Posted by: martinworster | September 10, 2005

4. KICK DA HABIT

Fear and smoking in the original home of the smoke free bar, restaurant, beach and any other public space you can think of.

Click to enlarge!Smoking. I have been trying to kick the habit for years but since moving here I’ve taken it up again in a kind of rebellious anti-health spite. A smoker here is lower down the caste system than a crack head. In fact, if you started shooting up in a restaurant I think there’d be less of a shock than lighting a Marlborough Light. California is the original home of no smoking in public spaces. Interestingly I was reading an article in the LA Times and it said ‘residents (of LA) are more likely to die of heart attacks, lung cancer and other diseases tha people who live in places with less air pollution’ – which wasn’t exactly news to me as you can see the yellow haze of smog carpeting the city. What was funny was how the piece could have read for a back of a cigarette pack warning. I’ll stop smoking as soon as they stop driving. Why can’t we have stickers on the cars; ‘DRIVING KILLS’ or ‘DRIVING CAN SERIOUSLY HARM THOSE AROUND YOU’?

Click to enlarge!I think this over fixation with anything that’s ‘bad’ for you and a general abstinence is very common here. In short they don’t seem to get as hammered as us Brits. I find the smoke free bars here also very sterile. Drinking is less endoctrinated into their culture. In the UK and indeed, the rest of Europe, there are pubs and bars in every neighbourhood. It serves a function as a community binder. They don’t have that here. There are no bars in the neighbourhoods, or if there are they have sawdust on the floor and the seats are taken by bikers and truck drivers whilst a naked nubile dances around a pole. The bars are in the ‘downtown’ areas. It does feel like there is less of a community thing going on here. I just don’t know what people get up to?

Click to enlarge!This fear of things that are in whatever way construed to be bad for you seems to be a significant American dichotomy. Fear being the operative word. There is always something being held up as being bad or in some way dangerous. This exists in other countries but it seems to be much more pronounced in the US. I realise I am talking in the abstract so I will try to give you some examples. In the 50s and 60s the ‘other’ held up to fear was of course Communism. Now it’s the terrorists. This fear is used to legitimise pre-emptive strikes on those perceived to harbour terrorists and of course this in term helps the arms industry and the siphoning of oil from Middle East countries. I didn’t mean to get so political here.

But fear exists everywhere here. The place is over sanitised due to a fear of germs. Anti-bacterial mania. Germs aren’t that bad for you, there’s billions in your gut and you’d be ill without them.

Fear is also intrinsically linked to the fervent sue culture that exists here. They’ll sue your arse for anything. EVerything you do or buy you have to sign loads of papers. Initials on lots of sub clauses just in case the air you breathed in your new apartment may have contained toxic substances that made you ill at a later date. I even bought a surfboard and had to sign a waiver in case of injury. I mean, I realise that if I fall of and crack my head and drown the fault is both a combination of mother nature and my own so I wouldn’t be hiring an attorney and sueing their arses. I’d be dead anyway. It’s a pretty horrible blame culture, again governed by fear. There are even signs on the entrance to the beach ‘Use Beach At Your Own Risk’ – why are they pointing out the obvious? Who can I blame if something goes wrong on the beach?

Fear. Fear of the other, the bogey man. It permeates every part of society here. Fear of the bad neighbourhood four blocks down. Fear of of illegal drugs that do no harm (marijuana) to a nation addicted to legal painkillers and the like. Fear…actually I’d better stop this rant, I’m scared I might ruin my chances of a green card if the relevant agencies are reading.

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