Report from the Badlands

A reformed smoker's payback

Here in New Idria, everyone smokes like old coal-powered locomotives – tobacco, that is. (Please don’t send in letters asking what else everyone smokes. I wouldn’t know.)

My entire family smokes cigarettes, and we’re not proud of it, but we are hopelessly addicted to nicotine – clinically proven to be 10 times more addictive than heroin – and every one of us is neurotic enough that all attempts at quitting have flopped miserably. Even the two drug rehab residents living in the ghost town of the New Idria Mercury Mine smoke roll-your-owns, and start howling in the night when the San Jose supply truck is overdue.

When my brother Kemp made that city ordinance some time ago requiring anyone who entered New Idria’s “sphere of influence” to chain-smoke, everyone living in the area was already an experienced smoker.

So imagine my smugness toward everyone when I quit smoking a month ago and flagrantly broke the ordinance.

“You smoke and I don’t,” I would go around and say to everyone.

“You are a slave to that stick of evil nicotine,” I blathered on incessantly.

Then I would suck in a huge breath of air and comment on how clean my lungs were compared to theirs. It was brutal and incessant, and I felt more pious than the kind of idiot who thinks getting up out of bed any time after the crack of dawn on weekends shows weakness of character.

I started to gain weight, of course, but I didn’t care because I was so much better than everyone else.

“I’m getting your second-hand smoke!” I barked at my brother during an Orange Acres City Council meeting. I was sucking on a lollipop.

“Don’t blow it back at me,” he offered. “I’m getting your tertiary smoke.”

There is nothing worse than a reformed smoker or drinker who has to make everyone around them just as miserable as they are.

Just then, everything fell apart. During the meeting, in which I was growing increasingly edgy, the button popped off of my jacket. It was the last straw to break my back.

“That’s it!” I announced. “Give me a cigarette, and now.”

Everyone looked at me with a blank expression and Kemp snubbed out his cig in our grotesquely huge communal hubcap ashtray.

“I think I just smoked the last one,” he snorted.

It was painfully true. Everyone else had been suffering in silence for the past several days waiting for our cigarette shipment to come in. We order them from out-of-state Indian reservations in order to avoid the absurd California “sin tax” our elected lawgivers have placed on the little coffin nails. We get the econo-brand: “Smokin’ Joes.” They are one-fourth the price of regular cigarettes, but don’t have the ammonia, saltpeter, sulfur and other goodies that the tobacco industry loads into their premium brands. Smokin’ Joes taste like muratic acid.

Alas, Kemp had smoked the last Smokin’ Joe.

I grabbed the City Hall gavel from Mayor Orange the Cat and slammed it down.

“This here meeting is adjourned!” I hollered.

Kemp was already scouring the ashtrays for “snipes,” or cigarette butts, and my sister Mel, the City Manager and Tambourine Virtuoso, offered me some Nicorette nicotine gum.

It was like chewing on a dirty sock from the Taliban army.

Suddenly, I remembered an emergency pack with one cig left in it that I had left weeks ago in the now dead Jeep Wrangler, marooned on lower level.

“The Jeep!” I blurted, and spat out the wad of torturous gum.

“Last one there’s a rotten egg – or a raving nicotine-jonesing lunatic!” Kemp yelled as he bounded down the side of the muddy hill. Everyone piled after him, including Mel and her tambourine, myself, Lawnmower Man on his one-seater lawnmower, all six welfare bum dogs and Mayor Orange. It was a frenetic rush to grab the last known existing cigarette in New Idria.

Lawnmower tried to cut off everyone, zigzagging down the muddy 80-degree slope. Mel was neck and neck with Kemp in the lead, and she even managed to rattle out a tune during the race: “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

I fell smack on my ass onto a mudslide, and “mud balled” down the rest of the hill.

But it was Mayor Orange who got to the Jeep first. We all arrived just in time to see him pop out the window with the cigarette pack in his jaws, like he was running away with a fresh gopher in his mouth. It was demoralizing, humiliating.

I had lasted only two days not smoking, but in the end I learned that quitting smoking is easy. I now do it every night before I go to bed.

San Carlos Creek Update: We are now trying to grow tobacco on the banks of the polluted, mercury-riddled toxic orange creek.

As we stooped and sweated over our garden hoes, Mayor Orange the Cat sauntered by us with that last cigarette in New Idria tucked smartly behind his ear. What a cruel cornball.

Last week the tobacco finally sprouted. It came up orange.

Comments about the Badlands? Email Kate “Puff Daddy” Woods at [email protected]

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