University of Richmond Collegian

Playing Yahtzee With the Reaper

By Jeffrey Carl

Jeffrey Carl UR Column
University of Richmond Collegian, February 3 1995

Thanks to a bare modicum of writing skill and a more obvious fondness for bourbon which aligned with that of my journalism professors, my putative career advanced rapidly through my undergraduate years. I went from a practicum story writer for the University of Richmond Collegian student newspaper in my freshman year to Assistant News Editor in my sophomore year, then on to Greek Life Editor and IT Manager (I read MacWorld magazine!) in my junior year, and ultimately to Opinion Editor in my senior year.

For some reason that escapes me now, I acquired a humor column during this process at the beginning of my junior year. This column, titled “Over the Cliff Notes,” eventually ran for 22 installments and was over the course of two years was read by literally dozens of actual humans, only most of which where KA pledges I forced to do so. Its literary influence was quite literally incalculable, and I’m just going to leave it at that.

It occurs to me now that topical humor from college campuses nearly 30 years ago does not age well. I’m sure it was absolutely hilarious at the time, though. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: This one really isn’t funny, so you can probably skip it and go on to “Freedom Betrayed” (page 9).  Mr. Carl has assured us that this thing called “having a point” is only a temporary phase and will not happen again.  Please excuse our momentary flirtation with responsible journalism.

I just quit smoking.

This should probably not surprise you or me, since this is the 136th time I’ve quit smoking since I started.  Each of these attempts began in earnest but unfortunately only lasted until:

a) The Arch-Demon “Nicotine,” like the Arch-Demon “Skip Class and Drink Bourbon All Day” called too loudly for my weak soul to refuse

b) I was no longer visiting my parents or grandparents and could finally drop the pretense of not being a total degenerate, or

c) I got really, really bored.

Ergo, the fact that I have quit is unremarkable in itself, as my attempts to quit smoking were like the tides: regular, short-lived and, like the rest of my life, controlled entirely by extraterrestrial forces.

So why did I quit for good?

It wasn’t the medical evidence.  I did not quit because smoking was sure to give me cancer, later in life; my parents would spare me the illness by killing me as soon as they found out I smoked.

I was not swayed by all those gross biological pictures the Surgeon General shows in anti-smoking campaigns (“Smoker’s lungs: Congested. Black. Different.”) or all of the warnings on the back of cigarette cartons (“The Surgeon General has determined that if you’re going to smoke these, you can kiss your ass goodbye right now”).  Nor was it the polls which indicate that smoking tobacco is tied with “clubbing baby seals” in terms of popularity.

Nor was it because of a humanitarian concern for the evils of “second-hand smoke.”  Second-hand smoke, it has now been revealed, causes Scurvy and The Clap in concentrations of one part per million at 500 paces away, and is apparently the moral equivalent of baking brownies with chocolate Ex-Lax for your friends.  I understand how bad all this is, but I was never worried about it because all my apartment-mates deserve to die, anyway.

It wasn’t even because an ex-girlfriend had told me that it made me taste and smell like gym socks.  I didn’t quit because I noticed it was starting to make my teeth look moldy.  

I did not quit because I had stumbled onto some magic cure for smoking (“New Nick Fitz nicotine patches!  Now with the new miracle ingredient, Fraudulin!)

I did not quit because I had given up my tireless fight to clear the name of the good folks at Phillip Morris, Inc (“The mega-corporation with a heart … disease”).  I did not quit because I finished my life-long dream of assembling a 1/12 scale model of the Eiffel Tower out of Marlboro packs, including a working elevator.

I quit because my friend died.  He didn’t die of cancer from smoking six packs of Luckies a day, he didn’t die after drinking three gallons of Rumple-Minze and driving off a cliff and he didn’t die from gunshot wounds, unprotected sex or any of the other deaths that make such great cautionary tales.  He was just sick for a long time from some stupid disease nobody has ever heard of and then he became finally terminally deceased to death.

And he didn’t do anything wrong.  He didn’t go looking for trouble, snorting Pine-Sol or playing in traffic.  He was a strait-laced sort of guy who didn’t exactly cruise seedy bars downtown searching for The Grim Reaper (“Ma’am, the cloaked skeleton at the table there playing chess would like to buy you a drink”).

And now he is just dead.  Death is actually a terribly unromantic thing.  It’s just … not.  Not anything.  Eternal nothingness  (see “Indiana,” two weeks ago) is probably pretty boring. And while life after death may exist (my friend believed there was), studies show that unfortunately, Heaven does not get cable.

Hell, however, does.  “ISHTAR-VISION!  The only channel that brings you all Ishtar, all the time!”  And also VH-1.

So why does my buddy shuffling off this mortal coil suddenly make me give up cancer sticks, after the combined armies of my ex-girlfriend and the Surgeon General failed to do so?

Probably because I believe in endings now.  You see, at my ripe old age of 21, I had a difficult time believing that I or anyone else my age will not continue to exist forever.  

I had a difficult time conceptualizing all those things that I’m pretty sure will happen to me eventually: getting married, having kids, buying a station wagon, having a mid-life crisis and trying to trade the kids in for a new Suzuki, getting hair in my ears, pretending I’m senile so I can tell everybody to go to Hell and they won’t blame me and finally telling everyone while I’m on my deathbed that I buried all this gold right over in … aaaarggggh and dying before the last word so they go crazy looking for it, etc.  I sorta expected it to happen, but I never really believed any of it would.  Especially the “dead” part.

I had never expected to smoke for very long.  Usually just until next week.  “Next week” took about a year.  Time didn’t really pass very fast – certainly not during Orientation Events or night classes – and it didn’t mean much, anyway.  I’d be young forever.

But time really does pass. Do what you wanted to do now, or the next thing you know, you’ve graduated and there’s the Wagon Queen Family Truckster in the driveway and then you’re sick of some disease nobody’s ever heard of and then you’re fatally deceased to death.  And it’s over. 

Which, at worst, means the absolute cessation of existence and the condemnation to the Infinite Void – and at best means being forced to watch reruns of “The Civil War” on the PBS affiliate in Heaven.

So I quit.  Aside from the obvious side effects (I’m cranky as Hell, but at least I have an excuse now), it’s not too bad.  Unfortunately, I had to find a substitue for nicotine, which means I now drink six cases of Mountain Dew per day.  This is fine, except I’m now so wired that I haven’t slept since before Christmas.

So I quit smoking.  I think my friend would appreciate the thought.  And I hope PBS is having a fund drive, so they show cool “Fawlty Towers” reruns too.  I’m sure he’s watching.