Idler March - April 1996 Issue Fourteen

West Coast Fags
Alex James tries to spark up in the land of the free

It's raining n LA and I'm on a balcony trying to write something like all those lonely idiots. I just reached into the ideasphere and it felt like there was a queue. The woman next to me on the plane was reading a book called How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere but she didn't say anything. There should be a book called How to Stop Talking as well. It's a foggy bog of blind hope and empty dumb ambition out here, what is going on? Bugger all Tuesdays, that's for sure.  There's thought-traffic congestion and everyone's honking.

Bloody Nora, the Nineties are knackered mates. Fags and booze can kill you, sunshine can kill you and the air can kill you: the two things most directly responsible for our very being are potentially fatal. Crumbs. You can't beat a slightly drunk shag in the sunshine with a few fags - it's probably worth dying for. I mean what else is there to do all day? Faxes, Johnny bags and silken tofu-knickers! We left the sensual world behind when we started wearing shoes.

California. There's no smoking in buildings in California (you can go to prison for smoking a fag, Denis Leary did, God bless 'im). It's probably easier to have a wank than a burn. Banning smoking is such a stupid idea. anyone who doesn't want to stop is filled with resolve. The whole thing gets polarised with the smokers always coming out best because it's the quitters who make the most noise. They've all read How To Stop Smoking and convinced themselves it was really bad, really really bad, and overcompensated for their doubt by throwing their hypnotic voodoo dogma at you every opportunity. It's like banning cars because people get run over. Cigarettes take you somewhere else in a certain way. Cars go from A to B: cigarettes are for the bit in between.

I've got a rotten cough but I'm smoking more than usual - for all the reasons I started. It's big, it's clever, it's naughty, it's dangerous. You're more or less a criminal if you smoke. Fantastic.

Smoking in lifts is a particularly good sport. I may write the book How to Smoke Anytime, Anywhere. I've just bought a zippo. I'm so happy. Me and Gandalf and Camus, we love a smokie.

Beverly Hills "lunch." Ghastly meanies shouting into mobile phones between mouthfuls. I grab my wine to go outside for a ciggie, but you can't drink outside in the land of the free. More like Disneyland. Everything seems to boil down to a choice, but choice is an illusion, a con. Freedom of choice is an oxymoron - who decides what you're choosing from, who writes the list? Not you buddy. Theme parks are the extrapolated nightmare conclusion of all that - a list of things to do, a finite number of choices. March round in time to the music - and enjoy your holiday. Ugh. Isn't it better just to bang around and bump into things and stuff grows and things and wotnot, cheers.

Authority is a scary old bugger, I s'pose that's the point. That brilliant psychology test springs to mind where the guinea pig person is asked to turn a lever which apparently inflicts pain on what they themselves believe to be the G. P. The case was usually that people were so obedient that their fellow creature would be feigning immense heinous suffering and even sometimes death before the hapless lever-tuner stopped the pain juice.

California's not all bad, it's a fun city in fact, no one tells us smokers what to do. Bollocks.