Never take it for granted that people are assholes.
Because there’s ample evidence to justify your bias.
Nobody knows this more than an ex-smoker like me.
If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard for me to quit smoking, and why I ended up smoking two cigarettes this week, you don’t have to look far for the answer.
It’s your fault. For being an asshole.
You see, when a smoker gives up cigarettes, it’s like the scales fall from your eyes, man.
You start to perceive just how despicable everybody is. This new clarity of vision, curiously enough, improves in proportion to how much you want a cigarette. Who knew.
The fact is, everyone in your life, from your spouse and children, to your colleagues and friends, to your service professionals and spiritual advisers, is an asshole, more or less.
The active ingredient in tobacco, nicotine, is an insidious drug. It mimics Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter indirectly responsible for the idea that people you know are “not so bad”. This delusion metabolizes completely within 72 hours after your last cigarette. By a week in on your quit, your ability to perceive the truly insufferable character of everyone you knows has completely returned.
I’ve certainly noticed over the last week what many ex-smokers claim. Namely, that their ability to detect assholes is far keener than those who have never smoked.
I’ll give you an example. The dairy near my work. From August 2011 through Friday, October 12, I smoked just under a pack a day. Sometimes I’d go to the dairy near Fairfax media to buy some Marlboro Gold.
The place is owned by a recent immigrant family from somewhere in eastern Asia, probably China. Every time I came in, the entire family would stop what they were doing to greet me. The mother could be out back sorting stock, and the father in the toilet with diarrhea, and the cousin or daughter is in class down at Uni. When you come in they stop. Whatever they’re doing they’ll drop so they can come out to say hello. And you cannot proceed with any transaction until each member of the village is satisfied that they have made you feel at home in their shop.
The mother comes in from the stockroom saying hello, the father comes out of the toilet and says hello, and if the cousin or daughter can’t be there in person, she will at least call in to the store to make sure the customer understands just how seriously they take hospitality.
Back when I was a smoker, nicotine had me fooled into thinking this was a good thing. How thoughtful and caring did their small talk about the weather seem. Of course, now I realise how wrong I was. They weren’t being nice. They were cloying and solicitous and generally overbearing. They made the simple prospect of purchasing a tin of mints more like what I imagine the experience of being shivved in a prison exercise yard to be. And I owe this revelation to quitting cigarettes, which has given me an acuity few possess.
In the week since I’ve quit smoking, mostly, I’ve wondered, is it really necessary for the entire village to greet me every time I come in to purchase a $3.50 item? Wouldn’t it be preferable if there was a single representative to speak on behalf of the group, so as not to interrupt so many people in their work?
By the way, I suspect this is only partly due to cultural practices the family brought with them from China. The pervasive mercantile culture in Auckland ranges wildly. There are, of course, people that I like, such as the owner of Videon, and a few bartenders at the now re-done “Fat Controller”. But there are also people at clothing stores at the mall who say things like, “isn’t shopping at the mall great” ranging to a notorious real estate agent from Barfoot and Thompson,covering Mt Eden, Eden Terrace and Kingsland. If this agent shows you an apartment for rent, don’t ask her anything, like how many jackpoints are there, or what the square footage is, because her only answer is, “How should I know?”
This kind of insight has been opening my eyes since I mostly quit smoking. I say mostly because I did smoke a couple of cigarettes when I had to give a brief presentation on the sixth day since I’d gone cold turkey.
It was an awards presentation my magazine co-sponsored and I was meant to give a little pitch for the brand. The thing is that not only had nicotine sharpened my insight of the proclivity among all my acquaintances to being assholes.
My brain was also stirred with electrical activity. I became anxious, haunted by the strange thought that perhaps I should store my semen in a sperm bank, undergo a sex change operation, and have myself inseminated with my own seed, specifically so that I could claim both maternity and paternity leave and get the next 16 months off from work.
When I told Jacquie, a psychiatric nurse by profession, she wasn’t very surprised. But she did raise a good point.
“You might find that difficult,” she said. “How are you going to inseminate yourself when a sex change operation does not include a uterus?”
“I would insist on it,” I said.
And I would. Technically speaking, I was just asking for the right that every man and woman takes for granted whenever they successfully procreate: it’s the constitutional right to fuck myself by having a kid.
Plus, I’m a fighter. “Not without my child” is my motto.
Deep down, however, I knew Jacquie was right. The acquisition of a uterus was just a pipe dream.
It was in this nicotine-deprived and disappointed state of mind that I prepared my two-minute presentation for the awards show. I arrived for the rehearsal, which went by pretty quickly, and suddenly found myself with hours to kill before the event.
This wasn’t going to be a demanding presentation. But the idea of public speaking can sometimes have a deleterious effect on me. I count this as the main reason I never made it past the open mic circuit as a standup comedian. That, and I wasn’t funny.
This might have been because to cure stage fright, I would always drink heavily before my set. That way, by the time I got to the microphone, I was on the edge of blacking out. Which was really the most amusing part of my routine. It was just easy on Thursday to revert to my public presentation form. I drank two glasses of champagne before it was my turn to go up on stage.
The longer I waited the more anxious I became, and with these terrible thoughts off public embarrassment and asexual reproduction floating through my head, I caved, and purchased a $17 pack of cigarettes (not my brand) and smoked a cigarette, which immediately made me feel light-headed, but not quite euphoric, thanks to an overwhelming sense of nausea.
In fact, I was so green that during my two-minute presentation several member of the audience interrupted me, I think to see if I was ok or if I needed an ambulance. Pretty soon, it was over, though, and things returned to normal. Because I realized that everyone that interrupted my speech to see if were ok were actually a bunch of assholes.