The Details of Re-emergence

I testified again in the city of Santa Clara about their no-smoking ordinance. It was very exciting. First, after all the testimony, they defeated the motion as it had stood before: no smoking in any indoor enclosed area. Then they defeated a similar motion which exempted freestanding bars (as opposed to bars in restaurants). Then after going back and forth, the original motion was re-introduced, and that passed four to three. There are still some public hearings to go, but three of the votes are firm, and one is a swing vote. This last was the person who put forward the freestanding bars motion, and she changed her vote on the last pass to affirm the motion.

I was the only one called back to the lectern after speaking, and the swing vote wanted to know if my organization made a distinction between freestanding bars and in-house bars. I said I understand the need to sometimes have a step-by-step process, but no, we didn't, because breathing smoke was going to kill you either way. I probably should have said that the smoke was usually thicker in freestanding bars, and therefore more dangerous.

No one was arguing about smoking in restaurants, but about bars, bingo halls, and bowling alleys. It turns out there is a world-famous synchronized swimming team in Santa Clara, they're all cute young women, and they all want to go to the 1996 Olympics. The first-ranked swimmer in the world in this sport was at the hearing. They finance themselves through the proceeds of bingo. I didn't realize before that night that Santa Clara is the bingo capitol of the world. So one swimmer after another, half of them in tears, got up and begged the city council to allow smoking in bingo or they would lose so much money they would have to quit the team. It was a travesty.

There was a lung doctor whom I talked to at break before we testified, and we talked about the spectacle of these athletes begging for these people to be allowed to harm their bodies and those around them. The swimmers must volunteer one night a week at bingo, so they're also breathing it all in. He was thinking about making a comment, and I encouraged him, but he didn't, so I decided I had to say something when it was my turn. I just couldn't let it pass. It was one of those occasions where you know some of your audience disagrees with you, but you have to concentrate on getting through to them, not on making clever, caustic remarks about their irony and stupidity.

That day, there had also been an asbestos spill on the Bay Bridge which they closed from 7:00 am to midnight, so I brought that up, too. Asbestos and secondhand smoke are both class A carcinogens.

The best thing was the media person who talked to me after I testified and told me I'd really grown in my speaking. This was only the second time she heard me, but it's true, that it was different than the first time (plus a lot of it was not written out beforehand). Her comment meant a lot to me because it was peer to peer.

I've been thinking a lot about big things and little things. I like the fact that little things, like finding perfect sand dollars or finding a fresh discarded newspaper on the bus, make me feel good and like the world is right. I don't like the fact that some mere rude or sexist remark can bog me down. I would like to ignore the little mess-ups, and sometimes I can.

I'm trying to think about big and little when I plan my time. I wrote a list the other day: make bed, decide about insurance, call so-and-so, write for two hours, exercise, water plants. This is a widely disparate list. Deciding about insurance, which I still haven't done, is going to take forty-five minutes of uninterrupted time and I don't want to do it. Making my bed takes three minutes and I like it. Exercise I won't put off, but insurance and writing I will. This is an old habit from long ago where I was trying to fill my day so that it would have meaning. I need to change how I fashion my time.

Isabel Auerbach
San Francisco, California, USA


Last modified: 2015-07-21 09:38:43-07