Smokers' Olympics

Stuff Unreal likes! Plus: We smoke and run and picture Abe Lincoln on a Segway.

For the umpteenth year, the GO! (formerly Spirit of) St. Louis marathon has passed Unreal by. We always dream of joining those runners, those veritable lungs on legs, who look so joyous even as they stagger across the finish line. Then we pull out another cigarette.

Enter Jim Linville, director of the annual CIGs four-miler in Columbia, which awards runners in three divisions: non-smoker, ex-smoker, smoker. The leader of his local Nicotine Anonymous support group, Jim is a 52-year-old ex-smoker who started lacing up his sneakers long before he decided to kick butts.

Unreal: How did you come up with a smokers' race, Jim?

Jim Linville: I'm not fast, and I've always wondered if the people that beat me — if they've ever smoked, could they still beat me? For most races you get gender- and age-specific [divisions]. For the CIGs race, we came up with a first-place ex-smoker and a first-place non-smoker.

Who's the fastest smoker?

So far I haven't had any smokers [enter the race]. I have trophies for 'em if they'd ever show up!

Great! Unreal will be there next year! What's the trophy like?

The first year we had an acrylic coffin lid with a horseshoe nail in it. My wife was the artist. The next year she was into leaded glass, so she did a stained-glass coffin with a nail in it. This year she did a wire cage.

Is your wife a runner too?

She's not a runner. She is a smoker. She's very supportive of my quitting smoking. I had a lot of lung pain. After a 5K, I could hardly pull down a cigarette.

Why were you trying to smoke after running a 5K?

I started smoking when I was eight years old. I didn't know what it was like to not smoke. I got to middle age, I started putting on some weight, my blood pressure went up. I'd go out to the corner, have a cigarette, run around the block, have another cigarette on the way back to the house. After I got to where I could run three miles, I'd do these 5Ks.

What made you quit?

I went to the doctor. He said I have emphysema. He said if I keep running and quit smoking, I'd probably do more good than he could.

One last question: What does CIGs stand for?

Chemical Injury Games. I was thinking that I could eventually include other chemical injuries, like the mercury in the immunizations causing autism. There are things like silicone toxic shock from silicone implants. How about asbestos and that sort of thing? It has even been suggested to me that some people have problems with sugar that could be represented in the games. 

We Write the Book

Unreal has recently become enamored of the Web site Stuff White People Like (stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com). With anthropological precision, the site catalogs all the stuff white people like: gentrification, coffee, dogs, irony, the Sunday New York Times. And yes, based on these criteria and many others, we must admit, we are pretty damn white. Much as we dislike pigeonholing. (Another white trait.) What really galls us is that this simple, yet brilliant, idea has just won its creator a book deal.

Hello? Book-deal people? You know how every popular success has a knockoff or three? Well, Unreal can examine with anthropological precision too! Since exploration of the psyche of white people has already been taken, we will, based on our newly acquired Mensa status, catalog Stuff Smart People Like. Shouldn't be too hard. As it so happens, Mensa just sent us a welcome packet full of information on stuff smart people like. Fish in a barrel! (And we'll bet one thing smart people like is pondering the origin of clichéd expressions like "fish in a barrel.")

Smart people like to read Popular Science. They prefer to bank at Bank of America and buy their auto insurance from GEICO.

But the true trove of stuff smart people like is on Amazon Smart Buys ("where Mensa and Amazon intersect") and in the online Mensa Boutique.

As far as we can tell from the material offered by Smart Buys, smart people like reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. This is news to us; we vastly preferred his other book, The Tipping Point, but then again, we've only been a Mensa member for a few weeks, so what do we know? But we're more dubious about Smart Buys' fiction selection. Smart people like to read The Old Man and the Sea? No. No they do not. Unless they are in ninth grade.

We switch over to the Mensa Boutique, immediately click on "Closeouts and Specials" (smart people like bargains!) and our eye alights on this:

"The Ark of the Covenant: With guidance from the Lord, Joshua has led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land. Your sacred duty: to move the Ark of the Covenant throughout the Promised Land and develop this land by herding sheep and building roads, cities and temples. Ages 9-Adult. Was $25.00 — IS $20.00."

They had us at "herding sheep." Smart people have the awesomest taste in games! 

Dead Presidents

Hold on to your stovepipe hat! This weekend (April 11-13), 80 Abraham Lincoln impersonators will descend on Alton for the annual convention of the Association of Lincoln Presenters. In addition to four score Lincolns, the event will feature Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators and, quite naturally, Segway tours of the city. Looking for more information on this extravaganza, Unreal rang up Principia College theater professor Patrick McCreary — an Honest Abe himself and one of the event organizers.

Unreal: How did you become a Lincoln re-enactor?

McCreary: I've been performing and touring as an actor since high school. Lincoln was a tall man. He used to say he was five-foot sixteen inches, and I'm the exact same height and weight. I have a beard like Lincoln and some of the same colorization and texture of his skin.

Lincoln was a great man, but he was not a physically beautiful man. Have you ever thought of impersonating a better-looking dead president?

Well, I played Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Little Orphan Annie. Oh, and I loved playing Thomas Jefferson in 1776. He was a redhead, and it's true what they say: Redheads have more fun!

Mary Todd Lincoln was no looker either. Do you screen people for these roles, or can anyone join?

I'm fortunate, because I happen to look like Lincoln. But what's most important is that individuals in our association be committed to preserving an accurate accounting of the thoughts and philosophies of Lincoln and his wife.

So what's on tap for the weekend?

Oh, lots! We're going to have a re-enactment of the last Lincoln-Douglas debate that was held in Alton. We're going to have a ball where people can dance with Lincoln for a small donation, and the public is free to take pictures, too. But as the joke goes: "Please, no headshots!"

What about the Segways?

Oh yes. The Alton visitors' bureau has been very innovative. Can you imagine the sight of Abraham Lincolns on Segways? Why, that's worth the trip to Alton right there!

You don't have to convince us! 

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