September 21, in the company of one Djarum kretek, a bottle of vermouth, and Camus’ “Exile and the Kingdom” …
Clove cigarettes were banned today. It was a punch in the gut. Cloves—those delicious, aromatic, long-lasting cigarettes. I had smoked a couple in my day, and boy, they were above average. And now they were gone. Dead. After a short mourning service, I drove to the local liquor store and bought a pack. Evidentially, the owner hadn’t heard the news—cloves are dead, dude!
This little journal charade I’ve constructed for this piece—the clove cigarettes, the vermouth, the Camus (an homage, as some of you may have figured out, to The Magnetic Field’s “I Don’t Want to Get Over You”)—is a lovable caricature, but one that’s simply not me. Sure, I enjoy an occasional clove, I find Camus to be likeable, and -- though this is the first time I’ve partaken in it—I’ve nothing against vermouth. But the three combined – that has “dreary intellectual” written all over it. And while I’m certainly saddened to see the cloves go the way of the dodo (quite inexplicably, by the way—why in the world do Congressmen think they understand what appeals to children?), I’m mostly curious to see what happens to the bohemian culture that treasured them.
That the clove cigarettes became such a natural extension of the counter-culture should be no surprise. Bohemians have to smoke something, as all their beloved icons—philosophers, rock stars, ironic t-shirt images—are routinely pictured gazing intently into the unknown as tobacco smoke flutters out their bodies. Cigars are too ballsy, too expensive, too representative of capitalism, their sworn enemy. Cigarettes are hit or miss – Camel and Parliament have fans, but I don’t see any discernable reason why, it as if hipsters collectively chose their brands of choice based on a coin flip. Pipe-smoking has a small niche of followers, but a young adult busting out a pipe in a crowd is kind of like saying “I masturbate to my self-image.” But cloves! They’re perfect—a different color, a different scent, and, best yet, imported. The clove cigarette represents the extra oomph in non-conformity—my cigarettes crackle like Rice Krispies in milk, my alcohol is even shittier tasting than Miller Lite, my literature is mentally torturous, my music is so obscured that the melody is drowned by twelve layers of distortion and gurgling noises, and my political and religious beliefs are too deep for categorization. If I must use a label, then “agnostic socialist” will have to do.
What we choose to inhale and imbibe seems to depend on the social circumstances. As a youngster going to NASCAR races, I noticed that 80 percent of the attendees smoked, and of those, 98 percent smoked Marlboro or Winston (the official sponsor of the sport for many years). Ninety-five percent of racing fans drank, and there were only three socially acceptable brands: Budweiser (and Bud Light), Miller Genuine Draft (and Miller Lite), and Coors Light. It was a law of nature. To drink a Sam Adams at a NASCAR event would be like staging a gay wedding in the infield—unheard of.
The relationship of the clove with the young American pseudo-intellectual is similar: brand loyalty, for whatever reason, is rampant. The road to enlightened bohemianism is littered with the stubs of half-smoked Djarums and discarded Pabst Blue Ribbons. I remember a time in Chicago, when a sudden craving for cloves impelled a group of buzzed twenty-somethings to purchase a pack of Nat Sherman cigarettes—“with a touch of cloves”—for $13 at a nearby liquor store. The Djarum loyalists immediately began to chastise the purchase—where was the crackling? This is hipster treason!
I poked fun at the loyalist’s outrage, but I have to admit—what a killer aroma. I’ve been told by multiple people that they think Djarums smell like “autumn.” I lack the vocabulary skills to adequately describe olfactory sensations, but I agree. It’s 74 degrees out here, the leaves have not changed, and the sweat on my forehead is about three minutes away from accumulating into “this sucks” territory. But damn, it feels like late October when that sweet second-hand smoke is nearby.
Unfortunately, this is it. The Bohemians will have to resort to a new form of tobacco. I think rolling cigarettes is up next, and it gives the smoker the opportunity to pump smooth, filterless smoke onto their unsuspecting throats. All those indie bands are going to love the lead singer’s new scratchy baritone.