they are not supposed to smoke -- and then to be attacked after the waiter has thrown you to the wolves. We were fed up, and left without ordering. That might have been the end of it, but as we walked past the windows, the chant beloved by vindictive twits everywhere began: "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye."

Obviously, I couldn't let these people have the last word. I stalked back, leaned in the window and explained, "Look. It's very simple. You're smoking in a restaurant, which is against the law. Spitting in someone's coffee is perfectly legal, though, I believe." And I spat in his coffee. (And it was a juicy one.)

Having done this, I was vaguely concerned about, oh, getting punched in the face, but the smoking guy really just looked kind of stunned and nonplussed; and there was silence. And there continued to be silence (at least until we were out of earshot). It felt great.

Posted by Francis at 03:25 PM

I love it!

Ick, smoking.

Posted by: Ellen at August 22, 2005 05:05 PM

A vigilante with a bon mot and a loogie! A delectable combination.

Posted by: Orange at August 22, 2005 05:50 PM

Ah ha ha ha! Harlan Ellison has a similar story, which ends with him tossing some woman's lit cigarette into her person. Awesome.

Now go after people the people speaking on their cell phones at the top of their lungs.

Posted by: Toonhead! at August 22, 2005 08:16 PM

Ha! Great story! One day we were out walking and my husband threw a guy's cig back into his open truck window. fight ensued.

Posted by: samalee at August 22, 2005 11:01 PM

You met Quentin Crisp? Did you touch him? I hope you didn't wash that hand, mister....

Posted by: Mona Buonanotte at August 22, 2005 11:07 PM

Er I meant into her PURSE as it burned its way down! Oy.

Posted by: Toonhead! at August 23, 2005 07:07 AM

Wow. That's, like, the coolest thing I've ever heard. You are my hero. Just the spitting would have been sort of juvenile, but with that line... wow.

I'm curious about one thing, though. *Is* spitting in someone's coffee actually legal? I mean, it seems like *some* law ought to cover that.

By the way, you should write this up in a form suitable for mainstream publication. Surely some magazine would pay you a pittance for it. But you would know better than I.

Posted by: Rick at August 23, 2005 04:04 PM

Ah, the usual feeling... the lone voice of dissent in the wilderness.

Consider for a moment that the smokers of the world are made to feel like they have done something wrong just by their choice to enjoy tobacco.

Also consider the fact that this "hatred" of the smell of cigarettes is conditioned by our society from early childhood- I would argue it isn't a natural preference.

Consider that even today, DARE Police officers tell their young charges to go home and tell smoking parents and relatives that they are (insert italics here for emphasis) DRUG USERS.

Consider that all the stats you've heard on second hand smoke are pretty much jacked up BULLSH*T to ram legislation through lawmaking bodies and drive more profits for insurance companies.

Consider that former Surgeon General Koop said that nicotine is as addictive as heroin (yes, I do wake up 4 to 6 times during my sleep to get my fix... suure...)- which is a falsehood at best and blatant propoganda at worst.

Consider that it's smokers who are today's pariahs... who will be tomorrow's? Puzzle creators? Songwriters? Tunafish sandwich lovers? (I personally would vote for the latter).

Consider that all the above may be irrelevant, and is just the ramblings of an angry smoker who is tired of being told when and where I may enjoy my habit, and tired of hiding it from all DARE-graduated youth who would esteem me less than a crack whore.

Pass the peace pipe please.

Posted by: Scarff aka Rick at August 25, 2005 02:02 AM

Scarff, you know I support your right to wear nicotine patches in public places as much as you want.

Posted by: Francis at August 25, 2005 02:32 AM

Point to Francis.

Speaking of addictive substances, you haven't given us a new post for three days or a new cartoon for seven days. Hands shaking...gait unsteady...irritability increasing. Must...have...more...Heaneyland. Give us the purple goodness, oh yes.

(Is it possible that smoking isn't just a "lifestyle choice"? Hey, maybe they're born that way.)

Posted by: Orange at August 25, 2005 12:02 PM

I know, I know, I am a bad blogger. But it's not because of my mood! I've actually been feeling suddenly much better over the past few days. I've just been stoopid busy; I think I've gotten about 14 hours of sleep total over the past three nights and I'm still way behind on my freelance jobs. At least I just finished up one of them (article for Cargo) and got the OK to take the week off on the other (Radar ticker); now I just have to fact-check those 50-some remaining flash games and finish editing the most badly written puzzle book ever and oh, right, my day job. It's actually been going pretty smoothly, being the emergency backup copy chief, but having only three people around instead of the usual four means that we hardly ever get breathing room during the day. I am very very much looking forward to next week.

Posted by: Francis at August 25, 2005 12:14 PM

What'd you do for Cargo? Perhaps a handy buyer's guide to crossword books? Or some literary parody? (No?)

"The most badly written puzzle book ever"? Do tell! I can keep a secret.

Posted by: Orange at August 25, 2005 08:15 PM

I reviewed a bunch of robots; sadly, I did not get to keep the Aibo.

Posted by: Francis at August 25, 2005 08:17 PM

Returning to the public-smoker theme, my new next-door neighbor doesn't want to stink up his condo with smoke, so he smokes outside, quite legally. And then the smoke wafts in my back door, or through the front windows, and pisses me off. It's not even a smell that a nonsmoker could possibly appreciate, like Marlboros—it's some nasty-ass, stanky, unfiltered cigarette smell. Do you feel my pain? (P.S. Mona has posted some nutty poems.)

Posted by: Orange at August 26, 2005 11:59 AM

Dear Scarff aka Rick, As an ex-smoker I sort of feel your pain but not really. Sorry to bust up your civil liberties, but smokers are pariahs because they blow toxic carcinogens (annoying at best and deadly at worst) into the public air for everyone else's unwanted consumption. Puzzle creators, songwriters, and tunafish sandwich lovers do not. Since battery and assault are against the law, I hope it's just a matter of time before spewing secondhand smoke is too.

Posted by: Irvingbaby at October 14, 2005 10:14 AM

All cars should be banned as well. why? Guess what, all the pollutants poured out of vehicle exhaust pipes is giving us cancer too.
Most large cities have air which is dangerous to breathe. This is not because of smokers.

I really think you should be getting menstrual about real problems, not just people having a smoke in a bloody cafe. How american!

And I'll tell you now, it may be legal to spit in peoples coffee (just like it's legal to kill thousands of innocent Iraqi children), but if you are ever unfortunate enough to do that to me in a cafe I promise it will be your teeth you will be spitting out. Smokers can be violent bastards, I hope you find that out soon!!

Get your head out of your arse you little prick! There are *real* problems in this world you should be concentrating on. Tosser!


PS. I fart in restaurants too, I believe that is still legal.

Posted by: Ivan at October 23, 2005 11:52 AM

Thanks for visiting!

Posted by: Francis at October 23, 2005 05:04 PM