Thursday, November 16, 2017

Irrational Optimism

I woke up a bit before 6 PM. I couldn't remember if I was supposed to be pissed off, or depressed.

I'm almost out of food, and am just recovering from a plasma draining the day before.

A lot of people would have killed themselves already if they were me, but I have this character flaw, I guess, which manifests itself as irrational optimism.
It was dark outside.

I was mad at the time on the clock; but, how could I be when I hadn't gone to sleep until noon?

I am so sick of having to "keep my chin up," and "look on the bright side,"and force myself into a good mood, time and time again.

The patrons of the Uxi Duxi were all talking about their Thanksgiving plans.

I hadn't gotten there until 7 PM, with only an hour to blog about how pissed off I was.
This laptop sat in front of me for at least 10 minutes with "Updates are 30% complete; don't shut off your computer," and a little spinning logo.

After that amount of time, I defied them by shutting the thing off. It came back on to the same "30%" screen and sat there like that for another couple minutes.

I turned it off again, removed and replaced the battery, and then it came back on and swiftly cycled through various percentages until it was 100% "updated," and I had learned something, but had wasted a good 20 minutes. This is a recurrent theme with me.

It seems like I am learning and learning and will have it all figured out at the time that I die of natural causes -a wise man, who could do something amazing if he could go back and start his life again...


The Uxi Duxi patrons were all inviting each other over for the holiday, should any of them be faced with spending it alone.

Nobody ever asked: "How about you, Daniel, are you going to be alright on Thanksgiving?" to which I could have reassured them that I had been invited by one of my only friends in Louisiana, Howard, to join him; and that Lilly still has a few days left to invite me, should she see me playing on her stoop over the next week.

It's just that, not only did they not think of me in that regard, it didn't seem to occur to them that it might be rude to do so right in front of me, as I sat in my usual spot by the window.  "I just don't want to see anyone have to spend the holiday alone (like he probably has to do)."

"I'm trying to figure out how I can post a picture of myself blowing my brains to Facebook; It's not an easy problem to solve; I would have to leave a note asking whomever finds my body to please go to the folder where the video will be and upload it to my home page; I would have to leave them my password...etc., and I really don't think I can rely upon anyone to do it. I can't tell them in advance, or they're going to try to talk me out of it..." was what I felt like saying to anyone who might have asked, so maybe it's good that they never even thought about me.

Lilly and the girls would be at my "funeral," and I think, Howard Westra would make it. Tim, my caseworker probably would, also. And, who knows how many buskers from the Quarter might drop a guitar pick in the urn with my ashes.

The problem is, the irrational optimism.

I'm the guy who will watch a football game right down to the end, even if my team is trailing by 21 points with under 2 minutes left. They could recover 3 onside kicks, throw 3 "hail Mary" bombs to the end zone, and still tie the game up in less than 2 minutes, and, who knows, they might draw a penalty flag, which would allow them one more play before time expired, and they might kick a 65 yard field goal to win it...

And, I would have missed the most fantastic finish in the history of the game, if I had given up like most other people and had switched over to another channel.

So, that, in a nutshell, is why I'm not a suicidal person.

When it was 4 AM, I thought about trying to go to sleep, so I could be up at the Uxi Duxi when they opened at noon, and perhaps would have the whole afternoon to get caught up on this blog.

Harold the cat disappoints me. When Sherman was over, Harold had jumped up on the couch and cuddled with him after he finished eating, just like Sherman was me, or as if Harold doesn't care who the hell it is, as log as he pets him and scratches his head.
I'm not totally happy with Harold as a pet; but I kind of knew this, already, about cats.

This is the same bullshit that I am facing day after day. It's 9:30 PM. If I want to go out and busk, I should fold up this laptop and get moving right now; but, what if I think I could sit here for a few hours and produce an interesting post, which would be worth more to me than the 6 dollars I might make busking? Or go back to the apartment and spend 5 hours working on a drawing that might come out beautifully?

This is just human nature; looking for an excuse to avoid the responsibility of having to go out and make some kind of living.

But, of course, if I didn't smoke cigarettes or weed, do kratom shots or drink coffee, then I wouldn't be so "pressed" to make money...same old bullshit.

If I stay in to work on something that turns out to be a piece of crap, then I'll wake up in the morning with a piece of crap and barely enough money to take a bus over to sell my plasma for 25 dollars.

And the funny thing is, I have the ability to flip a switch and be in an awesome mood, just by re-framing the situation.

If I go to the Lilly Pad and make just 10 bucks, I can feed Harold the cat, and still be on the plasma bus the following day.

And then, there is the matter of, what if I spent the same 3 to 5 hours busking, rather than selling plasma? Instead of hopping on the 115 for Gretna, I could plop myself down, right there by the bus stop and play until such a time that I would be returning on the same bus 3 to 5 hours later; and, wouldn't I have at least the 25 dollars in my basket, and wouldn't feel weak and old and pessimistic?
And hungry enough to eat a few more of those 25 dollars worth of food?

Tony Robbins, in his great book "Unlimited Power," talks about how it is counterproductive to even dwell upon what is depressing you, even for the purposes of trying to explain it to a therapist or a friend.
When someone asks you: "What's wrong, why are you so depressed?" then they are asking you to recreate that state of mind, and put yourself in it.

The thing to do is flip the switch, and put yourself in a positive state of mind, and don't look back.

So, here I go again.

This gets tiring, but...I feel great and have a lot to contribute; I am blessed!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Depression And Scientology

I stayed at the Uxi Duxi, sitting outside, doing yesterday's post until my battery died on the laptop.

It died just as I had clicked on a link on a photo hosting website that is notorious for "redirecting" one to other websites, even the ubiquitous one that pops up and causes a voice to sound, saying something like "Warning, your computer is under attack; don't shut it off; call this number immediately and speak to one of our technicians; who will charge you a fee off your credit card; otherwise your whole hard drive will be deleted and you will lose everything; warning; warning..."

I have gotten to where I can head this one off at the pass by paying attention to the address in the tab that pops open. If it isn't a link to the photo, which will start with the address of the photo hosting site, then I "X" it out before it even loads.

But this time, my battery died and the screen went black right at that point.
I walked back to the apartment, wondering if my laptop was even going to work when I got home.
All the ideas about what kind of music I was going to work on when I got there had become dependent upon "If my computer even works, that is."

I had torn through the 20 dollars that I had started the day with.

$3.00 for an all day bus pass...this would have been good if I was to use it for more than one trip, which I didn't.

I had ridden to the hippie bar, after stopping to spend $3.12 on a creatine monohydrate drink.

I had spent $6.00 at the Uxi Duxi, which had left me, after spending $2.80 on Harold the cat, with the 5 dollars and change that I threw on the coffee table, before feeding the critter the lone can of food that I had, and then sitting down to either read or practice out of the Mel Bay book, or record more versions of "Carry Me Back To 'Ol Virginny." I wasn't sure which.

That piece of music, I'm not going to be through with until I have recorded a version of it fit to be played on NPR radio. This will be the way I will test myself to see if I am ready to progress to Grade 2.
I really wish I had had a teacher, back when I was 14, who could actually play the pieces expertly, and point out the details to me "...you need to let these two notes ring while you play the next two; so you actually have to re-position your hand so your fingers are coming straight down, otherwise the side of the first finger might mute the lower of the notes that should keep ringing..."

The measure to the left demonstrates this. In order to let the two (dotted) notes ring while the next two sound, the first finger has to come down on the second of them from an angle of almost straight above, so as not to touch the adjacent string.
This is just the second measure of the song, and my teacher at the time, Brian, should have stopped me with: "Nope, you gotta let those notes ring for three beats. It can be done, but you have to change the angle of your hand. You just have to teach your muscles to move in a certain way...now, let's just play through that one measure repeatedly, focusing upon that..."

Instead, Brian, at The Music Box By Salvatore (a store that was open in 1993 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts but which can't even be found by Google now) would do things like come into the lesson room, playing the opening guitar riff to "Oxygen," by Foreigner, which was "really cool," because that song was climbing the charts, and could be heard blasting from the stereos of kids near and far.

Cranking out that riff, and sounding just like the guy in Foreigner kind of implied that the guitarist had everything he needed to go on and sell millions of records, tour the world, get laid, be famous, expose his art to a worldwide audience, wear cool clothes, have long hair, expensive cars, jewelry, cars, boats and a lot of cool guitars.

Then, after my awestruck reaction of "Wow, my teacher really is good; I bet he could start a band and they would be one of the most popular in town" wore off, Brian would say: "OK, where were we; what did I give you last week?"
I found Brian on Facebook; guess he plays drums now...

"Um, 'Carry Me Back To 'Ol Virginny,' and this minor scale in the second position..."

I would then plunk my way through the thing, not keeping steady time, not letting the two notes ring for three beats; while Brian sat there with a "I hope I can milk several months of lesson fees out of this kid before he looses interest in the instrument" look on his face.

It was so not something that you would associate Foreigner or Led Zeppelin or stardom in general with, that it begged the question: "Why do I have to learn these queer songs; what am I going to do, get up on stage in a nightclub and say into the mic: 'This next one is called 'The Grey Goose,' and it goes a little something like this,' and then turn the knob of my Marshall Stack amplifier up and rock the place?"

So, I am now trying to undo the damage done to me at the Grey Goose level, by a poor instructor, back when I was 14. The motif to Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days" is a good example of a single measure that requires that the guitarist use his muscles in just such a way to allow certain notes to ring while others are hammered on and pulled off, and the picking hand needs to be involved in a way that the pick is hitting the strings at a certain time and in a certain direction, up or down.

Another handicap for me at 14 was the fact that I had a very limited exposure to the wide variety of guitar music "out there," and would buy up books such as Mel Bay's "Bluegrass Guitar Method," thinking that I was going to broaden my playing skills, but would soon toss it aside (where it would land on top of Mel Bay's "Mastering Spanish Guitar" book) after concluding that I had tried it, and I guess, wasn't really into "Bluegrass."

It would have been nice to have had Tommy Emmanuel walk into my room with a guitar and say: "Here's how I play that one..." and then rip through it.

"That's that song?!?" I would probably ask.

"Sure, 'Orange Blossom Special' is a classic. This is a good book, it has a lot of great tunes in it...This Spanish Guitar one looks interesting, too."

I decided to stay up all night, reading.

I read about some of the things that cause people to become depressed, in a book that Travis Blain had left behind (as a rent payment) named: "The Art of Power." The book drew on a lot of Buddhist philosophy.

I then went back to "The Lords of Discipline," by Pat Conroy, and read about 10 pages, before deciding that I was going to jump around between the dozen or so that I was in the middle of reading, all with bookmarks at various points in them.

I want to be "well read," but don't want to read each book from start to finish before going to the next, because that makes me feel like I might never get to some of them.

Instead, I kind of set it up like a high school curriculum where I would get a bit of philosophy, science, math, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Ethiopian, and some fiction in a few different genres in each sitting.

In "Lords of Discipline," I had gotten to a part where the characters, who were students at a military academy were in an argument because one of them had been making jokes about Vietnam.

Another one was saying that those jokes should become off limits in their dorm, because they had friends that were dying over there.

This turned into a big moral discussion about war in general.

I returned the bookmark to between pages 85 and 86, and then went to the Bhagavad Gita.

The latter book, I just skip around in, it has no bookmark. So, I decided that I would go from where I was in the Conroy book, page 85, to the same one in it.

True to form, it seems, that page was all about the morality of war and violence, and touched upon the same subjects that the plebes had been talking about in Lords of Discipline. Leave it to the Bhagavad Gita to be part of such a "coincidence," which no longer surprises me.

Krishna says, by the way, that when a murdered is hanged, the king is doing him a favor by dissolving his bad karma and helping along in his next life. I wished I could have gone back to the dorm in the Conroy book and enlightened the plebes with that.

Then, while playing with Harold the cat, whose fir matches the cover of the Bhagavad Gita, my attention was drawn to the small pile of stuff that Travis Blain had left against the wall in my place. I moved a pillow off the top of a milk crate to discover that he had left a few of the "Dune" series of books by Frank Herbert (not contiguous, of course, because they were left by Travis Blain, who is "a few volumes short of a series" himself, and pretty much useless to me, unless I wanted to begin reading Return to Dune; the final episode, or whatever) the Edgar Alan Poe Review, and a book on Scientology.

I felt like I was becoming more scholarly, at the expense of having not gone out and made any money that night, which was some consolation. I had to stop and look up some words like "fustian" while reading the Poe Review.

It was one day after I had posted to my blog about a bugle blowing "revelry," I think was the word I used, that I saw the very same thing spelled "reveille" (a French word) somewhere, and had intended to go back and fix it, but haven't yet.

I had to smile, because, Alex In California, who plays the bugle, and who has called me out over my occasional misspelled words, would be sure to catch that one! I suppose he has come to expect such things in this fustian blog of mine.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Compelled To Relate

 To Howard's to watch football on a Sunday.

"Berta usually starts serving at around 1 PM," Howard had said.

I was determined to try to arrange things so I would get there at around that time, rather than a couple minutes before the game kicked off.

The past few times that I had gone there to watch football, I wound up on the very last bus that would give me any chance of making it to his place before the ball was kicked off. And I had gotten off it, at the Interstate ramp and had run, often gripping my backpack behind me so my laptop wouldn't bounce around too much, most of the mile to his house

"Oh, for Pete's sake, I was starting to think that you weren't gonna make it. There's coffee in the kitchen, would you like some?" Howard had said, each time -his routine thing to say- upon my arriving there, out of breath, and removing layers of clothing in order to cool off.

"I had to jog," I had replied each time.

But this Sunday was going to be different, right? I had had a 30 dollar Saturday night at the Lilly Pad, which quelled any feelings that I should be out busking instead of watching football, and had gotten to sleep at the reasonable hour of 4 AM.

But Sherman was at my place. He had started to almost beg me to accompany him to Wal-Mart, where he needed to get oil for the white box truck, which seems to be burning or leaking it. Of course it is burning or leaking oil; it's Sherman's; but it had been a "bargain" in other regards.

"I can drop you off at Howard's afterwards," he had said.

I kind of put my foot down, reminding him that I had made it plain the day before that Howard and I had been planning this occasion since the NFL schedule had come out back in August, announcing the pairing of each of our favorite teams, and even adding that I was trying, for a change, to make it there in time to join everybody in their Sunday afternoon dinner.

As I re-explained this to Sherman, while everybody was saying grace across the river, he sat on my couch, and became lost in his own thoughts.

I felt bad in a way, because Sherman truly seemed to be in need of a friend to lean on. He had somehow been kicked out of his apartment on Spanish Trail in Baton Rouge, where I had passed many nights back when I would go to that city to busk, during the slow season of July and August in New Orleans.

I remember that he had ha the place loaded with signs of all kinds of started, then abandoned, hobbies. The closet was full of music equipment, there was an easel and art supplies, photography stuff, a bow and arrow along with targets, and a dart board, upon which I remember defeating him etc. The place looked like a hobby store that also sold beds and coffee tables.

But, he had dropped in, unannounced, the day before the big game. In a bind.

I kind of wanted to do a shot of kratom at the Uxi Duxi, and then hop on the trolley to begin my journey, which I did.

But, I got busy with writing yesterday's post and found myself, once again, on the "jog to Howard's" vehicle.

The game was entering its second quarter by the time I entered the back door of the house and pushed open his bedroom door.

"Oh, for Pete's Sake, I was starting to think you weren't gonna make it. There's coffee in the kitchen, would you like some?"

Howard told me of his having ordered a nativity scene online, and then having returned the Mary and the Joseph along with a nasty note: "I could have gone to the Goodwill and paid 5 dollars for a better Mary and Joseph, than this 58 dollar set!"

"Much better..."
"The baby was alright, though," he added.

His complaint about Mary and Joseph was that they had been too white.

"Maybe that's so you can color them in yourself, with your choice of skin tone, depending upon your race," I offered. "They probably don't want to pretentiously send everybody a black Jesus..."

The company had made amends by sending him a much better Joseph and a much better Mary (shown).

I was surprised to learn that Howard, whom I knew had been a chaplain at a prison for something like 12 years, before he had gone to China to teach English, had a degree in Theology.
He told me that there was some evidence to suggest that Jesus was actually born perhaps in the year 30 B.C., and not on the commonly believed date.
"And almost certainly not on December 25th," I threw in my two cents with. This got a chuckle out of him.

He told me a few stories about his being a chaplain at a prison, to include the one about his having to have purged the chapel of the homosexual activity that had been going on before his arrival, and the one about the mentally ill inmate who would enter the chapel and just hold the foot of the statue of the crucified savior.
His decision had been: "As long as he's not touching the Jesus inappropriately...I'm not going to bar him from the chapel, just because he's doing something different. How do I know what's going through his mind...?"
I was just glad that Howard was talking in an animated way; as it was a sign that he was enjoying my company. There is always the possibility that I might find him in a mood unfavorable to watching football with a friend; he might have a headache, be very tired, or might have to be up early the next day, due to something having popped up. Making plans weeks in advance opens the door to that possibility.
There had been a couple times like that; when he had dozed off in front of the TV, and seemed to want to just go back to sleep, rather than have an animated discussion. I could read his body language and in between the lines of the things that he had said those times, and had left much earlier, saying things like: "Well, it looks like the Patriots have this one in the bag..."
Howard is also my Chinese "consultant" for all things "Tanya Huang."
He had become pretty much an expert on The Chinese throughout his 10 years of living there and teaching English, and offered me explanations on things like why she would shrug and say "I was just trying to play well," after I might have asked her an art-related question, like: "Did you ever live in Tennessee with a bunch of hill-billies?" after she had played a very authentic sounding "fiddle" part over "Folsom Prison Blues," by Johnny Cash.
The Crumbs Off Of Tanya's Table
I later found out that she had spent a few weeks one summer at a "fiddle camp" in that very state, jamming with and learning from some pretty well known fiddlers who were running the thing.
"Why wouldn't she have just told me that, Howard?"
"Well...the Chinese...." he had started, and then had basically said that she probably wanted me to think that she was this inherently gifted musician who could play any style on earth, as well as if she had spent a summer taking lessons from Ricky Skaggs at $1,200 a week at an exclusive fiddle camp.
Howard also suggested that I may have closed the door forever on any potential relationship with her, after having said anything disparaging that might have gotten back to her.
"The Chinese are all about 'face,' as in 'saving face;' and what is said and thought about them is everything to them; and they'll do some pretty puzzling things along that line."

Anecdote that I felt compelled to relate, or transparent attempt
to boost my blog traffic in Taiwan?

He mentioned seeing wealthy Chinese families in restaurants, who would intentionally order way more food than they could ever eat, just so they could be seen leaving plenty behind; as a sign of their abundance (and innate ability to pick up a fiddle and play as if they are at a square dance in a barn somewhere in Kentucky even though they are in China) and that they would then allow poor people to show their faces, which are beyond saving; and stuff them with the leftovers, praising the name of the wealthy family in between bites.

Tanya used to invite me to walk with her to Rouses Market, where she would buy me "whatever you want" to eat.

I had asked Howard about that, and if I should have politely declined, in order to save face; should have considered it an honor; or should have grabbed the most expensive plate of sushi with caviar and placed it on the counter at the register; type of thing.

It depends upon whether or not she is one of the "new millennia" Chinese kids, or is more steeped in tradition, if she is going to take any grudge against me that she might have, to the grave, or if she might play with me some day.

I actually arrived at the conclusion that, even if I just showed up and played with her for a couple hours here and there, having gotten myself an amp, a headset microphone, an electronic guitar pickup, and a trailer and bike to pull it all behind, that I could quickly and unobtrusively set up next to her; those couple hours here and there might constitute a "living" for me; who isn't presented with the onus of having to make as much money as I would be, playing for the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra, in order to justify my being "out there."




"I had the action lowered and this is a ceramic pick guard I had installed; and I'm just waiting on my wooden picks to arrive, and I'll be ready to go!!"

Bobby, in building C, has been very supportive of me; if giving me huge discounts on medicinal weed that is going to addle my brain and dissolve my ambition can be considered support.

He has bought a trailer that can be pulled behind a bike, a bike, and is now in the market for a battery powered guitar amp, and is giving every indication that he wants to let me use the stuff, and that he will consider it an investment.

"You help me out; you teach me things on the guitar, you inspire me to play; you have too much talent to be going out there and making 11 bucks a night; what the hell is that shit?!?" Bobby has said.

He has given me food -a whole frozen turkey a few weeks ago comes to mind- guitar strings and picks (some of them even made of wood) and even let my try a glass of the methadone that he has been prescribed, as a recovering heroin addict.

He is proud of the fact that he has been able to give up heroin, and that he now only smokes copious amounts of medicinal grade marijuana, doesn't drink nor smoke cigarettes, etc.

It wasn't lost upon me that, in doing so, he was given me the greatest gift, in his esteem, that he had in his power to offer me. How does a heroin addict say "I love you, man!?!" This plastic cup full of a brownish liquid is for you, buddy!

I guess I have never became a heroin addict for the same reason that the methadone put me in no better a frame of mind than I am able to attain in other ways. A double shot of kratom is more my cup of tea; and I don't see myself robbing anyone at gunpoint to get it.

Alex In California, former blog reader would probably see me as skeezing the guy...
Sherman Retreats
Sherman went back to Baton Rouge, I guess, after I had declined to go to Wal-Mart with him, and instead kept my Sunday Night Football date with Howard Westra.
He might have felt that I was being callous and abandoning a friend in need of someone to console him; but, how much should he have expected in that capacity, from a guy whom he hasn't seen in 2 years, and whose blog he stopped commenting upon, because he was repulsed by the "even robots can comment here" message that was in the box for a while?
He had thought it De-humanizing, or something...

But, Sherman; if you are reading this; you can always call in advance, and we can hang out on a day when I don't already have plans.

I think Sherman diminishes his odds of being rejected, by calling from right outside the apartment.



Louise Helton had more manipulative motives in doing the same thing, in the spirit of "I dragged all my stuff all the way here, and I'm right outside, how can you turn me away now?"

"Well, you can turn around and drag all your stuff right back to where you came from...that's how..."
I enjoy Sherman's company, conversely, and could easily plan for him to come by "the next day."
He just suffers from a self invented persecution by people in positions of power -kind of like his own personal 800 foot long hedgehog that is chasing him around.

He has the tendency to project upon himself things that might be said about others. I need to come up with a snigglet to describe this phenomenon.
He kind of took my recounting of the Travis Blain roommate debacle as an indictment of himself, for instance.
"Well, first of all, I don't have a cat, and...if I start to talk non-stop about myself,  just stop me..."
"Oh, I'm not relating him to you; I was just telling you the story because the subject came up. If I have something to say to someone, I'll usually just tell them straight up, and not use parables and hints and insinuations..."

One of my ex girlfriends, Angela, used to labor under the same thing, that I don't have a snigglet for yet.

I might have complained about a certain person, for instance, whom I encountered earlier that day who might have had, say, the irritating habit of staring off into space in between sentences, and might have just mentioned this strange thing, in the course of conversing.; to which her typical response would be to become defensive and say: "Well, I'm sorry if sometimes I have to gather my thoughts and my eyes might wander away from your face. Nobody's perfect. I'll try to guard against it in the future!!"

"Sweetie, I wasn't talking about you, nor trying to tell you something; I was just talking about how my day has gone..." type of thing.

I have written a 15,000 word story about my time with Angela, and would have published it already had I not gotten the idea to tie it in with a 15,000 word story to go
Monday Night
It's Monday night, 10:30 PM, already. I'm outside the Uxi Duxi, which closed 2 and a half hours ago, and I just need to stop and get a $2.12 box of dry cat food for Harold to go with the expensive food that Treva, the cashier at Rouses Market gave me last week. I still have about 12 bucks on me, out of the 30 that I made Saturday night, along with the 7 that I started out playing with.
"How's Harold?," I am often asked at that particular Rouses Market, when I show up before their closing time of 1 AM. I think that it is Treva's way of announcing to the other customers present: "Hey, this weirdo named his cat 'Harold.'"

Last night, as I waited for the bus which only comes once every hour and a half, I found 2 quarters on the ground around the bus stop. I then got on the bus and sat down with my foot almost resting on a 5 dollar bill that was on the floor.

"It's kind of a crazy Santa Claus, I like it." -Howard Westra
I had had to do a 200 yard dash to get to the bus after I had left the stop after the "11:50 PM" bus still hadn't arrived at 12:10 AM.

Thinking that I probably had an hour and a half or so to kill, I was going to get a newspaper and a cup of coffee at the Waffle House across the street. No sooner had I gotten to the other side of that 4 lane road with a median in between, when 2 buses appeared at the stop that I had just vacated.

The 200 yard sprint to it; made feasible by the fact that some guy had to remove his bike from the front carrier; told me that, yeah, I need to quit smoking...