It’s hard living in a world that doesn’t want you. Non-smokers just don’t understand. Every smoker has experienced the haters on the street, condescending with exaggerated air-clearing motions. Passers-by suggesting that you should quit. “Excuse me,” they say, “Do you realize that smoking is bad for you? There are so many great ways to quit now!” Men and women flailing their arms in front of their faces, trying to gesture smoke away. I doubt it actually works, but who am I to say? I am a lowly smoker, and my feelings don’t count.

There are some places that should be smoke filled. Who imagines a casino without the haggard, off-brand-smoking, slot jockeys? Every family reunion has one chain-smoking aunt or uncle to fill the room. VFW bingo. Smoking is inextricably linked to certain places and activities. The bar is one of these places, a place where smoking should be allowed.

See, smokers have a different bar experience than most. You can see us, milling about in front of your favorite establishment, trying not to look at one another. What do we say to each other? “Oh, I see you’re out here too, my brother.” “What brand do you smoke?” “Lights.” “Menthols?” “Let me bum one for later.” “I love menthols when I’m drunk.” “So, this weather right?”

Sometimes we talk about the cold winters. How it’s not so bad to be alone when the weather is warmer. The bums parade up for smokes, screaming obscenities if denied. It’s raining and we’re all huddling under small awnings, smoke in our eyes. 

When bars have antique cigarette machines for effect, I want to smash the mirrored glass and light one up.

We go to the bar because we’re young and we can’t die. It’s the Wild West in there. Well whiskey must be worse than that shit they swilled back then. There are dancing girls that all the men want, but only some get to have. Dust-ups, tongue-lashings, all the things that make bars more fun than drinking at home. How many conversations have you had with a man too drunk to talk? I know I’ve had billions. I’ve had Vietnam vets demonstrate how to kill a man, with me playing the one being killed. I’ve watched a man split his head open on a table and then bleed on me before the bartender could throw him in a cab. A girl’s hair was on fire. The bar smelled like burnt hair product. If you don’t want to lie down with the crazies, don’t go to the bar.

Bars have different rules than the rest of the world. Getting fall-down drunk is acceptable behavior; most people barely bat an eye at Stumblesaurus. Everyone screams over everything. Decisions that will inflate a tab are made easily, fueled by the code of round buying. Spending ridiculous amounts of money at the bar is acceptable, expected even. How many stories are told about ridiculous bar tabs? All of the stories. How many vomiting goons does the average New York bar hopper see in a given night? Definitely somewhere between two and five. We see ass and tits and balls a plenty, just hanging around. Indecent exposure is fine, everyone’s had one too many. It’s okay to try and talk anyone into anything. It’s Sodom and Gomorrah with dim lighting, so why the fuck can’t we smoke? 

Second-hand smoke isn’t a cartoon hand that pulls innocent bystanders against their will to the grave. Okay, maybe it is, but that’s what you’re there for, right? You go to the bar to kill yourself. To drink the brain cells away. To get punched in the face and eat hot wings dipped in beer cheese. Bar time is terrible decision time. A time to snort shots of vodka and piss on the women’s bathroom mirror. A time to smoke. 

So, have a cigarette. Or just have the smoke from my cigarette. I don’t mind. You can share. In fact, the next round of smoke is on me. And next time you see the smoking masses, huddling around in some pen outside, take a second and feel something. Just give back the bars, and nobody gets hurt.

By Steven S. Grassel (@SS_Grassel)