Ten Simple Rules.
kitten   May 27, 2006

The internet has no shortage of technical support workers bitching about the idiocy of their users, but I'd like to discuss it from a somewhat different angle. It's true that the majority of users are idiots. It is also true that "call centers" -- the tier-one, first-level technical support operations for most large corporations -- are staffed by people who barely know what they're doing and are capable of reading from a script, but not much else.

However, such is not the case with small companies. These are the independant shops that sell specialty equipment or services, usually staffed by a handful of people, each of whom must be mentally agile and decisive, as to get anything done each must be something of a jack-of-all-trades.

I am the technical director for one such company, a small VoIP provider. This position gives me unique insight into userland, one that was not possible when working as the rank-and-file for a larger corporation.

For your education and amusement, I present to you some rules of interacting with smaller companies. Many of these are also applicable to large companies, however, and all are derived from basic, sensible rules that you should have gained just from growing up in society. Unfortunately, it seems many people have not -- so listen up.

1. You are capable of solving your own problems!
Yes, it's true -- with the tiniest bit of effort, you can solve most of the problems you encounter, in less time than it would take you to call me. I, and people like me, were not hired because they already had specific knowledge of the products and services, but because we were capable of learning quickly. Oftentimes I will encounter a problem from a user and have no idea what could be causing it. What do I do? I consult the almighty Google. Sooner or later I will find someone who had the same problem and knows how to fix it.

You can do this too. Got an error message? Type it into Google and see what comes up. Want to know how to use a feature? Instead of calling me, why not look in the manual? Don't have a manual? You can probably find one online! The Information Age is an amazing thing, people. Learn it. Use it. Five minutes of effort on your part could probably save you an hour trying to get a hold of me.

2. I am a busy man.
When you contact small companies for support or sales, you are usually going to be interacting with one or two people. Part of my job is to assist users, but I have other responsibilities as well. I am not always going to be available when you phone -- so leave a message and wait. Do not continue to call, leave more messages, email me, email my boss, email other random people in the company, and otherwise make a nuisance of yourself. I am aware that you attempted to reach me and I will get back to you when I get the chance. The more times you attempt to reach me after the initial try, the more irritated you are making the only person who can help you.

3. You are not important.
Actually, that should properly read, "You are not as important as you think you are." It's a harsh thing to have to hear, isn't it? Too bad -- it's the truth. To you, your problem is of the utmost, earth-shattering, paramount importance. To me, you're just one of fifty other people who also have problems, and I have to prioritize things. You might be at the bottom of the stack. You are not going to get special treatment.

Remember -- I am only one man, and I can't be everywhere. I'll address your problem when I have the time, and for the record, pestering me is not going to motivate me to care about you more. It's going to get you relegated to the "asshole" bin, where I put people who demand instant gratification.

4. You are an adult, so act like one.
All the things discussed above are behaviors I'd expect from a five-year-old, who really doesn't understand that he isn't the center of the universe, and doesn't understand why he can't get what he wants, right now. You, presumably, are an adult, a professional, an educated person -- so start acting like it.

This goes for your style of communication, as well. When I read email from you that is replete with misspellings, sentence fragments, incomprehensible gibberish, or belligerant attitudes, I no longer feel like assisting you, because I have reason to believe I'm dealing with an immature moron. To illustrate this, I present a few excerpts from actual emails I have received, unaltered except to strip identifying information. I want to remind everyone that these people are native English speakers.

Step back a minute and compare this email to what you're reading now. Ask yourself which style of text -- mine or his -- gives the appearance of professionalism.

People, a calm, rational, coherent email goes a long way. I'm not asking for each missive to be at the level of Chaucer. I'm asking you to pretend you're an adult, writing to another adult, on a professional level. Which you are.

The barely-restrained hostility here is not winning him any points. I understand that things go wrong from time to time, and sometimes it can be frustrating. If you have a problem, I'm going to fix it. Letting me know that you're really really mad about it is childish beyond belief. You wouldn't dare say this kind of stuff to my face, so don't think you can get away with it in email.

By the way, if you're wondering what's "pathetic": he is miffed that his problem isn't being addressed and no one has called him back. He wrote this on a Saturday morning, though our website clearly states our support hours are business hours on weekdays only. But because he was a belligerent ass about it, I made him wait a few more days. It could happen to you.

You can tell this guy's Harvard education really pays for itself.

This was in response to a one-page email I wrote explaining (because he asked) why what he wanted was technically impossible, why his problem was not really a problem but a barely-interesting side-project and therefore not of any priority, and why I wasn't going to be able to get to it anytime soon. This response shows that he paid attention to none of it, and he couldn't even be arsed to put a period at the end of this bleating. This is what he considers to be meaningful, useful, professional communication.

Understand that I am not picking on these people individually, but using them as examples to make a point: You are judged by how you present yourself in words and actions. When you write like a jackass or an idiot, I am going to assume you are a jackass or an idiot.

5. I am not a mind reader.
Actually, I'm becoming pretty good at this, due to the unreliability and incoherency of some users out there, but I shouldn't have to be. When you call me, I expect you to have a brief, concise explanation of the problem, and what exactly happened. "It doesn't work" is not a useful starting point for me to diagnose the issue. Don't tell me "there was some kind of error" -- I need to know what that error was. Gather all the information you can, and then call me.

6. I am not telekinetic.
This is an extension of number five. When you call me, I can be the brains -- god knows I have to be -- but you have to be my eyes and hands. Don't ever call me unless you are physically in front of the device that is having problems -- that means I don't want to hear "I'm in my car right now, but I was having a problem with..." or "It's at the office and I'm at home, but..." You are wasting my time and your own. Piss off.

7. You are only worth so much.
Contrary to popular belief, a small business is in a better position to pick and choose customers than a large business is. We don't have to answer to stockholders or corporate policy written by managers four levels above us. When you call me, you are calling the alpha and the omega, and you are worth only so much to our company.

This is a business decision, plain and simple: As an employee I get paid a certain amount. As a customer, you pay the company a certain amount. When the time you take from me exceeds, in dollars, the amount you have paid us, you are now a negative value.

I am not by any means suggesting that your problem should go unattended, if it is a legitimate problem, even if you've taken more of my time than you're worth. However, if you are the type of user who constantly calls with every little problem or question that pops into your malformed head, I am quickly going to tire of dealing with you, and refuse your calls / terminate your account / call you Matilda until you go away.

Think very carefully before picking up that phone or sending me an email: is this problem really that important, or is it just something you can't be bothered with on my own? There are going to be plenty of actual technical problems that only I can fix for you, but if you're hassling me just because you don't want to expend the effort it takes to think for yourself and figure something out, you're going to get laughed at. And then cancelled.

8. You don't know what the fuck you're talking about.
If you had the first clue as to what was going on, you wouldn't be asking for my help in the first place. I am the professional, paid for my knowledge and expertise. That means when I tell you to do something, you do it, or I will hang up right then and cease supporting you. Do not argue with me about what I'm asking you to do, and do not give me your own analysis of the situation. I will, time permitting, be happy to explain why I'm having you do whatever it is -- but only afterwards.

9. You're a big boy now.
You've reached a point in your life where you shouldn't need people to hold your hand through everything. Sometimes, I am going to give you a solution to your problem -- and I expect you to say "thank you," and then go away. Don't make me wait on the phone for ten minutes listening to you wheeze into the receiver while you click and type and poke at things. I've told you what to do, and that's my responsibility discharged. It is your responsibility to actually implement it.. on your own time. Call me back if there are problems, but don't monopolize my time "just in case".

10. I am not omniscient or omnipotent.
There, I admit it. I'm not perfect. I'm not all-knowing nor am I all-powerful. On occasion, you are going to ask me about an issue and I'm simply not going to have an answer off the top of my head. Tough break, sport, but that's just the way it is. I'm going to have to research the problem, maybe bring some other people in on it, try to replicate the problem using different equipment, analyze logs and error reports -- who knows?

That's life, though. Deal with it, and accept the fact that you're going to have to wait. Don't get pissy at me because I don't have an answer right away, and don't ever call back or email looking for an update. I don't have an update. I don't have an ETA. I don't know what's causing it and I don't know how to fix it yet. Maybe I'd have more time to look into it if I weren't constantly having to answer stupid questions about "updates" from the likes of you. Here's your fuckin' update, jerk: It ain't fucking fixed yet. I'll tell you when it is.

And finally, a bonus:

11. I know when you're lying.
Don't. Ever. Lie. Don't exaggerate. Don't stretch the truth, don't take creative liberties.

You might be able to get away with that crap with your wife or husband or boss or social case worker, but not with me. If you say "I've emailed you five times about this problem and never gotten a response!", righteous with indignation and unholy fury, all I have to do is check mail logs to see that you're full of crap.

If you tell me that something has "never" worked, I have ways of finding out if that's true. If you tell me that you talked to so-and-so and they said such-and-such, I can verify that. Don't tell me you already tried something when you didn't, because I'll know. In fact, I have access to more information than you are even aware exists, so don't bother making shit up. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

Well, there you have it -- simple rules about how to behave in a modern, civilized, intelligent way. You play by these rules and things will go much smoother for everyone: your problem will get fixed faster, and I won't be forced to the bar every night to drink away the hate.

Road rules.
kitten   May 21, 2006

I admit it: I am a hot-tempered driver.

Now, don't confuse this with being an aggressive driver. I have been made fun of by more than one friend for driving ridiculously defensively, refusing to change lanes, letting people cut me off because I know they're going to do something stupid if I don't, and constantly glancing around me looking for trouble. I bear the ribbing with the knowledge that I've never been at fault in an accident.

No, by "hot-tempered" I mean that I cannot abide impediments. I get angry when someone is driving slow. I scream if I have to wait at an intersection with a seemingly endless parade of cars. The anguished cries of "fucking GO!" strain my vocal chords when the guy in front of me sluggishly, agonizingly, slowly accelerates when the light turns green, instead of leaping forward at lightspeed as I'd like him to. I despise city busses. I loathe SUVs that I can't see around. I hate people that slow down to take a right turn in front of me. The guy who c r a w l s over a speed bump is a thorn in my side.

I keep these tantrums to myself, though. I never give anyone the finger or cut them off or swerve around them or lean on the horn in these instances, but each little thing ticks me off.

Most of the time, I realize I am out of line for being annoyed -- at least at the other drivers. It isn't their fault that our city can't time traffic lights properly and I have to wait forever. They didn't plan their voyage across the intersection to coincide with the moment I wanted to pull out. I understand that these things are an irritant but as much as they get under my skin there is no one to blame -- they can be filed under the category "just one of those things".

However, there does exist a particularly loathesome class of people who use the road without any regard for safety, ettiquette, or common sense. These people want all the rights and privileges of using public roads, but want none of the responsibility that comes along. They are quick to cite laws and statues that support their stance, and just as quick to disregard other laws and statutes when they find them inconvenient.

I am speaking, of course, of cyclists.

Understand that some of my friends are avid cyclists. Competetive cyclists, cyclists who use bikes as their primary means of transit, cyclists who enjoy the recreational aspect of biking. Still, no one is exempt from the breaches and outright arrogance cyclists seem to have about their role on the road.

Cyclists in general behave and speak as though they are part of some oppressed minority class. Ask anyone you know who uses a bicycle on a regular basis; they will be only too happy to speak for hours about the "anti-cycling roads" that permeate your metropolis, the rude and inconsiderate drivers, the oversized vehicles that populate the road and make it hard for bikes to manuever. They'll tell you about all the hazards and pitfalls a cyclist must endure, and how anyone who doesn't respect their rights to share the road is a jerk, a lunatic, a maniac, or some other vituperative noun -- often more profane.

Let us first establish what the law has to say about bicycles on roads. The laws in most states are the same, but allow me to cite a few for example. First, from California:

21200. (a) Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle...
From Florida:
(1) Every person propelling a vehicle by human power has all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle under this chapter...
From Indiana:
9-21-11-2. A person riding a bicycle upon a roadway has all of the rights and duties under this article that are applicable to a person who drives a vehicle...

I think that's enough. Note the two overall themes that are present in each of these: Firstly, that a bicycle has a right to be on the road, and secondly, that with that right comes the same responsibilities that befall the driver of a car.

My complaint stems from the fact that cyclists are all too eager to point out their right, but are mysteriously absent when it comes to excercising responsibility.

One of the most obvious examples comes from a bicycle's inherent limitation of speed. There is simply no way for a bike to keep up with the flow of traffic on most roads. Interfereing with this flow, or otherwise impeding traffic, is illegal in most jurisdictions -- you do not have the right to drive as slow as you like, or to slam on the brakes for no reason, and so forth. Yet by failing to break 25 or 30mph on roads where everyone is driving 55, this is exactly what cyclists do, forcing everyone to slow down. Here is what the New York statute on this says:

(a) Upon all roadways, any bicycle shall be driven either on a usable bicycle lane or, if a usable bicycle lane has not been provided, near the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or upon a usable right- hand shoulder in such a manner as to prevent undue interference with the flow of traffic except when preparing for a left turn or when reasonably necessary to avoid conditions that would make it unsafe to continue along near the right-hand curb or edge.

In other words, bikers, unless you are about to turn left, or there is some bizarre obstacle jutting out of the curb, you are not allowed to interfere with the flow of traffic -- period, end of story. If you cannot manage to do this because your bike is too slow, then you forfeit your right to use your bike on the road. Get a car.

Beyond being inconsiderate and illegal, it is highly dangerous to both driver and cyclist. A driver expects a certain speed on a road, and upon approaching a slow-moving bike, must now slam the brakes to avoid a collision. He must then crawl along at the pace of the bicycle, which is nearly impossible to pass in most cars. An entire line of cars behind him must also slow down. As this video demonstrates, drivers who are annoyed at slow speeds will do just about anything to get around the obstacle -- swerving, sudden lane changes, rapid braking and accelerating, whatever it takes. Thanks to the biker, there is now a row of cars recklessly swerving around just because one imbecile can't keep up.

Cyclists are also fond of ignoring conventions regarding red lights, feeling that because their transportation is capable of sliding between stopped cars and the curb, it is their divine right to bypass everyone at a red light and jockey their way to the front of the line (where, presumably, they can take off at a mighty 25mph and make even more people wait behind them). of indignant rage from cyclists about the calamities that befall them when this maneuver goes awry, then blame everyone but themselves for it: the car near the front had mirrors that were too wide, the road had a big pothole near the curb, the frost heave was too much. It's a prime example of bikers who want to assert their right to use the road, but also want to ignore inconvenient laws like "you're not allowed to queue jump" -- a ticketable offense to any motor vehicle.

Bikers: You do not have a right to pass stopped cars when the light is red. Stop behind the car in front of you, like everyone else. That's the rule -- and if you want to use the road, play by the rules of the road.

Ever see a cyclist use a turn or brake signal? I have. Maybe. One time, in dim memory. The vast majority of them just careen in and out of lanes as they please, slow down with zero warning, make wildly unpredictable turns, all without any regard for what results their actions might have on drivers. In this case, the argument becomes "it's just a bike, not a car" -- another brilliant example of doublethink from cyclists.

Take a look at this page which is about bicycle safety on public roads. It exemplifies fairly well the arrogant demeanor cyclists have. A few choice excerpts:

Taking up the whole lane makes it harder for drivers to pass you to cut you off or turn into you. Don't feel bad about taking the lane: if motorists didn't threaten your life by turning in front of or into you or passing you too closely, then you wouldn't have to.
Yes, but then again, if you were't holding up the rest of the world by being slow as all get out, people wouldn't be trying to pass you. I remind you all, loyal readers, that it is not legal to impede the flow of traffic.
By the way, be very careful when passing stopped cars on the right as you approach a red light. You run the risk of getting doored by a passenger exiting the car on the right side, or hit by a car that unexpectedly decides to pull into a parking space on the right side of the street.
Who told these people that they could pass stopped cars at a light at all? Yet the passive-aggressive attitude shines through.

Cyclists are fond of arguing these points. Entire webpages have been put up devoted to arguments bikers can put forth to those mean, inconsiderate, murderous drivers. Take special note of #4 there, in which the author declares that bicycles are, quote, "legal road vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as other vehicles."

I agree. And therefore, bikers, it's time to start being responsible if you want to keep those rights. Do not interfere with traffic flow. Keep up or get off the road. Do not veer into my lane without signalling. Do not run stop signs, yield signs, or red lights. Do not ride against traffic, and do not attempt to pass cars as they are stopped at a red light. It's illegal for me to deliberately open my door in front of you, but I'm strongly tempted every time I see a cyclist illegally zip past me in an effort to get to the front of the line. Two wrongs make a right, don't they?

Human after all.
kitten   May 5, 2006

Ephedrine powered pouty lipped, stage left, stage right, stage back, backstage girls dressed in black. Tapping tapping nails on Formica, doe eyes wide for a shot at the big time. You'd think they'd learn and weary, go back, crawling through paperwork, automatons, mechanical heavy trudging through corporate hallways exchanging pleasantries and vicious gossip round the diet soda vending machine.

Dreams don't die so easily: mascara, eyeliner, cheekbones like knives, prance and strut and shimmy, lights so bright and runway so narrow. Singers, drummers, bassists, dancers, actresses, punk rock goth rock glam rock pink lipstick neon eyeshadow tube socks cut in half, corsets cutting waists in half. Also known as waitresses, cashiers, secretaries, business majors, ticket takers, salespeople. Weekend riotous bedlam, hangovers and memories and knee high boots next to the bed.

Show a little respect, then, cause their lives are going to be more interesting than yours.

Up in smoke, up in arms.
kitten   May 2, 2006

We sat at The Vortex, a small attitude-packed restaurant and bar in Little Five Points. In the context of dining establishments, "attitude" is often a phrase used for marketing rather than description, but The Vortex truly delivers -- waitresses with facial piercings and cat-eye contacts, along with a menu that explains, in no uncertain terms, that idiocy is not tolerated and if you ask stupid questions, you will be removed. The management stands by this threat; I've personally witnessed several people who were either asked or told to leave, and one who was physically manhandled out. I've waited a lot of tables in a lot of restaurants in my day. I can appreciate a place like this.

To say we sat at The Vortex would be accurate but misleading -- rather, we sat outside it; like so many others, we favor Atlanta's mild climate during the spring and autumn seasons. The sun had set hours ago and the afternoon had been well spent, rummaging about for the unusual, the kinky, the kitschy. Leather boutiques, vintage haberdashers, record shops, candlemakers, and tattoo artists are just a few who set up shop among the bohemians, the street actors, and the intellectuals who populate this neighborhood of Atlanta. An evening like this called for microbrews and starlight. The beer could be had, but the starlight was supplanted by the sodium glare of streetlamps and the rhythm of the traffic.

Which, really, is better still.

. . . . .

Her name was Kelly and I met her a few months prior at Variety Playhouse at a Ladytron concert; she was standing outside during the intermission, leaning against the stone facade, sipping wine and smiling to no one in particular. I was jostled outside with the river of humanity wanting to get their nicotine fix while they could, and found myself face to face with her. Blue eyes, sharp face. Dark hair, cropped short. Later this would give rise to the title of "sexy space cadet", but at that moment, such idiotic bits of cuteness were not forthcoming.

"Ah," I said, and then, after some consideration, "sorry." Efforts to recover from nearly running into her, and moving off, were thwarted by two things: first, the overcrowded alleyway left little room for manuvering, and second, her hand on my upper arm, restraining me.

"Hey," she said, "you got a cigarette?"

"Sure," I replied, glancing at my arm, her grip on which she slowly released as I withdrew a crumpled pack of Kamel Red Lights. Handed one to her, held up a cheap green lighter, but she stopped me.

"You first," she said.

A brief spark to my own was all it took to ignite the smoke, and she took it from me, put it to her own lips, took a drag. "Thanks," she said, smoke curling from her, and handed me the one I'd given her originally.

I took it from her dumbly. Lit it.

"Who are you?" I asked.


"I'm kitten," I said, extending a hand. Her grip was soft, her hand warm.

Later I discovered that she has a tattoo of a crane on her shoulderblade, and likes green tea in the mornings.

. . . . .

As had become our ritual, I lit a cigarette, handed it to her, and lit my own, letting the smoke drift lazily into the evening haze. Kelly took the opportunity to do her favorite bar trick, which involved downing a significant portion of her beer while keeping the cigarette in her mouth, between the corner of her lips. This has never failed to provoke a reaction from me, and she knows it. "To hedonism," she said.

I grinned in appreciation, sipped my beer. "With as many gorram chemicals as you can legally ingest," I echoed. Slid my hand across the table. Hers met mine, our fingers entwined, and the beat of Yoruba drums from a street performer mingled with the rock being piped through the patio of the restaurant.

"Hey, buddy," said a voice behind me, and I turned to see a suburban type, perhaps late twenties. Kind you see wearing polo shirts to nightclubs, who really like Jimmy Buffett and have seashell necklaces. Born and raised in the protective confines of his parents' money, destined to be a financial success but a spiritual and intellectual void. Too detailed a profile for a stranger, maybe, but yoau get to understand patterns, how people fit into templates sometimes. Khaki-clad piles of suck, forever wandering the middle ranks of utter mediocrity.

Leaning over from his table in our general direction, he continued, "Would you mind putting that out? You're killing me here." I gave Kelly a look; she returned with a nod.

"Oh?" I theatrically exhaled a large cloud of smoke. "I didn't realize I was ruining the pristine air of downtown Atlanta."

He bristled, turned away. Kelly smirked.

"Y'know," I remarked to her, loud enough for him to hear, "people are just never satisfied when it comes to their little gripes. The antismoking set bitches and bitches that we smoke inside, so they invent special smoking sections to keep us away. After a while that wasn't good enough, so they bitch and bitch and make it so we can't smoke inside at all. Now, even though we're outside, they keep bitching."

"Listen, friend," said the stranger, turning round once more to face us. "Smoking is a disgusting habit."

"I quite agree," I returned. "But it's my disgusting habit. My vices are none of your business."

"It's my business when it affects me," he shot back.

"I didn't make you come here."

"It's a free country, man," he explained. "I can go where I want, and I have a right to breathe clean air."

"Then," I drawled, "you have a right not to patronize this establishment. You have a right to go elsewhere."

He rotated his chair, metal scraping on concrete, the better to face us. Kelly pretended to be fascinated with the act of sticking her finger in her beer, but I knew she was listening. Probably ready to kick me under the table if she decided it was time for me to shut up.

"Your smoke affects my health, pal," he said at length. "Why the hell should I get cancer because you can't kick an addiction?"

"What, this again?" I said, raising my hands with mock confusion. "You breathe in toxic shit day in, day out, just by living in an industrial society. You drive every day?" I continued. "Sit in traffic a lot? Lots of clean air going on there, eh?"

"That's my choice," he said, "not yours to make for me."

"Sure. And it was your choice to come here where you knew there'd be smoking. Plenty of places disallow it entirely, even outside. Go to one of them."

"Screw you," he said, finally catching the attention of the other patrons nearby, most of whom were probably hoping for a fight. Suits me fine. Not because I'm any kind of fighter, but because I knew it wouldn't come to that. His type talks a lot, never gets further. As for me, well. Even if I'd felt like it, which I didn't, Kelly would put me in a world of hurt that far outstripped anything this joker could deal. "You can smoke, kill yourself all you want. I don't care," he continued. "But you're shoving it in my face now."

"And you're shoving it in my face when you complain and lobby until someone makes laws to protect you from yourself," I said. "Besides, where did you get the idea that my smoke is killing you?"

"Are you serious?" His face contorted into an expression of incredulity. "Secondhand smoke kills. That's been proven a billion times."

"Name one."

"Well," he said, "there was that EPA report in the nineties."

"Ah yes," I said, leaning back in my chair and sipping my beer. Kelly's was mostly drained already, I noticed, and she was going to start giggling soon. Spend enough time around someone, you can predict these things. "I do remember that report."

"So there you go," he concluded. "Your addiction is hurting me and everyone else. You don't get to violate my rights."

"Wait," I said, "I didn't say what I remember about that report." He stared, blankly, so I pressed on: "What I remember is that it was thrown out of a federal court after a judge saw how the EPA had hand-picked its data to arrive at a conclusion they'd reached before they even did the study. And," I continued, just to be obnoxious, "as I recall, the study focused on nonsmokers that live with smokers. You know? Long-term stuff. Not you sitting here breathing incidental smoke for an hour at a time on the other side of an outdoor patio."

"Whiner," added Kelly, and grinned at me. That got her a look from him, but it didn't seem that he was willing to get into an argument with her. Knowing her better than he did, I'd have to say it was the first intelligent decision he was likely to make that evening.

"Big deal," he sniffed. "There's others that say it kills. The American Lung Association--"

"--who cites the thrown-out EPA report as their primary source," I interjected.

"--or the Center for Disease Control--"

"--who cites the thrown-out EPA report as their primary source--"

"--even the American Cancer Society--"

"--who cites the thrown-out--"

"Alright, alright, smartass," he said, clearly annoyed. "Even if I think you're right, which I don't, so what? It still smells. I can't even go out for an evening without coming home reeking of smoke?"

"Hey, not my problem," I said, draining the last of my beer. Kelly slid another to me across the table. "Now you're just getting into personal preference about what you find offensive."

"It's not just offensive," he pointed out. "I'm trying to enjoy a meal and I can't because of the smoke."

"Well, the shrieking of little kids bothers me," I told him. "Lots of other people, too. I find it impossible to enjoy a meal or a companion when little snothouses are running amok. No one's trying to ban them." Pause. Breathe. Rant. "Look, you're just arguing about what you like and don't like. If that's all there is to it, fine, we all like and dislike different things. But don't act like there's some big scientific or humanitarian reason behind it. If you don't like it, go somewhere else. Or go eat inside, where you've already managed to ban us."

His expression darkened and he was fidgeting with his salad fork with increased urgency. "Of course we banned it! It's a health hazard--"

"--not this again--" I interrupted.

"--and it's disgusting, at restaurants or anywhere else. You twits with your cigarettes take breaks every hour at work, and we don't. I'm glad they banned that kind of crap."

"Right," I said. "Because nonsmokers are one hundred percent productive from punch in to clock out and never waste time screwing around on the net or blathering to coworkers or forwarding stupid emails around." I tilted a look at him, and pressed on: "You're just veering away from the real issue here."

"And what's that?"

"That you, personally, don't like smoke. Fine. Part of being in a free society means sometimes, some people are going to do things you don't like. But evidently you, or anyway people like you, don't feel the government intrudes enough on our personal choices, so you whine until laws get passed to make other people live according to your preferences."

"I told you," he reminded me, "it's not just preference, it's--"

"--yeah, yeah," I said. "I know. It's a health hazard, it's gross, whatever. All your excuses are unfounded in fact, or idiotic exaggerations, or just personal opinion, none of which I really care about. Frankly I find your face to be hazardous and offensively disgusting, so why don't you make like a tree and get out of here?"

"Screw you," he said, standing, his napkin dropping to the ground. "I hope you get cancer and rot in Hell." He turned, neglecting to pay the tab which had been left on his table, and strode off the patio, to parts unknown.

"I'll save you a seat!" I called after him, somewhat lamely now that he was gone.

Kelly looked up from her beer at me and, right on schedule, began giggling. I returned the sentiment with a lopsided grin.

"Christ," I told her, "I need a cigarette."