Spit and Cigarettes

Week of February 27, 2002

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Altoids? Mocha java? Cottage cheese? C'mon, admit you've got a jones for something. Street Talk hits the pavement, asking, "Which is the most addictive legal substance?"

Rockabilly band Liquid Prairie has a standing gig at the Venice Cafe from 6-8 p.m. on Saturdays. That's where Street Talk finds attorney Julia Eades and Mary Mueller of New Haven's Robller Vineyard and Winery, up front near the band. "Cigarettes, liquor, sex and pizza -- and not necessarily in that order," quips Eades over the crisp twang of Buck Owens' "Tiger by the Tail."

Not far from the Venice, a budding arts coalition, untitled, presented its inaugural show at Fort Gondo, 3151 Cherokee St., near the former digs of the Way Out Club. The "Gondo" in question is Galen Gondolfi, a bundle of nervous energy -- which he'll need to accomplish his dream of creating an arts colony on the corner of Cherokee and Compton. For Gondolfi, art is the universal solvent to all questions. "It's a solid, a liquid; it's a gas! I always thought of it as a life form, because it's organic and evolving." But is it addictive? "Probably not for most people," offers the Boston transplant, "but it is for me. And we plan to deal it on this corner."

A bit later, Gondolfi dons an outlandish thrift store suit and enters a kennel about the right size for a schnauzer. There, he offers himself on display in a near-fetal position for an hour or so -- until he spills his water dish and hastily egresses. Bad dog.

Mike Magnuson concedes he's a fool for a cigarette. "Can't live without 'em; smoke 'em incessantly," says the young creative-writing prof at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. "I have tried to quit numerous times, but I can't seem to do what I have to do without smoking. I mean, there's other addictions, but that's the one [that] if I ain't gettin' it, it's gonna be bad."

Kicking off a four-week tour with a reading at Left Bank Books, Magnuson is here to promote his dramatized autobiography, Lummox: The Evolution of a Man, which, he says, "began as a bunch of stories that I told on the train going to New York with my publisher and agent, times like when I went to fart and shit in my pants. They thought it highly amusing, but when I went to write the book it came out depressing, so I had to write it over again."

Taking respite outside the Arsenal Street Schnucks, Pierre Wright and Nancy Chowdhury testify that cigarettes have a choke hold on them as well. "I started when I was 8 years old," notes Chowdhury. "I took them from my mom. It's like a medicine: If I don't have my cigs, I'm not right mentally. Isn't that awful?"

"Smoking's the only habit I haven't been able to break," says Wright, French-inhaling a fresh-lit Doral, his 16th of the day. "But I got lots of willpower. I feel like if it was starting to kill me or something like that I'd probably be able to quit. But until then, I'm just enjoying myself smoking, you know?"

Taking up an entire sofa in Coffee Cartel on Maryland Plaza, Joan Lipkin, artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company, ventures a comment on the topic du jour: "Most addictive is your lover's spit. I hesitate to say this because of today's prevailing concern about a healthy exchange of bodily fluids, but the taste of one's lover is incredibly addictive. It's the primary difference between lovers and friends -- I don't go around licking my friends."

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