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Selma Schlickenstien, a wrinkly, light brown haired, 5’3, grey-eyed, 63-year-old lady lives in a small tan house in the suburbs of Marlboro, New Jersey. She works as the executive supervisor of reception at the headquarters of Camel Tobacco Co. and lives alone. A widow with no children, her dead husband Sherbet Schlickenstien, was run over by a truck during one of their annual vacations in Newport, Rhode Island. Her house has one floor, all of which is covered in tan carpet. Beige furniture, wrapped in plastic, covers the living room, where there’s a 12 inch T.V. sitting on a stool and a small fireplace. The kitchen has a tile floor, stove/oven, fridge with an “ice box”, as she calls it, on the bottom, and small khaki counter. The dining room, which lies across the kitchen, has an old wooden table, also covered in plastic. The bedroom has a queen-sized bed, a nightstand with a drawer full of cigarette cartons, and a 12 inch T.V.
Monday through Friday, Selma wakes up at 6:30 am, strips off yesterday’s nail polish and applies a new layer with a slightly different shade of grey. Her outfit usually consists of a selection from her large collection of tan blouses and black sport-jackets with khaki-pleaded trousers. Before driving her pale brown 1994 Chevrolet Celebrity to Camel Headquarters, a 45-minute drive during which she smokes eight cigarettes, Selma drinks two cups of black coffee and smokes 3 Newport cigarettes, her favorite brand. She then takes the elevator to the ninth floor and sits down at her tawny desk, and starts up her 2004 Dell 2400 desktop, which runs Windows 98. Though she takes calls and manages the schedule of Herman Slanth, advertising executive for Camel Cigarettes, her official title is Executive Supervisor of Reception. Surprisingly enough, state law banned smoking in office buildings in Marlboro, so every 20 minutes Selma goes out onto the balcony across the floor to smoke a cigarette, while looking out on St. Jude’s Children’s cancer hospital, several parking lots, and a small, litter-filled park.
She leaves work at 5:00 pm and drives home, smoking 4 more on the way. After an hour of watching her favorite programs, which include re-runs of Law and Order, C-span, and Whale Wars, which she says she enjoys because none of the plots are to rushed. Selma doesn’t like things rushed. She eats dinner at home or sometimes at Spaghetti’s Chinese restaurant, because it’s the only restaurant in town that allows smoking due to its outside seating across the street, on Main Street with her friend Shelly, another widow and chain smoker, whose favorite brand of cigarettes is Camel. Shelly holds the slightly lower position of executive receptionist on the same floor. The usual subject of conversation between them is is gossip about coworkers in the company or the latest news in the cigarette industry.
In her spare time, Selma is an active member in the CFSECM, or the Citizens for Smoking Everywhere Committee of Marlboro, whose main goal is to repeal anti smoking laws and taxes on cigarettes. One Thursday Selma receives a call from the wife of the chair of committee, Walter Watson, who informs her that her husband, with his increasingly severe dementia, had forgotten which way to smoke a cigarette, and burned his mouth badly. His swollen tongue had clogged his throat. He suffocated and died in his home. A new chair was to be picked, and Walter’s wife had selected Selma, because of her membership since 1974, as one of the three candidates for the position. The decision would be made Saturday, the next weekly meeting. Selma was to propose an event to spread the committee’s ideals to show why she should be picked. As soon as Selma sets the tan 1980’s style receiver down, she has an idea.
On Saturday, Selma drove to the committee meeting as usual, which is held in the community center conference room. At the door she meets a man named Mike who had recently joined.
“Welcome to the Committee! May I ask why you joined?” Says Selma.
“Thanks, and sure.” Mike said, “I’ve been smoking for 25 years now, and my daily life is starting to be severely affected by these ridiculous smoking laws that the mayor has passed over the last few years. I used to always smoke in my car and on the toilet, but now that it’s illegal to smoke on freeways and in apartment buildings, my driving skills have suffered greatly and I’ve received several tickets. I also have a hard time, well, going to the bathroom. I don’t even think smoking is actually bad for you, I mean; no one I know has died of cancer. I think the government just makes up research to make the public think it’s bad so they have an excuse to tax cigarettes as ridiculously high as they do.”
“Well that’s how most of us feel,” Selma added as she nervously but confidently walked into the conference hall.
She watches the two other candidates present their proposals. One is to open a public mailing list and send out events and news weekly to raise awareness. The other is a fundraiser dinner in a fancy restaurant to buy ads in the Marlboro Times. Selma likes both of these, but thinks her idea is better. She walks up to the pedestal and delivers her proposal: to organize a protest against the recently passed laws that ban smoking in even more places, like some apartment buildings, outside sections of restaurants, and all parks. All other Citizens for Smoking Everywhere Committees on the East coast would be invited. The protest would be Saturday, January 1st, the day the new smoking laws were set to go into effect.
The vote was taken after the proposals and the winner announced that evening via email, which Selma struggled with, but was able to find out that she had won unanimously. She dropped the invitations to the other committees in the mail the next day before work and eagerly awaited replies.
Within a few days her mailbox was packed full of letters. She opened them and was more than satisfied with the results; fifteen of the twenty-one committee heads she invited said their committees would be there, January 1st, to protest. Fifteen committees each with around 150 members worked out to be over 2,000 people. Selma let everyone in the committee know via email that the protest was going to happen, and to start making signs and preparing speeches. An exciting week of planning and work passed, and by Friday everyone was ready and excited for the big event. That night, a final meeting was held. Bob, a member of the group who works as a carpenter, had made the signs. The various placards said things along the lines of “Public Smoking Doesn’t Need to Be Filtered!” “Smoking is a RIGHT!” and “Take away our smoke, take away our freedom!” The plan, explained by Selma, was to march down Main St. towards the square starting at 9:30 AM, and then over the bridge and into Jersey City where they would protest until the laws where changed. Selma left at the end of the meeting and arrived home at 8:00 pm, where she ate a bowl of spaghetti with some cauliflower, drank some tonic water mixed with Lapsang Sonchong tea, smoked some camels, and went to bed watching “How it’s Made: Cigarettes.”
“This just in: we are receiving reports that a protest of the new smoking restrictions is planned for today,” says Selma’s radio, waking her up at 8:00 am on Saturday, January 1st. She is somewhat surprised to hear that the plan got out, but not at all worried. After her usual 2 cups and 3 smokes, she drives over early to prepare for the protest.
Selma parks on Main Street at 9:00 am to find 15 large buses parked nearby. There are already hundreds of people out in the street getting ready. A member hands her a “Smokers are people too”. “Today we march for our freedom to smoke wherever and when ever we please!” Selma screams into a megaphone in her low, dry, and raspy voice, which reminds many of a komodo dragon trying to digest gravel, to a growing crowd of now 2,200 mostly elderly men and woman who consider smoking their main occupation. Selma and other committee members lead the mob and start making their way down Main Street and towards the town square. By now many are watching the group, some even join in.



By noon the protest has grown to 2,500 and has become somewhat threatening to the city. Traffic is being directed around Main Street, police are starting to show up to restrain the protesters, and the Channel 985 News is on the scene, interviewing angered citizens. Sound waves from the crowd chanting lines such as “WE’LL SMOKE WHERE WE WANT TO!” and “SMOKING IS A RIGHT” to everyone nearby fills the nearby air accompanied by a large cloud of cigarette smoke. At 1 PM, the protest becomes dangerous when Calvin Conson, the mayor of Marlboro, walks to his car from an important weekend meeting. The mob quickly surrounds him, not allowing him to move. Selma, cigarette in mouth, pushes her way to the front and starts screaming at the top of her lungs at Conson. Two of the police officers trying to calm the crowd immediately tackle and try to handcuff her, but Selma writhes around on the ground, resisting arrest. During the struggle she is pepper sprayed and, in pain, accidently swallows her lit cigarette. She is handcuffed and put in the back of the officers’ squad car, but neither of them notices that she’s choking because of the noise from the crowd. But as soon as they start driving, they notice her choking noises and stop the car. One preforms the Heimlich procedure to dislodge the cigarette, but her throat is badly burned and closed and she has passed out. He drives her to the hospital where Selma, still passed out, is put in the intensive ward. When Selma doesn’t wake up in the morning, doctors discover that she suffered severe brain damage from oxygen depravation after the officer arrested her. They tell Shelly that Selma is in a coma from which she probably will never come out of. Shelly drives to Selma’s house and retrieves her will, which states that if she were to ever be in such a situation, she would wouldn’t want her life to be artificially sustained. Her stabilization machine is unplugged and Selma dies at 11:20 am, Sunday, January 2nd. Shelly misses work to mourn her friend for the next week, and switches to what was Selma’s favorite brand of cigarettes, Newport.
A funeral is held at the First Church of Marlboro, a ceremony in which many CFSECM members, along with Shelly, attend. She is left many of Selma’s valuables, which include her televisions, life savings, and the remainder of her supply of cigarettes. The CFSECM inherits Selma’s house, which becomes their new meeting place. Shelly is named the new head of the committee. Selma’s will also includes a request for the inscription on her tombstone: “Smoking is good for the soul”, which is engraved on the tan marble slab that is placed in the Marlboro Cemetery. Her body is cremated and her ash is spread around it, allowing no flowers or grass to grow near it for over 50 years.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Zombiekityy said...
May 21, 2012 at 9:57 am
You had wonderful descriptions and the story line made you want to read more. But I'm confused on one thing: what was the message you were trying to convay? It read like something that is supposed to motivate you.
 
theplatypusmaster replied...
May 21, 2012 at 3:47 pm
Thanks! I didn't write it with an intended message/meaning, just for the sake of it being a story. Maybe I'll make it sound less motivational.
 
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