Friday, January 20, 2017

“...and curse Sir Walter Raleigh, he was such a stupid get!” A 40-year anniversary of the day I quit smoking

Today is another anniversary for me. I have kept it in memory for 40 years. Because my wife was pregnant I quit smoking cigarettes on January 20, 1977. I made note of the date. I had smoked for ten years, at least two packs a day, and yet I was able to quit on my first try. (Hurrah for me.)

Well, amend that. It wasn't until the mid-'90s when I went on the anti-depressant, Wellbutrin (trade name for bupropion), that the cravings for nicotine left me for good. Bupropion is also marketed as Zyban, for smoking cessation. In my case Wellbutrin was working on two things at once.

 Stock photo of a couple of 1960s GI’s firing up their gaspers.

I had smoked off and on as a teenager, mostly with friends, but could go days or weeks without a cigarette. I was sent to Germany by the U.S. Army in May, 1967. When I got to my duty station I bought two cartons of cigarettes for $1.70 each. Individual packs were 17¢. (You folks who are smokers now are paying around $5.00 a pack, mostly because of taxes. We had no taxes on our cigarettes bought in the PX.)

I remember the day 50 years ago I realized I was addicted to cigarettes.  One evening we were on a field maneuver, and some old sarge gathered us around to talk to us. We had been listening to him talk for about a half hour when one of the guys couldn't stand it anymore and lit a cigarette. The sergeant told us, “Okay, if you want a smoke, go ahead and light up.” I lit up because I had a strong craving. I knew I was addicted. At that moment the nicotine drug had finally taken hold, and in a strange way I was relieved. No more playing around, I was a full-fledged smoker.

As is common with addictions, soon the addiction is running you and not the other way around. Until my wife got pregnant I had not intended to quit, or at least not quit until sometime in the future, but thinking of a baby growing up in a cloud of smoke (as I did, since my father was a smoker) made me determined to quit.

When I was a two-pack-a-day smoker it became a drag. Stinky cars, stinky clothes, stinky breath. Ugh. I wanted to change that. And then the writing was on the wall for all smokers. The clean air acts were being put into law, limiting where smokers could light up. The pariah status for smokers was slowly implemented over time.

When my doctors took my medical history and asked if I had ever smoked I told them I quit in 1977. As the years have gone by it seems less likely that there would be any lingering health effects. Maybe I’m wrong, but if I get lung cancer I don’t believe it will be as a result of my history of smoking half a century ago.

Over time we have learned that the companies that sold cigarettes were not only aware of the health risks and tried to deflect attention from them, but by careful study they knew exactly what the effects of the chemicals in cigarettes were doing to the human body.* They knew the mechanisms of nicotine addiction. One line that came from an employee of a big tobacco company stayed with me when he described cigarettes as “a nicotine delivery system.” Big Tobacco is a legal death dealer, and has never been made to pay the full price for its deadly deception and being the cause of thousands of deaths per year. There is nothing I can do about that but tell people not to start smoking just because you want to be cool, or look like all of the dopes who smoke in movies and TV shows.

*The Big Book of Vice is one of a series of “Factoids, ” drawn comics style, and published by Paradox Press, a division of DC Comics. A chapter in the book is devoted to tobacco and cigarettes. One four-page section of that chapter is about the tobacco companies that sacrificed their fellow citizens for profits. It is written by Steve Vance, and drawn by Seth Fisher.

Copyright © 1999 Steve Vance and Seth Fisher

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Life and Legend (and Art) of Wallace Wood

On a day in 1956, while Mom did her grocery shopping, I passed the time waiting for her by looking at the paperback book rack. I found The Mad Reader paperback. It was one of those moments I can say changed my life. I was already a comic book fan, but this tipped me over into the world of Mad, satire, Harvey Kurtzman and his retinue of fabulous cartoonists: Will (then called Bill) Elder, Jack Davis, and Wallace Wood. “Superduperman” and this Wood splash panel in particular, was what did it for me.

Wood’s short and unhappy life was in sharp contrast to all of the joy he brought to his fans. He died in 1981, yet the cult of Wood refuses to die. I believe everything Wood ever drew professionally, or even as a kid, has been reprinted somewhere. What was meant as a throwaway medium, the comic book, has been elevated to the status of art, and has value as a collectible. Wood is one of those artists high on the collector’s want list.

The Life and Legend of Wallace Wood, published by Fantagraphics, reprints in a deluxe format a lot of the highlights of Wood’s career, as well as tell the story of an obsessed artist. It is enlightening, but also sad. Wood destroyed himself by overwork, cigarettes and alcohol. In the end suicide by gun brought the end to his torment.

I prefer to think of Wood in the way that I saw him when I was a youngster reading Mad paperback books and then Mad magazine, as a somewhat mystical figure who came up with drawings that fascinated and delighted and inspired me. As far as I knew Wood did not even put pen and ink to paper, but drawings came in a ray from his forehead and transferred themselves to my brain via the printed page.

In the late fifties and early sixties Wood’s work reached a form of glossy perfection that is still a wonder to me. He did illustrations for science fiction magazines (Galaxy, primarily), and his work in Mad went from pen-and-ink line illustrations to an ink wash technique that gave his figures a modeled effect on the page.

These examples of his Mad work are from issues number 44, 45, and 49, all from 1959.

Copyright © 1959, 2017 E.C. Publications, Inc.

This illustration was done for Galaxy magazine, cover dated December, 1958.

Copyright © 1958 Galaxy Publishing, Inc.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The unpleasant surprise

Have you tried looking up friends from your past on Facebook? Maybe old girlfriends or boyfriends? Recently I wrote down a list of names I could remember from high school (Class of '65), and from my two years in the Army (November 1966 to November 1968). I had no success whatsoever finding anyone. It could mean that the people I am looking for are uninterested in social media, or worse, that they are incapacitated, or even deceased.

Warren was one of the guys I tried to find on Facebook. No luck.

We were friends for only a few months, 1967 into 1968. Warren was a guitarist; he bought a guitar near where we were stationed in Germany. We sat in Warren's room where he would play old songs and I would sing along. That seems pathetic, but if we didn’t have passes to go to town we were stuck on base and had to entertain ourselves. As you can see from the only photo I have of Warren he rocked a pompadour hairstyle. I don’t remember what songs we tried to sing, but they were probably along the lines of Chuck Berry or Buddy Holly.

When I didn’t find Warren on Facebook I went to Google, and that is when I found him. That was the unpleasant surprise. Warren was not only deceased, but he had died on July 29, 1968, just a couple of months after he got out of the Army. That seems unfair to me. A guy spends two years away from home and family, and then lives only a couple of months after returning to civilian life.

Warren was a motorcycle guy. My first thought on seeing that Warren was dead at age 21 was that he wrapped his motorcycle around a tree. But there was no information on cause of death.

Something else I remember about Warren is that he was always broke. He was usually tapped out five days after payday. He borrowed from me quite often, but he always paid me back. This little blog posting is a poor remembrance, because it has been so many years, but in some ways it is my payback to Warren for those nights smoking, joking, laughing, singing along while he played the guitar. It made the barracks almost livable.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Trump victory: Shock and “awww, sh!t!”

”We won in a landslide!”

It’s been a month now since the presidential election. Are you over it yet? I guess I am, although it was a shocker to my family and friends. On election day my next door neighbor was in Italy with her daughter. She said they couldn’t sleep all night after they heard the news. That seems like a fairly typical reaction; certainly the reaction of my wife and me.

Why did so many vote for Trump? Not forgetting that as I write this about 2.7 million more votes were cast for Hillary Clinton than Trump, yet the election results hinged on Trump’s wins in three states. In the popular vote he lost, in the Electoral College he won. Such is the American system, as screwy as it seems to everyone. Except the winner, of course. Trump has recently been touring, in what looks like a victory lap to thank his voters. He said to one crowd, “We won in a landslide, folks!”  — an untruth so brazen only the most loyal of his followers would believe it.

Early in the campaign it seemed obvious to most of us that reasonable people wouldn’t fall for a huckster, and we expected his fans to fall away once these truths were revealed: he doesn’t pay taxes; he stiffs building contractors; he uses bankruptcy as a business tactic; he treats women horribly. The stories went on and on. In the end it didn’t matter. His fans liked him and what he said, and ignored stories to the contrary.

A piece of commentary in the Sunday, December 4, 2016 Salt Lake Tribune, gave what I thought was a good reason why people voted for Trump.* Kristy Money, a psychologist specializing in relationship counseling, faith journeys and women’s mental health, wrote about “confirmation bias,” which is seeing only what we want to see.

Apparently Trump fans’ confirmation bias was enough that they looked past all of his worst traits to see what they wanted to see.

Yet how was it they were able to accept Trump’s outrageous conduct? You would think that religious types on the right who supported him would have been put off by stories of his immoral behavior, but another paragraph in the Kristy Money commentary explained to me how his true believers could accept a man with Trump’s character flaws: “Decades of social science research attest to how the human mind resists deliberate attempts by others to change our opinions and beliefs. In fact, there is a corollary phenomenon to confirmation bias, known as the Backfire Effect: Simply put, when someone with deeply held beliefs is presented with a counter-argument, their beliefs are strengthened rather than weakened. So there’s a very practical reason to stop trying to convince others: it has the opposite effect.” [Emphasis mine.]

So there you go. The Backfire Effect in action!

*I cherry-picked Ms Money’s commentary for psychological insight to use for my own purposes.Her article was actually about giving support to people who leave the Mormon church. You can read her original op-ed here.