I sit down in a circle with a bunch of strangers, the room is full of dense, rich smoke and in my hand I’m holding deep darkness in a coffee cup. I reach toward the table in the center of the strangers, who take the time to stare and appraise me during their conversations, and pull a tin of tobacco. Filling my pipe and lighting a match, I begin to smoke. This is nothing like a cigarette; this is aromatic and filling, relaxing every muscle in my body. It is just enough to cause me to sigh and, unintentionally but rudely, interrupt the conversation of this still-foreign group of men for the second time this evening.

At this point, the men grow tired of not knowing who I am and introductions go around: Colin, Ed, Danny, a second Ian. My friends and I play the name game, not that any of us will remember in two seconds’ time. After shaking hands with all of them, I receive the welcome I had been hoping for. The problem was, at this point, there was nothing I had in common with any of the guys who had been there first. What could a 21 year old sofa-revolutionary do to relate to teachers, career army officers, and a crazy Marine? I tried to think fast, but my roommate was quicker; he brought up the protests of the Olympics in China. Panic set in. Politics. POLITICS! If that’s what this guy thought was going to be a neutral middle ground, then I really needed to rethink our friendship. Luckily, nothing went too far; everyone agreed that China is a terrible place to raise a family and that protesting the Olympics was just too little, too late.

The conversation lulled for a few moments, everyone enjoying the relaxation that comes with a nice bowl in a relaxed setting. Finally Ed, the crazy Marine, brings China up again. Recalling a news story he recently read, he explained China’s new policy on stray cats. Apparently China has been rounding up homeless cats and moving them to big camps and allowing them to starve to death in dens of filth and disease. Loud scoffs of horror and displeasure echo around this smokers’ circle from everyone but my roommate. He decided to chime in again with, “I guess one could call it ‘Meowschwittz.’” My friendship re-evaluation is over; this guy stays around forever.

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