August 14, 2012

A Story

I was riding the bus to school one morning, when a fellow next to me spoke up. Now I, personally, am a fan of urban solitude, a believer that my presence in a public place does not demarcate my desire for interaction with strangers. But fortunately, not everyone is like me, and he was one of those. He was dressed rather nicely, dress shoes and pants, a nicely ironed shirt, complete with a tie. In his style of dress, he was disregarding the summer heat in the way that is the very mark of respectability. Like I said, not everyone is like me.

He inquired as to whether I smoked Camels. I indicated to him that not only did I not have any Camels, I didn't have any cigarettes, and that he'd have to ask someone else. But this reply was not found satisfactory. He hadn't asked, after all, if I had Camels, he'd asked if I smoked them. A tad perplexed, I told him that no, I didn't smoke, not that it was any of his business. That final clause, fortunately, got lost somewhere between my brain and my tongue.

Issuing a response at first seemed to be a mistake on my part, for it appeared that I'd turned what could have been a perfectly pleasant bus ride, during which I could have read, or stared out the window, or worried about my exams, or whatever, into something quite bizarre indeed. For I had encountered a man, it would seem, who not only smoked Camels, but was a Camels salesman. Stranger still, he didn't do it for money (as, I thought, most did), but rather out of compassion. For he was convinced that smoking Camels, if done properly, was the key to immortality. Now I had not personally performed the scientific studies, but this hypothesis would not be one I'd have thought to advance. On this point, I was sorely in need of an education, which he considered it his duty to provide.

I proved to be, I'm afraid, rather dense, particularly in comparison with my interlocutor. I thought, at first, that his reasoning was perhaps circular. Such notions soon proved to be false. Circles are, ironically, rather straightforward. But his reasoning had such fluidity, now flowing one way, now another, now jumping somewhere new altogether, now flying down a path already traveled but in the opposite direction, that, as someone whose mind often struggles to proceed in even a linear fashion, I never stood a chance.

Recognizing this, the man resorted to simple repeated, again and again, that if I smoked Camels, I would live forever. Of course, he had an expansive vocabulary at the tip of his tongue, and indeed proved as agile in his use of the English language as one can be while saying the same thing over and over. He said it with a smile. He said it with a frown. He said it as a threat. He said it as if it was the only reward I could possibly want. Between his verbal acrobatics, his inscrutable reasoning, and his fancy shirt, I finally saw the light.

And oh, the light! The hope! A pack a day, every day, and I would never fade away! I was transformed. A new man! I looked upon the world with fresh eyes. How dismal had been my life, before being shown the path. And if I had any compassion in me, I would lead others down that very same path. So I began. I became the most enthusiastic Camels salesman this planet has ever seen. Door to door I went, extolling to men, women, and especially to children, the health benefits of huffing Camels. What purpose, What meaning I had found!

I came to a very busy road I hadn't yet crossed. It was the kind of road just small enough that the powers-that-be could provide a little crosswalk and pretend to expect pedestrians to safely cross, but just big enough that you couldn't quite be sure if it was ever necessary to scrape the inevitable roadkill off the tar, or if it simply disintegrated in seconds under the tires of dozens of vehicles whose drivers were always in such a hurry to be anywhere but there. It was the kind of road, in other words, that one does not cross without questioning one's motives, whether one is hen or human.

Fortunately, the motive of immortality can induce dangerous behavior indeed, so across I went. At the first house I came to, a woman answered the door, with her small daughter. Now I'd perfected my sales pitch by this time, and I had found it best to state my claim immediately. Smoking Camels, I informed her, would permit her to live forever. She frowned. But as she neither stopped me nor closed her door, I continued, retracing my savior's reasoning as best as my limited abilities would allow. It wasn't long before she quietly interrupted.

Quietly, that is, with regard to volume. Not with regard to the content, for the content was not quiet at all. I was informed in several distinct but ultimately similar sentences, that all I had stated was useful only for the growing of crops, and useful for that only if composted correctly, for that was the only possible utility found in such farm-animal excrement. It should be marked as a rare credit to my deductive capabilities that I figured she wasn't actually giving me farming advice.

But it didn't end there. I was told about all sorts of scientific studies purportedly showing that Camels were unhealthy. I was instructed in the unpleasantness of heart disease, stroke, and a whole variety of cancers that Camels cause. Contrary to saving lives, she believed that Camels ended them. I could tell she was a lost cause, so I wrapped up our encounter. As I moved away, she lit two cigarettes, took one for herself and handed the other to her daughter.

It was then that I was informed, I had entered Marlboro Country.

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