Joey Schuman: Communism and cigarettes
I’d like to take you back to a Thursday I spent in Bratislava. Some friends and I traveled to the Slovakian capital on Apr. 26, and we weren’t very surprised by what we saw: gray, dark, windy, freezing rainy, frowny and kind of smelly sights, but also fascinating Communist-era infrastructure (and, now, ruin). We saw eerie Soviet monuments and even eerier fashion looks from no later than 1995.
According to our program itinerary for that day, our tour was scheduled to run from 11:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. It ended around 1:00 p.m., which allotted us five hours for the “opportunity for personal sightseeing,” which manifested as almost five hours inside a Slovak Pub in the heart of town.
First we ordered the National Dish of Slovakia. Per Google: “the Slovak national dish, Bryndzové Halušky, is potato-dough gnocchi smothered in salty sheep bryndza cheese, and topped with smoked bacon bits.” I ate that. Soon after, our friend engaged us in a death-defying drinking game, and, soon after that, I was profusely vomiting in the bathroom. Very soon after that, this pivotal photograph was taken.
That’s my friend Derek to my right! He’s not sober. Sara, Mallika, Annabel, definitely all very not sober. Also pictured is the monstrosity of crustache I’m fostering above my upper lip. That, in addition to the cigarette in my hand and smock-thing garment on my body, adds up to some weird iteration of Woody Allen if Woody Allen decided to reverse-age 60 years and then get blitzed by one Euro-Slovakian beer for five hours.
Naturally, this photograph was uploaded to Facebook, and naturally, my amazing mother saw the photograph way before me. I was lucky enough to finish class one day back in Berlin (where I spent the semester) and receive this text.
This was not a comforting message to receive. If we’re charting the moment on the “mom mercilessly fucks up my life because she is a disciplinary God and I’m a mere mortal” scale, it registers just one notch below the call I received from her in August 2013, when she was dropping off my older sister at the University, I was hosting a very large party with many inebriated 16-year-olds and my family friend (and second mother, Nancy) was standing outside our front door, united with Wendy Schuman in Jewish Mother Power Force, ready to uproot my three hours of social relevance and also tear my life apart.
Well, Mom — she’ll surely be the first one to read this — I promise you I was just holding the photographer’s cigarette. No puff met my lungs. But I did learn a lesson that day, and throughout my time in Europe, even if just by observing my friends: To better your life, smoke a cigarette every once in a while.
Counterintuitive, correct. I’m well aware of the carcinogenic consequences and ashy stench and polarizing stigma. I’m also well aware of — and more invested in — how superficially cool you look stashing a box of 27s in your fanny pack. If nothing else, do it for aesthetic. Even as I write this column in an Ann Arbor coffee shop, I fantasize about the idea of a smoke break outside. Not that I WOULD EVER DO IT, MOM. But at the same time, guess what, Main Street, I’m going to exhale this imagined smoke soon — maybe even near your face if you walk by at an inopportune time — because I’m taking my built-in smoke break and I have important things to write when I go back inside.
You know that move where you stash a cigarette behind your ear to be used at a later time? You should do that. You can double up and go all Blastoise double-cig cannon on the ears, too. Just please consider and be open to using cigarettes for any sort of confidence-booster. Mine occurred by accident, and almost earned me a next-day flight home from Slovakia, but because I DON’T SMOKE, MOM, the event at least inspired a new form of multifaceted me.
If I was to follow the advice of my own health and wellness column, for example, I’d smoke cigarettes every Shabbos (the day of rest!) to commemorate another week survived. I DON’T DO THAT, MOM, but it would also probably be a neat look while walking across The Diag. So take that drag. I heard American Spirits are nice. I love the Parliament look. Some of my friends abroad preferred those skinny ones. You should probably use cool slang to describe your cig, like “dart,” “heater,” “bogue” or maybe “lung-buster.” Do whatever it takes to find your Bratislava.