A Life of Living Dangerously \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\tChristopher Hitchens I was changing planes at a Midwestern airport, with an hour or two to kill, and took my book to a bar that actually still boasted a smoking section. Hoisting myself onto a stool, I called cheerfully for a Johnnie Walker Black Label and was told that before I could be served it I would need to produce a driver's license. Well, I was planning to fly rather than drive, and said so. No license, no drink, came the reply. In a big city when this happens I tell the management to fuck off and then take my custom elsewhere. But in this pissant airport terminal I had no choice. Seeing my then pepper-and-salt beard and doubtless noticing other signs that I was older than him and much older than 21, the lad behind the bar took pity and showed some respect to his elders. The thing was that his bar had been sued. A doltish senior citizen, seeing younger people being "carded" and himself uncarded, had gone to a lawyer and..."Don't tell me," I broke in. "He claimed age discrimination." Yes. "And won?" Yes. As a result of this senile absurdity, on the part of both the plaintiff and the judge, I was unable to have a cocktail and a cigarette at the same time without undergoing a slight humiliation. The barman, instead of being a temporary friend, becomes a part-time cop, which destroys the notion of hospitality. And nobody was any better off, or better protected, as a result. Things like this either enrage you or they don't, and what infuriates me is how little outrage they actually cause. I was on my way to Chicago, a favorite city of mine because in its many neighborhoods there are several dozen different ways of getting into trouble. But very soon now there won't be a single bar or restaurant in that city where you can have a drink and a smoke at the same time at all, let alone under the supervision of a barman already scared of an informer and a fine. As from April 2006, furthermore, the city has told restaurants that they may not serve foie gras. And as I write, one of the greatest-ever centers of ethnic and soul food is considering a band on the so-called artificial trans-fats that enrich the oil in which sausages, steaks, pizzas, and chickens are often fried. They don't want to leave the decision up to you. How shall I phrase my objections to all this? I could say, which would be true, that I did not emigrate to the Unites States in order to be told what to do, let alone what I could eat, drink, or smoke. I could say that I left home many decades ago and no longer require any surrogate parents to worry about me. I could say that I don't let my own children eat at McDonald's but that's entirely my business. I could say that I don't enjoy fatty foods or even foie gras except on rare occasions, but that I can avoid them myself, thanks, without anybody telling me or my favorite restaurant proprietor what to do. Above all, I could say that whenever I hear someone intone, "Sir, I'm going to need you to..." my instinctive response is, "And as for you, sir, I need you to stay the fuck out of my face." The noose of "zero tolerance" is tightened very gently and slowly, and always "for your own good." At another airport recently, I was discovered to be carrying a valuable new gold-plated cigarette lighter in a presentation box. It was intended as a gift. They tried to take it off me, under a new regulation that is designed to protect us against another Richard Reid (who attempted to light his "shoe bomb" with matches). Nobody ever tried another shoe bomb in the several years that lighters on planes were legal, and I further offered to demonstrate that this lighter was brand-new, had no lighter fluid in it, could not be struck, etc. The official stone face and flat tone kicked in. "No exceptions." I had to risk missing my flight, and call for two supervisors, in order to have a valuable piece of private property held for me-fortunately this was my hometown airport-until I came back. Amount of government time wasted this way every day: incalculable. Amount of additional "security" provided: nil. Number of American airports where ther is a bin on the way out, and where you can collect a lighter if you surrendered one on the way in: one. An exception! Zero tolerance equals zero thought. The plan is for a society where one size fits all, and where even in New York-New York!-you cannot hang out a shingle that says: O'LEARY'S HIBERNIAN CABIN. TWO-DRINK MINIMUM. IF YOU DON'T LIKE SMOKE, THEN STAY THE HELL OUT OF MY BAR. This means that, in some essential way, the city has lost its character. New laws forbid making noise after midnight (human noise, that is, not car-alarm noise) and make it an offense even to smoke under a restaurant awning. My editor at Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, had his office raided while he was on vacation, and was issued a citation because on his desk there was an object that could be used as an ashtray. Nice to know that the city has officials with this much time on their hands, and that it encourages people to snitch on each other at work. At this rate we shall all soon live in some sinister Disneyland, with plastic tables in well-lit plastic restaurants, everybody tucked up safely by midnight, and warnings on every package. The memory of the dark and funky bar, with blue smoke and jazz and thick steaks and bloody wines and strong cocktails (and red-blooded sexual overtones) will have been neatly airbrushed. You think I jest? The postage stamp issued in honor of the great bluesman Robert Johnson, which is based on a famous photograph of him with unfiltered cigarette adhereing to his lower lip, has had the cigarette airbrushed already. They just don't trust you with such dangerous and inflammatory information. Actually, there is "age discrimination," but it is directed at the young. I quite often lecture at college campuses where, if students are invited to the dinner, not even a glass of wine can be served. (When I was at Oxford, sherry or wine during tutorials was almost compulsory, and Oxford isn't famed for being a worse place, or an inferior university, as a result.) Eighteen is old enough to vote, to drive, to marry, and to join the Army but not old enough to have a drink in a public place. To be young in America now is to be constantly told to buckle up, wear a bike helmet, wear a condom, avoid risk, watch your intake, show your ID at all times, and respect the world of political correctness and safe sex that curmudgeons like me have so considerately left to you. And if you do decide to live dangerously and sign up for the armed forces, you will find that girlie magazines are banned at stores on the base and that you cannot even pop a can of ale. In Iraq not long ago, I was woken by Baghdad-type noises and went outside onto the safe-house patio, where I found a boy about the age of my son whose job it was to stand outside while I was inside. This infantryman looked over his shoulder about five times when I offered him a hit from my flask. Heaven forbid he should have the responsibility of deciding for himself. (The people who were trying to kill us spend the rest of their time assassinating the owners of Iraq's liquor stores.) Talking of foreign policy, our stupid Puritanism is in the process of handing our deadliest enemies a deadly weapon. When I was in Afghanistan, I ran into several American soldiers and "drug enforcement" officials whose job it was to spray opium poppy fields with chemicals, or else burn them or confiscate the product. In many Afghan villages, this well-known poppy happens to be the only source of income. And I hate to break it to our eager enforcement beavers, but the country has thousands of miles of unpatrollable frontiers, across which are millions of people who will pay top dollar for the stuff. In other words, the attempt to destroy the livelihood of the growers will simply fail, as it deserves to do. But meanwhile the Taliban forces are creeping back in and telling the villagers that they will help them against the crop-burners. And all the money that could be raised for education and reconstruction, if the crop was instead bought to make painkillers, is diverted to criminal warlords and their Islamist allies, whose Puritanism makes our own version look feeble. Nice work. Good job. All of those who I met on the "enforcement" side were quite willing to admit that what they were doing was the most absolute and perfect bullshit. Meanwhile, back in the U.S. of A., we have an acute shortage of painkillers, which are often underprescribed anyway, for people in desperate need of them, because doctors are scared of a visit from the "drug war" police. And Rush Limbaugh-who has already been pointlessly prosecuted for allegedly overusing his own painkillers-was recently detained at the airport for traveling with Viagra just because the prescription was not in his name. Mr. Limbaugh's dick is none of my or our concern, and anything he is likely to do with it must be counted as a crime without a victim. But the private life means nothing to those who are determined that we play by their rules on everything from food to sex. (Sir, you want a hard-on? I'm going to need to see some written permission for that.") Well, you may think I'm overstating current circumnstances somewhat. But these aren't the ramblings of a disgruntled smoker. I have what is sometimes known as a life, which luckily for me involves self-employment as a writer and speaker. It's always amusing, but it involves a fair bit of stress, travel, late nights, and the suchlike. And you know what? I think I can handle it on my own. There are times when a cigarette will help me-due to its famous nicotine content-to stay awake and to concentrate. (Nicotine can even ward off Alzheimer's, say the doctors, if you live long enought to get it, that is.) My metabolism can process Scotch whisky without any undue difficulty, and there are moments when the glow can help me write, or even talk. It wards off boredom, which presses in on me from every side in a country increasingly run by tedius idiots. Some of my writer friends do really well with the help of a joint, and good luck to them, but dope gives me heartburn and makes me less aggressive, and I don't need either of those results. Very occasionally, a snort of cocaine can be a good thing, but I despise people who make a habit of it. (Outside my house is a school with a sign that says DRUG FREE ZONE on its fence. Uh, huh. I am never more than two telephone calls away from a score if that's what I choose, and I gather from well-informed sources that the stuff often comes direct from the police department.) I have no use for breakfast, but at lunch a T-bone with about eight cloves of garlic, rammed home with some rich Burgundy or pinot, often appeals. (The New England Journal of Medicine now admits that two proper drinks a day are more or less essential for the heart: I was in possession of this information while doctors were still nervously covering it up.) I don't drink any sort of coffee except espresso, and was delighted to learn recently that decaffeinated beans raise a person's level of bad cholesterol. I have no intention of telling you about Viagra-related matters, but I will say that when my cock talks, I listen. This is the only country in the history of the world that stipulates "the pursuit of happiness" as an inalienable human right. I once produced a book about Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those words, and I can tell you that nobody knows whether he meant pursuing happiness, or happiness itself as a pursuit. Whichever meaning he intended, it would clearly include the right to go to hell in your own way, and also the right to tell other people to go do the same. Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. This article appears in the January 2007 issue of Maxim Magazine, with illustrations by Ralph Steadman(Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas).