In the past decades, smokers have been increasingly hemmed-in, physically, culturally, financially. Now, you can basically only find them huddled between two skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan. The Times takes a look at these curiosities: New York's last smokers.
They stand in ever-shrinking clusters all over New York, their turf continually circumscribed, or so it seems. A few months ago, a new sign went up at the MetLife buildings: No smoking within 25 feet. The smokers, by now regulated into submission, mostly complied by moving from the front door to the side of the building. When it rains, they crowd under a tiny overhang near the loggia and hope the security guard won't shoo them away like loiterers at a convenience store.
These folks seem both painfully aware of the modern revulsion of cigarettes and bewildered by the new smoke-free world they find themselves living in. One guy tells the reporter "My doctor used to smoke in the office with me. Now he says, 'you know I have to tell you to stop smoking.'"
They come across as a sad, pre-modern cult who self-consciously align themselves with ritual over scientific knowledge. Their daily treks down from the towers are a symbolic throwback to a time when nobody knew that cigarettes killed you: One woman started in Romania, her homeland, "where everyone smoked"; another remembers buying two packs a day for his dad. Where ancient people marked time by the phases of the moon, these smokers' lives are divided into periods of planning to quit, trying to quit, giving up on quitting and feeling bad about not quitting.
Have we really reached a point where smokers no longer take even perverse pride in ignoring the medical developments of the last 40 years? Who gives a shit if you smoke. (Well, except your kids and family, and taxpayers who have to subsidize your emphysema treatments.) Just own it! There was this picture in the Portland Oregonian last year: A runner, covered in sweat, lighting up after winning a 5 kilometer race. That's how you fucking smoke. Pop your collar, lean against a nearby lightpole (25 feet away from the nearest entrance) and blow smoke rings in death's stupid face.