At Two Swords’ Length: Can I Get a Light?
Written by Bwog Staff
The Autumn issue of The Blue & White, our parent magazine is out! You can get it from many of the campus buildings, including Lerner and Hamilton, and also read it on the “Internet” at theblueandwhite.org! Here, Senior Editor Anna Bahr and Bwog Senior Contributor Alexandra Svokos discuss the relative merits of sharing or withholding your cigarettes.
Yes, in fact. It was so decent of you to compliment my silly sequined shoes. I just picked them up at this little thrift shop—someone at Urban Outfitters must have copied the design—and thought they were adorable. It’s the little things, you know? And do you need a cigarette, too, or will this little spark suffice? Yes, of course, help yourself!
Oh, a dollar! That’s so sweet, and also 30 cents more than this Marlboro Light. I always take heart when a stranger offers money for a cigarette; you’ve acknowledged that you’re taking something, and thus owe something. Not to mention that it goes towards my next pack.
Now, you don’t have to stand off to the side, uncomfortably trying to avoid me as if we did not just have some engage in some social interaction and material exchange. Sure, cigarettes are bad, but they can have positive effects for your emotional health, when used appropriately. Studies say lack of social interaction shortens your life by three and a half years—as much as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. If I have two cigarettes and I give you one, we will still collectively have two cigarettes. But if I give you one cigarette and we converse for some time, we will collectively have two cigarettes and seven extra years of life.
So tell me something interesting. You’re on the eighth page of your fourteen-page paper due tomorrow—what an accomplishment! I’m writing something, too. It’s a one-paragraph analysis of a supply and demand graph. Well, yes, I realize it’s shorter than yours, but I always find it takes so much more effort to write these short papers. What are you, an English major? See, you must not understand “effort” in the same sense as those of us who will be applying to real jobs after graduation. Hah! I kid. Nevertheless, I must admit it’s heartening to have someone like you ask for a cigarette. I can tell you are truly panicked about finishing that paper, such that you don’t even have the time to buy your own pack of cigarettes like a normal person. You do realize Duane Reade is open 24 hours? As I was saying, seeing someone as jittery as you desperately seeking a little drag of comfort calms me. It reminds me that I’m not in such dire straits, and that even if I were, I wouldn’t have to beg for relief.
You have clearly put me in a position of power. To put it in economic terms you probably won’t understand: this is a monopoly, and I am entirely in control. I know you are going to want another cigarette, so you’re going to have to sit here and entertain me a little longer. Maybe I don’t feel like starting that analysis just yet.
Wait! Don’t go back inside quite yet. Listen, you gave me a measly dollar for this cigarette that took so much effort for me to obtain, and now it will be a shorter time before I have to buy more. New York State levies a monetary tax on cigarettes to make up for the negative externalities associated with smoking, and I levy a social tax on bummed cigarettes to reach the my optimal balance of physical and emotional health.
Yours is finished? Here, take another—I’m really enjoying swapping ideas with you. Wait—I’m out.
No. Right off the bat, no. Because I spotted you when you stepped out of the library, empty-handed, sizing up your prey. And when you sidle up to me and my cancer stick with that infuriatingly sheepish smile, I know exactly what you want. Your entirely disingenuous compliment on the dumb sequiney-shoes that I purchased before realizing that everyone I know in New York who has ever emoted about their future “life in Bushwick” found something similar on eBay (read: Urban Outfitters), is all too transparent. Your odds would have been better, maybe, if you had come out and asked me directly, but instead you insist on striking up some facile conversation. You don’t really care how I’m doing, and I don’t care to tell you.
I’m not going to pretend that my refusal is at all altruistic. “My blackened lungs are well on their way to collapse! Save yourself!” Please. You’re an adult; it’s absolutely your prerogative to cripple your respiratory system. You are not simply asking me for a cigarette. There is of course the economic end: New York boasts the highest tobacco prices in the country by at least two dollars. A single, precious Marlborough Light costs about 70 cents. I fail to see why I should be taxed for unsolicited social interactions with strangers. And don’t you dare put me in the position of turning down your hard-earned dollar.
But my discomfort stems more from the brief intimacy you’re forcing between two barely peripheral friends. Our “friendship” is predicated upon my possession of something you desperately want. If I give in and offer you a cigarette, I’m allowing you to smoke me down and stub me out in the two minutes it takes to burn through whatever shallow conversation you’ve contrived. Yes, I did know that Hey Arnold! is now on Netflix Instant. You are using me. We both know it, and I have too much self-respect (and too voracious an appetite for my filtered Golds) to roll over and endure a kinship born of your convenience.
The worst part isn’t even that our relationship is transactional: it’s that you see us as entirely separate breeds. Though we may share synchronized loooong drags and exhales, we’re both negative ends of the magnet, babe. You thrive on that stalwart superiority complex carefully cultivated around one suspect truth: you don’t really smoke. Your smoking is a foolproof passport out of uncomfortable conversation. At worst, it’s a social convenience, an excuse to waste a little time and chew the fat. But, you’re a rational person–smoking isn’t financially sustainable! I’m the fool still willing to cough up a twenty for a pack knowing full well Humphrey Bogart died coughing up a lung. Why buy when you can bum?
I may sport a bad nicotine habit, but yours, dear mooch, is equally nasty. When I reach for my pack, I’m looking to spark up a cigarette, not a conversation. I’m not crying for attention, or asking to be approached. I finally got to page eight of my fourteen page paper and it is 4 am. I’m tired, I’m cranky, and this cigarette is the brightest moment of my morning so far. You are infringing upon my brief, perfect, moment of solace.
So, no, I’m not going to apologize for my well-justified white lie: “So sorry, my dude. I’m down to my last one!”