Posted in Lessons by The Books Production Team on January 26, 2009


typewriter7          Given my rather firm entrenchment in the young, urban-liberal-hipster demographic made fun of so mercilessly by Christian Lander in Stuff White People Like, it’s probably not surprising that I subscribe to The Economist and Rolling Stone.  What is surprising, however, is the third magazine that regularly visits my mailbox, and I’d be willing to lay a sizable wager on the proposition that most of you, if I gave you ten guesses apiece, wouldn’t come up with Best Life – a monthly periodical from the publishers of Men’s Health targeted at the type of 45-year-old guys who feel compelled to purchase Rolex’s and go on mid-life crisis explorations of Costa Rica.

          Now, literally speaking, I have no idea how I get this magazine.  Two years ago, it just started showing up in my mailbox – addressed to the decidedly unspecific “Joe” at 4501 Maryland.  Yet without either a proper last name on the address label or a specific apartment designation, and despite my having never paid the publishers any money, and my decision to repeatedly ignore their subscription expiration notices, Best Life continues to assault my world like a series of 45-year-old waves crashing into the 28-year-old beach of my existence.  Who signed me up for this publication?  How do the postal carriers continue to place it in my mailbox?  These are questions that I initially dwelt a great deal upon, but I now simply accept its continued appearance, and console myself by finding strange comfort in a never-ending series of articles designed to help me stave off arthritis and prostate cancer as I garner advice on managing my portfolio.

          What’s crazy about life, though, is that once we come to accept these little accidents of fate, they often turn out to be quite fortuitous.  If, for instance, the CD player in my car worked during the winter, I would have never developed my totally awesome current fixation on Katy Perry; and if, by the same token, some mysterious personage had never signed me up for Best Life, the Dr. Wizard’s Advice project would have probably never been born.  You see, it was in a past issue of Best Life that I first read about the dangers of non-organic apples, which has now led to the development of the Dr. Wizard Group, and from the current issue of Best Life, I have gathered the little nugget of information about Barack Obama that has given direction to today’s post.

15_obasketball_lgl          It turns out, apparently, that just like me, the newly inaugurated leader of the free world listens to Jay-Z in the morning when he works out.  Take a second to let that soak in – H to the IZZO!  V to the IZZAY!  Now, I realize there’s a chance that George W. Bush’s iPod might have had some Damn Yankees or some Lynyrd Skynyrd in its rotation, but I’m going to go out on a pretty sturdy limb here and say that this is probably the first time that America’s President has kept it banging with albums that feature a Parental Advisory sticker on the front.  And while I’m pretty certain that Pat Robertson would find this fact horrifying, I find myself strangely reassured by Mr. Obama’s choice in music.  Take it for what it’s worth, but in my opinion, Jay-Z might be the most representative American of the twenty-first century.  He’s a successful media mogul; he’s got his own clothing line that bridges the fine line between urban-wear and high fashion; he’s a part-owner of an NBA franchise that will be instrumental in the final stages of revitalizing Brooklyn; and he’s married to Beyoncé – who finds herself in a dead-heat with Carrie Underwood as the perfect embodiment of American womanhood.  That’s a pretty impressive resume.

          What I really like about Jay-Z, though, is despite often not having a clue exactly what it is that he’s talking about, I find his lyrics to be strangely applicable to almost any life situation.  In much the same way that every time I call my mother to ask for advice she quotes a random verse of The Bible to me that she feels will help answer my questions (and they often seem both quite appropriate and quite useful, if occasionally a bit heavy-handed), I often, when giving advice to my friends or offering commentary on recent developments, somberly quote random Jay-Z lyrics that I feel are appropriate to the moment.  And so today, in my offering on collegiate peer pressure and tobacco use (yet another character trait that I share with our Forty-Fourth President), I offer you this sage piece of wisdom from The Black Album’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”: KEEP THE HECKLER CLOSE, YOU KNOW THEM SMOKERS WILL TEST YA.

          Now, much like verses of The Bible, taken in context, I have no idea what this line exactly means, because it’s kind of confusing.  I can gather, of course, the general sense of the phrase – but I have trouble specifically defining who is represented by the rather metaphorical embodiments of “the heckler” and “the smoker.”  Nevertheless, as in any good sermon, I’m less concerned with a literal explication of the verse than I am with taking this maxim and applying it to your everyday life.  And what I want to say is this: while in some ways the good word of Jay-Z validates sociologists’ long-standing assumption that peer pressure is the number one reason why kids begin smoking, it’s important to know that this peer pressure does not manifest itself in the traditional form of direct manipulation – and understanding this subtle difference is the key to handling the peer pressures associated with nicotine usage.

obama_smoking1          As we all know, there are two laws that apply to smoking in modern America: #1) it is really fucking bad for your health; and #2) every year, despite anything that the Surgeon General might attempt to tell us, millions of new kids will take up the habit.  So, as I’ve been thinking for the past few days what I might possibly tell you that you don’t already know about tobacco, I’ve come up with this little nugget of wisdom about peer pressure.  As a smoker, I don’t care whether you smoke or not – in fact, because I want you to be healthy, I feel that it would probably be in your best interest not to start.  I’m pretty sure that Barack Obama feels the same way, as does almost every smoker I’ve ever met.  In actuality, I’ve never once heard of a situation where a smoker older than 14 years of age tried to push the habit on someone who didn’t already partake.  It doesn’t really work that way.  Smoking is just something that we do, not something that we want you to do.  And we understand how others can view the habit as somewhat gross (I don’t like coming home from a bar in Missouri with my clothes smelling like an ash-tray any more than the next guy).  Still, I smoke, in private, because it has become an integral piece of my writing process over the last twelve years – and I now find the release of dopamine and serotonin that smoking catalyzes to be necessary to the craft; but it certainly must interfere with my marathon running, and I’m pretty sure I’d be faster if my lungs could hold more oxygen.  It’s also scientifically proven that, if I don’t stop someday, I’ll lose 6 or 7 years at the end of my life – which could be the difference between seeing my grandkids graduate college and dying when they are still in high school.  I’m pretty sure that as I grow older this sacrifice will loom larger and larger as one that I wish hadn’t chosen to make.

          As Malcolm Gladwell explains in The Tipping Point, the misconception is that kids are cool because they smoke.  In reality, and I actually think this is changing as America continues to stigmatize the habit, it just so happens that historically many of the kids who have smoked have happened to be the cool ones – and that’s where the rather ethereal persuasive force of peer pressure comes in.  Or, as Jay-Z would say, that’s where “them smokers will test ya.”  But there’s no sense emulating your favorite musician’s lifestyle because you think it will help you become a rock luminary.  Smoking isn’t some mysterious magical force; and it’s not the special elixir that will turn your every day Steve Urkle self into your way cooler alter-ego Stephan.  In this distinction lies everything, and armed with this knowledge, maybe you’ll be a little better informed about the situation before you buy that first pack of Marlboro Lights.  Now, on the other hand, if you want to purchase a product that will actually make you cooler, you might want to think about buying a stick of Old Spice.  It worked, at least according to the commercials, for Brian Urlacher and LL Cool J.


5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Carlin said, on January 27, 2009 at 12:55 am

    1. I remember a time when you thought I was stealth, or motivated enough to sign you up for Best Life. Still isn’t true.

    2. Please revise your choice of the “rr” in Barack immediately. Have you really not seen his name around enough to know how it is spelled? Really?

    3. I find it curiously amusing that Beyonce and Carrie Underwood have enough similarities in your mind to be tied for anything.

    4. Stop Smoking, Joe!!! It’s GROSS. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.

  2. Addie said, on January 27, 2009 at 3:26 am

    And if this article doesn’t help you to stop or not start smoking, visit the intensive care unit in your nearest hospital. I guarantee you will find a smoker that is miserable on a ventilator or worse with half of their face and neck cut off with skin from their leg replacing it. It’s gross and terrifying and sad and horrible. It’s a terrible habit that is hard to break and for the love of God everything about smokers smell disgusting! Even the food they make tastes like smoke. So needless to say it’s not cool. It’s so much cooler to be unique and find a way to be creative that doesn’t hurt you or those around you that would rather not have an asthma attack because you want or need to smoke. And yes, I am a little passionate about this topic.

  3. chris said, on January 27, 2009 at 3:58 am

    This post got me thinking (I’m sure that’s somewhat the point) that I’ve never seen anyone look uncool while smoking a hookah (maybe not so much the point)

  4. Stephanie PTY said, on January 27, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    On the other hand, I personally don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look cool while smoking a hookah. That’s my (contrary) opinion.

  5. The Hipster said, on June 22, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Dir Sir,

    “the heckler” is not referring to someone that heckles. It’s referring to a Heckler and Koch handgun.

    Also White, but Slightly more Hip

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: