FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama, Smoking and Me

by CHARLES R. LARSON

The night after Barack Obama’s inauguration, while I was visiting Jaisalmer, in Rajasthan in western India, I took a drag from the first cigarette I’d smoked in thirty or forty years. The effect? An immediate high, I’m sad to report, even though I was never a real smoker (though I do appreciate an occasional cigar). The cigarette was an Indian Beedi, a tiny hand-rolled cig in a package of 20 that had cost me seven rupees (about 15 cents), including a box of wooden matches. The Beedi packed quite a wallop. It immediately made me think of Obama, who, according to leaks from the media, has had trouble stopping smoking.

In Delhi the previous night, I had watched the inauguration in a state of elation (another kind of high) still finding it difficult to believe that America had a black president. I’d been wearing my Obama button and tee-shirt in India for several days. Complete strangers congratulated me on the street, shook my hand, some even asking to take my picture with them. The only comparable excitement I could remember overseas about an American president was what I experienced in Africa, back in 1962 and 1963, before John F. Kennedy was assassinated. What an incredible experience–to be liked as an American–after the animosity and downright hostility I have experienced overseas in recent years (Greece, Turkey, for example) years when almost everything George W. Bush did eroded American good will abroad.

In Jaisalmer, I smoked my Beedi, hammed it up for my wife and friends with the smoke swirling around my head, at the same time a bit disturbed that the cigarette tasted so good. How frightful an addiction can be if all it takes is one puff for that immediate rush, one drag as the hook that traps you in a habit so difficult to escape. During the past two months, I’ve thought of President Obama and all the pressures surrounding him and the relief that a cigarette must give him—all those frustrations in an America that has done a reasonably good job of curtailing cigarette addition in the past generation. How difficult it must also be to serve as a role model for the country’s children and never be seen puffing on a cigarette.

The evidence in Dreams from My Father is that Obama was a pretty heavy smoker early in his life. At numerous points in his autobiography he writes of lighting up, smoking another cigarette. He also indicates that he knew—even when he was much younger—that he needed to quit. On the final page of the book when he’s grasped his birthright and is talking to his half-brother, Bernard–at the climax of his understanding of his relationship with his deceased father just before his departure from Kenya–Obama is on the verge of lighting up another cigarette.

Bernard says to him, “Why don’t you let me have a cigarette, and I will sit and smoke with you.”

Obama’s epiphany is immediate, belying a sense of urgency and understanding, “I looked at his smooth, dark face, and put the cigarette back in the box. ‘I need to quit,’ I said. ‘Come on, let’s take a walk instead.’”

This man—this President of the United States—Mr. Cool, as he’s often called, craving another cigarette: you want to hand it to him, not another cigarette but the desire to help him control the intake of nicotine, as if that’s all it will take for our nation to be healed again. If Obama can stop smoking, our problems will all go away. If only it were that simple.

After I finished smoking my Beedi, I tossed the rest of the package away. One lapse in thirty or forty years. No big deal, until the next morning, walking around the streets of Jaisalmer, when I spotted one of India’s legalized Bhang shops. I asked the guide I was walking with how much I’d have to pay for an ounce of marijuana. He responded, “One hundred rupees,” about two American dollars. I paused briefly, snapped a photo of the storefront, and walked on, repressing another pleasure from the past.

I imagine that Barack Obama would have done the same, though no addiction is ever so easily dispatched. It may be easier to fix the economy.

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
Robert Hunziker
America’s Tale of Two Cities, Redux
David Jaffe
The Republican Party and the ‘Lunatic Right’
John Davis
No Tomorrow or Fashion-Forward
Patrick Cockburn
Treating Mental Health Patients as Criminals
Jack Dresser
An Accelerating Palestine Rights Movement Faces Uncertain Direction
George Wuerthner
Diet for a Warming Planet
Lawrence Wittner
Why Is There So Little Popular Protest Against Today’s Threats of Nuclear War?
Colin Todhunter
From Earth Day to the Monsanto Tribunal, Capitalism on Trial
Paul Bentley
Teacher’s Out in Front
Franklin Lamb
A Post-Christian Middle East With or Without ISIS?
Kevin Martin
We Just Paid our Taxes — are They Making the U.S. and the World Safer?
Erik Mears
Education Reformers Lowered Teachers’ Salaries, While Promising to Raise Them
Binoy Kampmark
Fleeing the Ratpac: James Packer, Gambling and Hollywood
Weekend Edition
April 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Diana Johnstone
The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty
Paul Street
Donald Trump: Ruling Class President
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Dude, Where’s My War?
Andrew Levine
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
Paul Atwood
Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?
Robert Hunziker
Trump and Global Warming Destroy Rivers
Vijay Prashad
Turkey, After the Referendum
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, the DOJ and Julian Assange
CJ Hopkins
The President Formerly Known as Hitler
Steve Reyna
Replacing Lady Liberty: Trump and the American Way
Lucy Steigerwald
Stop Suggesting Mandatory National Service as a Fix for America’s Problems
Robert Fisk
It is Not Just Assad Who is “Responsible” for the Rise of ISIS
John Laforge
“Strike Two” Against Canadian Radioactive Waste Dumpsite Proposal
Norman Solomon
The Democratic Party’s Anti-Bernie Elites Have a Huge Stake in Blaming Russia
Andrew Stewart
Can We Finally Get Over Bernie Sanders?
Susan Babbitt
Don’t Raise Liberalism From the Dead (If It is Dead, Which It’s Not)
Uri Avnery
Palestine’s Nelson Mandela
Fred Nagel
It’s “Deep State” Time Again
John Feffer
The Hunger President
Stephen Cooper
Nothing is Fair About Alabama’s “Fair Justice Act”
Jack Swallow
Why Science Should Be Political
Chuck Collins
Congrats, Graduates! Here’s Your Diploma and Debt
Aidan O'Brien
While God Blesses America, Prometheus Protects Syria, Russia and North Korea 
Patrick Hiller
Get Real About Preventing War
David Rosen
Fiction, Fake News and Trump’s Sexual Politics
Evan Jones
Macron of France: Chauncey Gardiner for President!
David Macaray
Adventures in Labor Contract Language
Ron Jacobs
The Music Never Stopped
Kim Scipes
Black Subjugation in America
Sean Stinson
MOAB: More Obama and Bush
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail