As a social smoker, I rarely buy cigarettes with intent. Instead, I often rely on chance encounters with guys who can generously share their cigs with me. The last time I lighted up was a few months ago, with a guy I met on B, whose name I already forgot. Although our paths never crossed again, that evening together where we strolled along the beach, shared a pack of Marlboro, and discussed family and work, though very brief and transient, remains part of my memories. Some may say it’s a fabricated tale since there’s no one else to witness, but they are real snippets of such a life filled with fleeting connections like mine.
Today, however, marked a departure from my usual routine as I visited a convenience store to buy a pack of Camel and a lighter. A sense of shame lingered when was waiting at the counter, likely stemming from the fact that I’m a novice smoker in a predominantly non-smoking world. I felt like a curious teenager discreetly taking up smoking. Even when I headed to my frequented café to indulge in a smoke shortly afterwards, the sense of awkwardness persisted, heightened by the realization that such café is not a welcoming place for smokers: They had no ashtrays. So I had to use a paper box as an alternative.
I sort of know why I was drawn to smoking. It all started with a scene from the adult animation I recently watched, Carol and the End of the World. In the final episode, titled The Investigation, a character, the HR woman, appears to break free from her usual composed and professional demeanor. Amid a chaotic and anxious working day, she finds solace in Nicotine, and later breaks into tears alone in her room. This emotional release occurs after the main character, Carol Kohl, addresses her by her name Kathleen, a name never used by anyone in the office before. It seems she was moved by the connection she felt with her co-workers during the limited time remaining on Earth. Smoking, in these instances, isn’t a result of addiction but rather a response to the need to cope with the anxiety and chaos within. It reminds me of a scene in Breaking Bad when Skyler smokes upon discovering Walter’s secret life, which poses a potential threat to their once-peaceful family.
Many of the men I’ve encountered seem to develop a penchant for black coffee and cigarettes as they enter middle age. It’s a phenomenon I struggle to comprehend. Personally, I continue to relish the sweet, creamy indulgence of lattes and similar drinks, finding little appeal in the taste of smoke or beer. Nevertheless, there are moments when I find solace in the act of smoking, purely for the sake of experiencing a certain sensation.
Seated on the balcony of the café, I enjoyed a panoramic view of a wide avenue stretching directly ahead, then I immersed myself once more in the movie streaming before me. Episode by episode, I found the film compelling, reshaping my perspective on work. I often perceive work as a temporary pursuit, something to discard once financial sufficiency is attained. However, in this cinematic narrative where the world faces imminent demise in 7 months and 13 days, banks erase all debts, and people burn money in celebration, an unusual office endures. Amidst the chaos, individuals toil tirelessly within its confines, a deliberate effort to escape the madness beyond. While the prevailing sentiment urges seizing the moment, indulging in all manner of wild pursuits for a taste of freedom, from travel to extravagant parties, there exists a faction like Carol and her cohorts. They belong to an unconventional workplace known as Distraction, seeking nothing more than a regular, day-to-day job. It’s not about money but rather a means to navigate life when purpose is elusive.
I found myself contemplating the possibility of there being no other worlds, much like the absence of afterlives. Inspired by Nietzsche’s notion of life being replayed endlessly, I questioned the essence of my choices. When your adventures inevitably conclude, seeking new, more challenging experiences doesn’t necessarily lead to the perfection you desires. Perhaps everything I seek is already within reach from the start. I pondered the idea of working for just four more years, utilizing savings to pursue a Master’s degree abroad, hoping for a different life. However, I questioned whether such a change would truly bring happiness, considering the likelihood of returning to the same nine-to-five routine. The realization dawned that the pursuit of a different scenario may not yield significant disparities. It occurred to me that it might be about a journey of lost and found, and I currently find myself in the ‘lost’ stage, still discovering that everything I truly need may be right here and now.
Why can’t every workplace be as great as ‘Distraction’, fostering an environment where colleagues engage in friendly chats and genuinely care for one another? It strikes me that our job-related struggles may stem from treating each other as if we are mere machines. The resulting animosity and miscommunication hinder the development of supportive relationships that should naturally flourish. Perhaps the core issue lies in our excessive concern for an uncertain future—be it a lavish car, an unborn child, a grandiose marriage, or savings for retirement, or an irrelevant past—gender stereotypes, social norms, and so on. If we were aware that our world had only a few months left, maybe we would approach each other with greater kindness and openness.
I found myself shedding tears during an episode, although I had acknowledged the unconventional choice of heading to a café after work, tuning into a Netflix animation, all in pursuit of an emotional release. To me, that can be one of those rare moments that linger in my memory for years to come. This specific episode, titled Holidays, portrayed people leaving the office to embrace a day free of work. The poignant scene where Donna bids farewell to her extended family, accompanied by the song Silent Night, Holy Night, resonated deeply. The musical choices throughout the series were noteworthy, including the soulful Sealed with a Kiss in the concluding scene of episode 9 and Don’t You during a karaoke performance by Kathleen in episode 10. Another memorable episode explored a lost and found room, where the characters delved into each object, contemplating the unique stories of those who once worked there. This experience evoked the term ‘Sonder’ from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.
In an unexpected turn, I pondered the idea of sticking with cigarettes for a bit, enticed by their appetite-suppressing effects despite being mindful of the associated risks. The notion of utilizing smoking as a tool to enhance focus on writing introduces intriguing possibilities. Who can predict where this unanticipated journey might take me?