Nick Naylor likes his job. In the neo-puritanical nineties, it's a challenge to defend the rights of smokers and a privilege to promote their liberty. Sure, it hurts a little when you're compared to Nazi war criminals, but Nick says he's just doing what it takes to pay the mortgage and put his son through Washington's elite private school St. Euthanasius. He can handle the pressure from the antismoking zealots, but he is less certain about his new boss, BR, who questions whether Nick is worth $150,000 a year to fight a losing war. Under pressure to produce results, Nick goes on a PR offensive. But his heightened notoriety makes him a target for someone who wants to prove just how hazardous smoking can be. If Nick isn't careful, he's going to be stubbed out.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
Christopher Buckley, whose novel themovie is based on, is the editor of ForbesFYI magazine and the author of elevenbooks, many of them national bestsellers,including Thank You for Smoking. He isthe winner of the distinguished ThurberPrize for American humor.
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There was a thick stack of WHILE YOU WERE OUTS when he got back to the Academy’s office in one of the more interesting buildings on K Street, hollowed out in the middle with a ten-story atrium with balconies dripping with ivy. The overall effect was that of an inside-out corporate Hanging Gardens of Babylon. A huge neo-deco-classical fountain on the ground floor provided a continuous and soothing flow of splashing white noise. The Academy of Tobacco Studies occupied the top three floors. As a senior vice president for communications at ATS, or “the Academy” as BR insisted it be called by staff, Nick was entitled to an outside corner office, but he chose an interior corner office because he liked the sound of running water. Also, he could leave his door open and the smoke would waft out into the atrium. Even smokers care about proper ventilation.
He flipped through the stack of pink slips waiting for him at the receptionist’s stand. “CBS needs react to SG’s call for ban on billboard ads.” ABC, NBC, CNN, etc., etc., they all wanted the same, except for USA Today, which needed a react to tomorrow’s story in The New England Journal of Medicine announcing medical science’s conclusion that smoking also leads to something called Buerger’s disease, a circulatory ailment that requires having all your extremities amputated. Just once, Nick thought, it would be nice to get back to the office to something other than blame for ghastly new health problems.
“Your mother called,” said Maureen, the receptionist, handing him one last slip. “Good morning,” she said chirpily into her headset, exhaling a stream of smoke. She began to cough. No dainty little throat-clearer, either, but a deep, pulmonary bulldozer. “Academy of”—hargg—“Tobacco”—kuhhh—“Studies.”
Nick wondered if having a receptionist who couldn’t get through “hello” without a broncospasm was a plus.
He liked Maureen. He wondered if he should tell her not to cough if BR walked by. Enough heads had rolled in the last six months. Murad IV was in charge now.
Back in his office, Nick took off his new Paul Stuart sports jacket and hung it on the back of the door. One advantage to the change in Academy leadership was the new dress code. One of the first things BR had done had been to call in all the smokesmen—that is, the Academy’s PR people, the ones who went in front of the cameras—and told them he didn’t want them looking like a bunch of K Street dorks. Part of tobacco’s problem, he said, was that the sex had gone out of it. He wanted them, he said, to look like the people in the fashion ads, and not the ones for JC Penney’s Presidents’ Day sale. Then he gave them each a five-thousand-dollar clothing allowance. Everyone walked out of the meeting thinking, What a great boss! Half of them got back to their desks to find memos saying they’d been fired.
Nick looked at his desk and frowned. It was very annoying. He was not an anal person, he could cope with a certain amount of clutter, but he did not like being the depository for other people’s clutter. He had explained this to Jeannette, and she had said, in that earnest way of hers, that she completely understood, and yet she continued to use his desk as a compost heap. The problem was that though Jeannette was technically under Nick in communications, BR had brought her with him from Allied Vending and they obviously had this rapport. The odd thing was how she acted as if Nick were her real boss, with rights of high, middle, and low justice over her.
She had dumped five piles of EPA reports on secondhand smoke on his desk, all of them marked URGENT. Nick collected knives. She had carefully placed his leather-sheathed Masai pigsticker on top of one of the piles. Was this insolence masquerading as neatness?
Gazelle, his secretary, buzzed to say that BR had left word he wanted to see him as soon as he got back from Clean Lungs. Nick decided he would not report to BR immediately. He would make a few calls and then go and make his report to BR. There. He felt much better, indeed swollen with independence.
“BR said soon as you got back, Nick,” Gazelle buzzed him a few moments later, as if reading his thoughts. Gazelle, a pretty black single mother in her early thirties, was very bossy with Nick, for Nick, having been largely raised in a household dominated by a black housekeeper of the old school, was powerless before the remonstrations of black women.
“Yes, Gazelle,” he said tartly, even this stretching the limits of his ability to protest. Nick knew what was going on in Gazelle’s intuitive head: she knew that Jeannette had her beady eyes on his job tide, and that her own job depended on Nick’s keeping his.
Still, he would not be ruled by his secretary. He had had a harrowing morning and he would take his time. The silver-framed picture of Joey, age twelve, looked up at him. It used to face the couch opposite his desk, until one day when a woman reporter from American Health magazine—now there was an interview likely to result in favorable publicity; yet you had to grant the bastards the interview or they’d just say that the tobacco lobby had refused to speak to them—spotted it and said pleasantly, “Oh, is that your son?” Nick beamed like any proud dad and said yes, whereupon she hit him with the follow-up, “And how does he feel about your efforts to promote smoking among underage children?” Ever since, Joey’s picture had faced in, away from the couch.
Nick had given some thought to the psy-decor of his office. Above his desk was a quote in large type that said, “Smoking is the nation’s leading cause of statistics.” He’d heard it from one of the lawyers at Smoot, Hawking, the Omaha law firm that handled most of the tobacco liability cases brought by people who had chain-smoked all their lives and now that they were dying of lung cancer felt that they were entitled to compensation.
Above the couch were the originals of two old cigarette magazine ads from the forties and fifties. The first showed an old-fashioned doctor, the kind who used to make house calls and even drive through snowdrifts to deliver babies. He was smilingly offering up a pack of Luckies like it was a pack of lifesaving erythromycin. “20,679* Physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating.’” The asterisk indicated that an actual accounting firm had actually counted them. How much easier it had been when medical science was on their side.
The second ad demonstrated how Camels helped you to digest your Thanksgiving dinner, course by course. “Off to a good start—with hot spiced tomato soup. And then—for digestion’s sake—smoke a Camel right after the soup.” You were then supposed to smoke another before your second helping of turkey. Why? Because “Camels ease tension. Speed up the flow of digestive fluids. Increase alkalinity.” Then it was another before the Waldorf salad. Another after the Waldorf salad. “This double pause clears the palate—and sets the stage for dessert.” Then one with the plum pudding—“for the final touch of comfort and good cheer.” It amounted to five, and that was just during dinner. Once coffee was served, you were urged to take out that pack and really go to town. “For digestion’s sake.”
BR, on his one slumming expedition to Nick’s office so far, had stared at it as if trying to make up his mind whether it was the sort of thing his senior VP for communications should have in his office. His predecessor, J. J. Hollister, who had hired Nick after the unpleasantness—now there was a tobacco man of the old school, a man who in his day would have put away ten Camels with the Thanksgiving turkey, a man born with tar in his blood. A lovely man, kind, thoughtful, loved to sit around in his office after work over highballs and tell stories about the early days of slugging it out with Luther Terry, who had issued the catastrophic Surgeon General’s Report back in 1964. Nick’s favorite JJ story was—
“Nick, he said right away.”
Really, it was intolerable. And he would not put up with it. “I know, Gazelle.” To hell with it, he thought, flipping through his pink message slips like an unruly hand of poker; let Gazelle and BR wait. He would do his job.
He called the networks and issued his standard challenge to appear “anytime, anywhere” to debate with the surgeon general on the subject of cigarette billboard advertising or indeed on any topic. The surgeon general, for her part, had been refusing all Nick’s invitations on the grounds that she would not debase her office by sharing a public platform with a spokesman for “the death industry.” Nick went on issuing his invitations nonetheless. They made for better sound bites than explaining why the tobacco companies had the constitutional right to aim their billboard messages at little ghetto kids.
Excerpted from "Thank You for Smoking"
Copyright © 2006 Christopher Buckley.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
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