Smokers Get All the Breaks

Remember matches?

Remember matches?

For various reasons, including some good ones, I have moved in mainly smoke-free circles for most of my life. Every once in a while, seeing someone with that fiery little tube between lips or fingers can startle me to attention, as if I’d just seen a rare bird or a quaint way of dressing. But I’ve also noticed enough workplace smoking areas to be convinced that smokers may be smarter than the rest of us. Really.

It was Wanda that got me thinking about it first. She was the professeur de français, a precise and careful woman who was also a dedicated smoker. It seemed incongruous to me, given her fastidious habits of diet and dress. After all, I was the “healthy” one, the school’s basketball coach, a guy who tried to keep an ex-athletic body in some kind of tune. We worked in a sparkling new high school with a total climate-control system, not an open window in the place.

“Time for a fix,” I’d smirk as Wanda left for the parking lot. Like the men on staff who smoked, she sat in her car, or drove around town if there were likely to be giggling grade nines or over-confident seniors lurking about. Sometimes I felt sorry for her. But then I’d find myself leaving school after practice, maybe even after the community house league games ended at 10 p.m., and I’d realize that I had breathed only recycled oxygen since early that morning. I’d barely seen the sun all day.

Continue Reading >>

In the Village

I went to Beijing and all I got was this gorgeous chocolate…

I wrote recently about the extremes of wealth and poverty that may, at a certain level of unremitting seriousness, be the essence of professional sport. Sport is not the reason I came to Beijing, but here I am, in one of the Chinese capital’s many little shrines to conspicuous wealth.

SanlitunVillage. I assume there must have been a village here once, but now it’s something rather other: sexy Adidas megastore with giant photos of a steely-eyed David Beckham; Godiva Chocolates, where I lost

The shopping heart of Sanlitun, from the street. The “bar street” is to the right, Soho luxury highrises are behind and to the left of us, and spending is dead ahead.

my mind and my dietary determination just twenty minutes ago; Starbucks, naturally; McDonald’s, ubiquitous and inevitable, but almost shamefaced in the basement among the more glittering expressions of European, American and Chinese wealth; a Megabox cinema (five posters of a kneeling, battered and helmet-less Robert W. Ironman are leering at me as I write, but I ain’t goin’); and, off to the side, “Sanlitun Bar Street” which I walked towards after leaving Godiva’s in a chocoholic swoon – two quick solicitations for “lady bar, mister? lady massage?” got me back into the den of conspicuous consumption and away from the pits of addictive loneliness. Ah, escape.

Continue Reading >>