Have a Smoke, Brother

The NYT says:
THIS weekend, the singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen is celebrating his 80th birthday — with a cigarette. Last year he announced that he would resume smoking when he turned 80. “It’s the right age to recommence,” he explained.

At any age, taking up smoking is not sensible. Both the smoker and those who breathe his secondhand smoke can suffer not only long-term but acute health problems, including infections and asthma. And yet, Mr. Cohen’s plan presents a provocative question: When should we set aside a life lived for the future and, instead, embrace the pleasures of the present?
I took up smoking cigars when I went to Iraq, and largely -- nearly entirely -- gave it up after coming back. But I figured, how much worse could the cigar be than the polluted, dust-filled air we were breathing anyway? And it was the only pleasure General Order #1 licensed, so we often smoked cigars together in the rare moments of rest. Finally, when the sky drops rockets and mortars and heavy-caliber rounds on you regularly, who gives a damn about the threat of cancer twenty years on?

Now that I'm home, and for as long as I stay, I'll smoke less -- as I said, very nearly not at all. Just once in a while, to remember bold men and brothers. That's worth any tiny risk coming from the rare single smoke, that memory almost like being with them once again.

Most likely I'll be lucky to live long enough for it to threaten me, as has always been the case. Best to live that way, anyhow. Cuts down on the meddlers trying to tell you how you ought to live.


douglas said...

I believe one needs also factor in the stress reduction benefits of sitting and relaxing with a cigar (and usually a drink and friends). A couple of those a year seems a beneficial trade off to me.

Ymar Sakar said...

And it was the only pleasure General Order #1 licensed, so we often smoked cigars together in the rare moments of rest.

No logistical support for Starbucks and other coffee?

nicotine and caffeine seem pretty similar in the stimulant category.

Texan99 said...

I say this about regular, long-term, heavy cigarette smoking, not about the occasional cigar:

Lung cancer is a bit of a long shot, but emphysema and congestive heart failure are a nearly certain fate. If I'm lucky enough to live into my 70s or longer, I'd just as soon not be crippled by damaged lungs and heart. That's the image that's most likely to keep me from ever lighting another cigarette.

Eric Blair said...

Coffee isn't a pleasure, it is a necessity.

Had two relatives go down to emphysema from long term cigarette smoking. Not a pretty thing.

Grim said...

I never smoked cigarettes, and I do respect that there are reasons why a person might choose to avoid them even at 80. Still, I find the tone irritating: "At any age, taking up smoking is not sensible."

Grim said...


There was no Starbucks in Iraq that I ever saw. However, on Victory Base and a few other places -- FOB Falcon had one -- there was a coffee shop called "Green Beans." Now, as you may know, coffee beans can be picked green or ripe, but the green ones are terribly bitter and produce a coffee of a much lower quality. Places like Brazil where the traditional means of picking involves shaking the trees tend to end up with lots of green beans in the coffee, as opposed to the higher quality (but more expensive) coffees that are picked by hand and select only ripe beans.

So it was a very appropriate name, even though it was intended as a pun on the uniform ("'Green' Beans! Get it!"). They had one coffee I did like, though, which was called the MOAC ("Mother of All Coffees"). It was four shots of espresso poured into a giant cup of black coffee.

E Hines said...

We got in our MREs something the USAF was pleased to call "coffee." It did have caffeine, though.

Eric Hines

DL Sly said...

MH took up cigars as well in Iraq. He, too, only smokes them occasionally to commemorate, to remember, to celebrate, etc.

As to the effects of smoking, etc. my family history lends to me the foreknowledge that it's a crap shoot. My father smoked and drank heavily for the vast majority of his 80 yrs on the planet. Yes, he had effects from it, but he lived until he was 80.
His sister? Did everything right. Never smoked. Rarely drank. (And this for someone who was on the country music circuit and the Grand Ol' Opry during the '60's & 70's) When her doc told her to change something in her diet, it was done with extreme rigidity.
She got breast cancer.
My mother drank so rarely that she could smell alcohol at 20 paces. (Which made coming home drunk as a teenager rather difficult.) And smoked for many years, but gave it up fairly early in her life. Plenty long enough for her lungs to have cleaned themselves. She did everything the docs said to do and really suffered few ill effects from it, yet still got lung cancer which she beat twice before it finally took her.

Lesson? Live your life in the now with an eye to the future and an ear to the past.

Ymar Sakar said...

Sounds interesting, Grim. I usually take coffee only when I need a boost, although in the mornings it can certainly cut down on the vagueness due to lack of sleep.

The bitter taste was similar to beer years ago (though not now), and to get rid of it, I used milk, to counter act some of the essences. It also cut down on how fast it would enter the blood stream and increase the water volume needed for each dosage of caffeine. 80% volume milk cooled, for maybe 20% of coffee diluted with hot water. Substituted for water, if you had the right bacteria in the gut.

I have not tried adding soy milk to coffee, but it would be convenient to have a liquid that doesn't spoil sometimes. Especially in 110 F temperatures.

Stimulants like caffeine and nicotine does seem to increase worker productivity. Dystopian sci fi used to talk about things like soma or other drugs that make workers better. As far as I know, that wasn't necessary given low impact stimulants people already used. And it's not even mandatory that they take it.

Grim said...

Try brewing your coffee with a pinch of salt or baking soda mixed into the grounds. It'll take the bitterness right out, and give the beans a fuller flavor.

E Hines said...

Live your life in the now with an eye to the future and an ear to the past.

Two out of three isn't bad. Satchel Paige: Don't look back, something might be gaining on you.

Franco: The first rule of Italian driving: what's behind me is not important.

Separately, Try brewing your coffee with a pinch of salt or baking soda mixed into the grounds.

There's an Italian restaurant I frequent that adds a dash of cinnamon to their coffee pot. I've never been able to duplicate the ratio, though I've come close.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

It sounds like the Paige and Franco rules are in conflict.

Cinnamon in coffee is also good. Maybe salted cinnamon would be best of all!

E Hines said...

Paige and Franco disagree only in why it's wasted effort in looking back--they agree on the major thing: don't bother looking back.

When I get the cinnamon right, I'll try the salt addition. Right now it's an expensive cup of coffee at the restaurant--except that I like the food and the wait staff, too, so I'm not only buying the coffee.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

Try them separately, if you like. It might give you a sense of how to combine them. Or it might be the combination that works.

douglas said...

"Coffee isn't a pleasure, it is a necessity."

Amen, a thousand times. Which also makes it good news that it's good for you- especially three to four cups a day, apparently.

I've always liked a little bit of edge to things- black coffee, dark beer- probably from how I learned to drink coffee- as a child I'd steal Mom's leftover, cold, eighth-of-a-cup still in her mug. Still like it luke-warm to cold, and still don't like to contaminate my coffee with cream or sugar. Mexicans like a kind of spiced coffee called 'Cafe de Olla', which has cinnamon in it, and as coffee with contaminants goes, is quite good. Maybe that Italian restaurant is doing something like that, Eric.

My wife drinks what I call 'melted coffee ice cream', it's got so much cream and sugar in it.

I'll have to try the salt or baking soda thing though- had never heard that one.

DL Sly said...

"Two out of three isn't bad. Satchel Paige: Don't look back, something might be gaining on you."

Which is why you keep your eyes to the future, but keep listening to the past so you always remember those lessons.

E Hines said...

keep listening to the past so you always remember those lessons.

Nah--Franco had it right on that score. Besides I already know all those answers, actual facts would only confuse the matter.

Picasso's (not related to the chain--and it's actually run by an Albanian family, members of whom take turns going to Italy looking for ideas) doesn't sweeten its coffee at all. A customer actually has to ask for sugar; there's nothing of the sort on the table.

Eric Hines

DL Sly said...

"Besides I already know all those answers, actual facts would only confuse the matter."

Sounds suspiciously like a certain teenaged VES....

Gringo said...

Re good habits/bad habits. I am reminded of my late uncle. True to his Celtic background, he liked to indulge in alcoholic beverages. IIRC, in his later years this meant a drink at lunch and a drink at dinner.

Maybe it was more. I don't remember, though I don't recall being in a drunken stupor when I visited him.

His daughter tried unsuccessfully to stop his use of alcoholic beverages. She considered my uncle an alcoholic. At one time he might have been.

Alcoholic or not, my uncle lived to the ripe old age of 88, so the booze couldn't have hurt him that much.

One thing that assisted his longevity was that he made regular trips to a gym to work out.

Ymar Sakar said...

I thought the salt jar was the sugar one one time, so I poured most of it in. Taste was weird though. A good experiment to redo though, perhaps.

Grim said...

It doesn't work if you add the salt after it's brewed. :) It has to do with the way the water is chemically altered by the presence of the salt. Add the salt to the unbrewed grounds.

Ymar Sakar said...

Sounds complicated. Might as well learn the Japanese tea ceremony, since brewing coffee sounds way too time intensive.

At least some of the tea tastes better now and I can drink it. Raw or black coffee is still out there on the prohibited substance list for me.