So there I was… hopping in and out of my seat, agitated and pacing before Philadelphia City Council. In their ornate 100 year old gilded chamber nestled in the elaborate, grand stone monster smack in the center of the city on Broad Street. Like a caged animal, I was. Put me in coach, I wanna kill my dinner.
This is how I get when I’m not calmly puffing a cigar and serenely accepting the things I supposedly cannot change.
To the one side of me sat the linebacker-size Grumpy filling out his South Philly Italian, black-leather, winter coat. To the other side sat his robust, taciturn bartender, Keith, filling out his South Philly Italian, black-leather, winter coat.
Hmm… Leather aint just for sex in the heavily Italian South Philadelphia.
And before me a row of skinny little docs and other members of the city’s health brigade — all barely filling out their rumbled suits — were exhaling a bunch of pious statistics about second-hand and third-hand smoke. They were testifying as to why Grumpy’s South Philly tavern shouldn’t be granted an exemption from the city’s ban on smoking that covers all but 75 of city’s 250,000 or so bars, restaurants and such public and private establishments.
Grumpy’s would be merely the 76th. And that’s vitally important to me so I can continue to peacefully smoke my cigars and watch a ballgame while sipping on a beer. It’s provides a serenity that keeps me from killing people.
Needless to say there are lies, liars, the political-propaganda and those damn statistics. And I have discovered that ‘smoking’ is one of the top three causes of most statistics. And from those ‘statistics’ everyone’s got an opinion. And in trekking about the world I’ve also discovered that the greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions. Because those opinions often become fixed at a point where they stop thinking.
And thus, prejudices are born.
And, as we all may already recognize, prejudices are great time savers. They enable you to form opinions without having to get the facts.
Hmm… See how stoopidity works?
And now there were these docs babbling before City Council. They sounded like nothing but a bunch of puritans afraid that somebody somewhere might be having a good time.
And all in all I have to confess: I am pretty damn impatient with haughty arrogance, especially with those who seem especially proud of it. And I let the docs know that they should beware of the fury of a patient man about to blow a Moby Dick.
What was most annoying was the broad brush strokes they painted. Like their way of thinking was as absolutely secure in their minds as their religion. They seemed to forget the first rule of doctoring: First do no harm.
Even the city’s PR flak — who after the council hearing would admit to me that she just gets paid to say these things — spewed about how some big conventions like the American Heart Association threatened not to convene in Philadelphia next year if the city wasn’t committed to eradicating smoking everywhere. Even 2 miles away from the Convention Center in Grumpy’s corner tavern.
So I pounced on her inviting middle-aged body shaped beneath a flow of blonde hair. I pointed out that the venerable head of the pulmonology department of one of Philadelphia’s most prestigious medical centers holds monthly staff meetings while they all puff cigars in the lounge of the Twin Smoke Shoppe one block from Grumpy’s.
And once a few years back I teased that their puffing was going to kill them. At that the wise old chairman leaned back and laughed: “Hell kid, you’re going to die of a thousand others things before you’d ever die from smoking cigars.”
And moreover I pointed out to the shapely city mouth-piece that she also failed to mention that the Democratic National Convention and the Pope are still coming to Philadelphia next year —something that prompted the entire city to light up celebratory cigars.
“Hey, I’m a flak!” she admitted behind a cavalier smile. “I get paid to say these things.”
Meaning she was only following the party line.
Meaning the truth, duh whole truth and nuttin’ but duh truth is about as absurd as the old guffaw that smoking may kill people but it ‘cures’ swine. You know, it’s never about truth. It’s about agendas. And lies. And deceits. Just like in many of our courtrooms. It’s who is the better liar. Like I always insist: The truth is irrelevant. All that matters is what people are willing to believe… what they are willing to hear.
And don’t forget that such docs and party flaks – experts that they claim to be — got us believing their party-line for years that eggs and too much coffee were killing us. Now filling the latest headlines are these same such experts reluctantly admitting that eggs and overdosing on coffee is actually good for us. And that’s not just because that 115-year-old lady, one of the five oldest on the planet, recently attributed her longevity to a daily diet of three raw eggs… and living alone since 1938.
Anyway, I was there in City Hall with Grumpy and duh gang the other day because this matter was supposed to have been settled back in early December. Actually it should have been settled 8 years ago. But the City screwed up.
And Grumpy, who has well earned his appellation, is a hard-working, ham-fisted, local South Philly Catholic boy who rarely trespasses the territory outside his neighborhood. And he apparently never learned that it doesn’t matter if you genuflect while nobly paying all your business taxes. Because the bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pigmies. And, if you are going to sin, sin against G-d and not the bureaucracy. G-d will forgive you, but the bureaucracy won’t.
Grumpy’s ‘sin’ was over a $16 disputed water bill – not to his bar, but to the building that houses his taproom. But by the time the city got the paperwork straightened out the window of opportunity had passed for Grumpy to be grandfathered in with the 75 bars and clubs allowed to continue their smoking rites.
But we continued to smoke at Grumpy’s anyway. However when the penalties and fines in yet another major U.S. city with revenue woes, got too whopping big, Grumpy had to surrender. And so went 60 percent of his business. That’s when I wrote the column last June 4th. And that’s when the local councilman Mark Squilla called me and wondered how he could help.
Gee… a politician actually concerned about more than my vote. Especially in Philadelphia where the dead have been known to vote twice on Election Day. And Councilman Squilla must have missed the memo to always be out when the phone rings. Because even at midnight when I’d email or call, he’d always respond – almost immediately.
Hmm… If Squilla isn’t careful he may end up ruining my reputation. I mean, moi saying something nice about a politician, when the only way I’ve ever talked to them is… DOWN!
Sheesh! It just goes to show you that if you live long enough the law of averages make me glad that I actually voted ‘for’ the guy… instead of against him.
So after 138 emails and 94 text messages it came to this. Actually ‘this’ was supposed to happen last December. Because I had then cheekily asked the Councilman if he meant December of 2014, or of some future leap year.
He chastised me for being a cynic. But then I got a text message after December’s meeting that informed me there had been a ‘hiccup.’ The anti-smoking Mayor ambushed Council’s anticipated action with his ‘docs’. And the matter had to be tabled for ‘a couple of months.’
And my only response was: ‘When it comes to politics there are always hiccups. And that’s why G-d created elephant guns.’
The ‘elephant gun’ this time was that Council had to agree that Grumpy’s would be the last exemption created on the smoking ban.
Hmm… But of course!
So last week the council gave its approval. And the matter now rests on the anti-smoking desk of the Mayor for his OK, or veto, or non-action.
By the time it’s done, it will have consumed nearly 10 months. But that’s what it takes to fight City Hall – time, perseverance and mugs and mugs of beer. A business should be able to decide what satisfies its clientele. Grumpy wouldn’t have smoking if it didn’t bring his customers in the door. And inside his door there is no second-hand smoke, because everyone there is a first-hand smoker.
The trouble is that after any revolution or battle evaporates, what is left behind is the slime of bureaucracy. On the one hand the only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency. But in truth, as one scribe once scrawled: Bureaucracies are inherently antidemocratic. Bureaucrats derive their power from their position in the structure, not from their relations with the people they are supposed to serve. The people are not masters of the bureaucracy, but its clients.
And as I wrote last June to all those lamenting the day the smoking supposedly died in Grumpy’s: We must vote. We must protest. We must make a noise so over-deafening while we are alive that when we are no longer here our silence will be even more over-deafening.
“And if you think your voice is too small to make a difference,” I said, “try sleeping in the same room with a mosquito.”
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…