Driving through Tennessee in the outback, and there is plenty outback to Tennessee, one sees tiny shotgun shacks with tiny side yards planted in tobacco. Driveways ripped out, if ever existing, all aerable land, no matter how small, planted with sentinels of tobacco, yellow, green, brown, depending on time of year.
One sees too that tobacco more or less takes care of itself til ready to harvest, so the poor can work at other things. I’ve often thought of the old aproned grannies and grandpaps whose lives were diminished further by tobacco corps going somewhat smaller for a time, less production, prices already rock bottom, went to bedrock.
I see the tv campaign ad by Herman Cain with his consigliari a la Studs Longigan with a ciggie pasted in his mug at the end of the commercial, and I wonder about all the history of tobacco, how it is held sacred by many across the world in small amounts, how kinnikinik is often smoked rather than tobacco, how tobacco was traded long ago, how it contains several chemicals that when heated, produce mild tranquilizing effects, and how old Mr. Carona in his last days laid in his Stratolounger in his old raggedy red plaid robe, coughing his guts out. And how the month before elderly Mrs. Carona had literally run after me on the sidewalk calling out to me, Help help, and when I turned, she with tears running down her face said Marty, her husband had the Big C and they just got the news. And Marty smoked two plus packs a day all the way through to his dying day. And they buried Mr. Carona and we were all there.
And the ciggie companies sent a seductive woman with a thigh high dress who was doing a bad Lauren Bacall imitation to the Senate tobacco hearings and how she swore up and down in her fake dulcet voice that ciggies hurt no one, ever, not once.
And all this, the Roger Rabbit version of Bacall, the elderly Caronas who were some of the most dear people on the face of the earth, he a moustachiod grand man, she a slip of a woman, together lost their son from meningitis suddenlike, they who together were beloved of the neighborhood for trading their plantings and cuttings and vegetables and fruits like the old fashioned Italians they were, who knew the dirt…
but they did not know tobacco, could not get loose of its chemical til too late, and even then.
And all this ghost movie flowed above the tv commercial of Herman Cain’s consigliari lighting up and sucking. And I thought of the thousands and thousands of Mr. Caronas, the thousands and thousands of Mrs. Caronas losing their lifelong mates, the grandchildren, the sons and daughter, the guys at the garage, the guys at the local dive, the guys who … were once ours, and we belonged to them too.
And then I thought of how the tobacco companies export without warnings on the packs to so many foreign countries, targeting children, as they once did here in the US, as the ones they wanted for ciggie smoking for life. Death given sip by sip for months and years on end.
And then I saw Herman Cain’s right hand man lighting up, on purpose, meant to be seen doing so on camera. I thought re he and Herman, that their bald ciggie promotion will be remembered far more than whatever was said on the tv to tout Cain. The message of the commercial was not in words, but in the visuals.
And meanwhile, those who couldnt get loose from the nicotine demon, will be remembered even more deeply, as stalwart souls who got caught very young in a scheme that brought death for the many and continues to bring fabulous wealth for the very very few.
I’ve been wondering too about the ‘death’ idea Cain put forward about electrified fences “this will kill you,” and his sucking hot burning tobaccy friend whose skin already looks gray and oxygen starved from smoking, perhaps. I wonder what/why the death’s head symbology surrounds Cain’s way of seeing the preciousness of Life.