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M A G A Z I N E
THE VOICE OF COLUMBIA
SMOKER CONFESSIONS OF A QUITTER
NO IFS, ANDS OR BUTTS I LOVE SMOKING. AND I QUIT. BY EDWARD HART
12 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.03.13
PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY ALEXANDRIA ANTONACCI
“Let’s chat about you and tobacco,” my smoking cessation coach tells me. That would be nice and all, I’m thinking, but at this point, I’ve gone 36 hours without a goddamn cigarette, and I can barely form coherent thoughts, let alone sentences. I’ve been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day since I was 16, I tell her. I love it, and there’s nothing finer than having a cigarette with your coffee in the morning. Then she asks why I’m quitting. I’m doing it for a story, I explain. I’m trying to quit smoking for 30 days and write about it for Vox. I’ll chronicle my weeks and my life without cigarettes and maybe, at the end of it all, stay off cigarettes for good. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I want to be a smoker for the rest of my life or anything. I’ve been trying off and on to quit after I became hooked in high school. Society has been pressuring me to quit my entire adult life. Think of how far we’ve come since the days where you could designate whether you wanted to sit in a smoking or nonsmoking section of a restaurant. When Columbia City Council passed a ban on smoking in all bars and restaurants in 2006, it barely eked through. Nearly seven years later, MU caused little controversy when it implemented a smoking ban on its entire campus this summer. Sure, society’s done much to eradicate smoking from our daily lives, and at 23, I’d be better off if I dropped smoking for good. But this four-weeklong project wasn’t about cigarettes, at least not entirely. What I needed was the clinical distance to grasp how deeply enmeshed smoking had become in my daily life and how much my dependence on nicotine shaped my perception of the world. Metaphorically, I had to clear the air around me so I could really understand my addiction, why I enjoyed smoking and why I’d been unable to quit for the past six years.
CIGARETTES HAVE BEEN MY ACHILLES HEEL FOR SEVEN YEARS, AND I CAN’T LET GO.
KLONDIKE BARS AND SUNFLOWER SEEDS ARE MY LIFE LINE.
LOVE OF THE IRISH LED ME TO THIS GOD-FORSAKEN HABIT.
WEEK 1: SUNFLOWER SEEDS AND KLONDIKE BARS I once read that J. Robert Oppenheimer, the architect of the atomic bomb, said he couldn’t think without a cigarette in his hand. I can empathize with Oppenheimer and that line. Without smoking, I felt cut off from myself; I was intellectually castrated. I couldn’t think, couldn’t write, couldn’t even form intelligible sentences. My ability to pay attention was the first thing to go. People would talk around me, and all of a sudden it was like I was in a haze. Then came the inability to string together basic sentences. I would stutter through my words and lose myself in a babble that didn’t make any sense. Then the mood swings finally came, the chronic petulance and anxiety and need to lash out at the most benign things. Only a day into the experiment, I’d already started compulsively chewing sunflower seeds. The constant split-chew-spit rhythm helped me focus. I craved sweet foods and gorged on the Klondike bars I’d forced my roommate to stock in our freezer. It was the little things about smoking, the need to just slow down and notice, the pace of my breathing — inhaling and exhaling as if I were whistling — that would stave off bouts of anxiety. A co-worker, seeing me methodically spit salty shells into the Shakespeare’s cup in my hand, asked me what was up with the sunflower seeds. I told her, “These seeds are what’s keeping me tethered to humanity.” That’s when, barely 35 hours into this project, I realized I couldn’t make it alone. So I went to the MU Wellness Resource Center in desperation. There
GET THE MESSAGE?
I could get nicotine patches for free so long as I attended coaching sessions, which is to say, I had to talk about my addiction with a complete stranger. Our whole relationship was entirely transactional: I give up smoking; you give me adhesive nicotine. I don’t know what I was expecting. I probably thought I’d be met by some undergraduate psychology major who had never smoked and was just doing this to pad her résumé for graduate school. But by this point it didn’t matter; I just needed something to lessen the nagging withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t get the undergraduate I was expecting. I got Tiffany Bowman, my cessation coach and a Wellness Resource Center coordinator. Tiffany understood. She knew because she had been a smoker herself shortly after college. She was a social smoker for only a short time, but that gave her much more credibility in my book. So when Tiffany talked, I listened. And I think I was better off for it. A lot of people don’t recognize that a major reason most of us start smoking is because it’s enjoyable. She didn’t try to lecture me or give me some spiel about how quitting would improve health. She didn’t try to jolt me with all the scary anti-smoking rhetoric plastered in pamphlets all over this country. Instead, she told me that it was OK if I failed and had a cigarette. She said I should view it as a momentary lapse that didn’t have to doom the whole expedition. And I would fail repeatedly throughout this project. I would fail when I was drinking. I would fail when I was sober and just really stressed. I would fail because I’m human, and I’m an addict. But her advice made it much easier for me to right myself after my biggest defeat.
Anti-smoking labels from around the world PHOTOS COURTESY OF WIKI COMMONS
14 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.03.13
I had gone almost one week without buying cigarettes when I left home for work one Tuesday morning. On my walk to the newsroom, I smelled the acrid scent of burning tobacco from some nearby smoker. I intuitively reached across my body to feel my patch, but it wasn’t there. I’d forgotten to put it on that morning. I was screwed. About four hours into the day, I caved. I walked to the nearest convenience store, bought a pack of Camel Turkish Royals and huffed some down. By the end of the day, I felt levelheaded (and guilty) enough to realize what I’d done. I relinquished the pack to one of my editors on this story. That afternoon was a reminder of how easy it is to lapse and the shame that accompanies not being able to control my own cravings.
WEEK 2: IRISH GIRLS AND EPIDEMICS
“Do you mind if I ask how you started smoking?” What smoker hasn’t heard that question? Or its twin sister: “How old were you when you started smoking?” You have to admit you want to know how a privileged white kid — a kid who went to the right kind of schools, hung out with the right kind of people and grew up in the right kind of upper-middle-class household and who had also been immersed with the anti-smoking, D.A.R.E.- esq rhetoric as far back as his memory extends — ends up becoming a smoker at age 16. It wasn’t because all my friends were doing it. It wasn’t because I had a Freudian death wish or was using cigarettes to conquer some sort of adolescent tedium. It sure as hell wasn’t because I thought it would make me popular. The truth is, I picked up smoking because I had a crush on an Irish girl. When I was going into my sophomore year of high school, I participated in a kind of abbreviated exchange program. Every year this program would bring over a group of Catholic and Protestant teenagers from Northern Ireland in order to facilitate cultural understanding. We discovered we all had at least one thing in common: We were a bunch of hormone-ridden teenagers. But what we didn’t share was that almost all the Irish girls smoked. The boys didn’t, for the most part. They said it interfered with sports, but almost all the girls enjoyed smoking. In order to quell my own curiosity about Irish girls and smoking, I would sit with them as they smoked and casually take drags off their Marlboro Lights. At first the burning tobacco seemed foreign and provoked coughing fits that I tried to suppress for ego’s sake. But as my lungs grew accustomed to the feeling, I discovered I actually enjoyed it. By the end of the first week, I had developed a bit of a fling with one of the girls from Belfast. At a mixer near the end of our Irish guests’ stay, she and I snuck outside. My memories of that night are blurry, but the sensory impressions are still vivid: pressing against each other outside the building, her tongue ring, the taste of cigarettes on our lips. She left after two weeks. The cigarettes stayed. I had become a teen smoker. Although smoking among all age groups has generally been on the outand-out for decades, teen smokers have persistently been one of the trickiest groups to curtail. So much so that last year the U.S. Surgeon General declared teen smoking to be an epidemic in this country. The issue is of especially pressing concern because of two simple data sets. First, nearly one in four high school seniors smoke. Second, almost 90 percent of adult smokers started the habit before they reached age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In essence, if we really want to curb the number of smokers in this country, teenagers are the crucial age group to reach because once addicted to smoking, you’re more or less hosed. The science behind when symptoms of addiction start occurring is kind of fuzzy and not entirely understood. A study from the University of Massachusetts from 2007 suggests that symptoms of addiction can start manifesting themselves after only one cigarette. And so I became an addict. No one can say the exact moment it happened, but smoking had become an indelible part of the architecture of my day. My mornings began with a cigarette as soon as I sipped my coffee; my evenings ended on my back porch with one last draw of smoke before bed. “So what are the odds of quitting now,” I ask Tiffany during the second week of my project. How many people actually follow through when they start coming to the Wellness Resource Center for cessation counseling?
LUNG CANCER 128,900 (29%) STROKE 15,900 (4%) OTHER CANCERS 35,300 (8%) OTHER DIAGNOSES 44,000 (10%) CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE 92,900 (21%) ISCHEMIC HEART DISEASE 126,000 (28%)
443,000 DEATHS FROM SMOKING EACH YEAR IN THE U.S.
SOURCE: CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION
THE QUITTERS Although they try (and try again), smokers have a hard time putting out the flame
70 50 40 7 3.5
Percentage of smokers who want to quit altogether Percentage of people who relapse into smoking while intoxicated Percentage of smokers who will try to quit this year Percentage of people who will succeed at quitting on their first time Percentage of smokers who will successfully quit cold turkey SOURCE: AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY
10.03.13 • VOXMAGAZINE.COM 15
About a quarter, she says. That doesn’t bode well for my attempt. But I guess the bright side is, according to Tiffany, people who quit cold turkey have an even worse shot at it. Only a small percentage are able to quit for good (3.5 percent, according to the American Cancer Society). I guess that explains why I’d fared so poorly every time I’d tried to quit in the past. The odds have never been in my favor. They still aren’t.
WEEK 3: AKRASIA AND QUITTERS
By the end of the second week, I found a nice equilibrium. I’m not going to sit here and spin you a tale about what a saint I had become. But it felt like the patch was working, and I wasn’t thinking about smoking much during the day. The cravings would come, though, especially when I passed a smoker on the street. So what if a couple pitchers of margaritas on a Friday night caused me to beg a couple smokes off a friend? I had effectively quit smoking by my measure, and that was the best I’d accomplished since I picked up the habit. In the past, my efforts to quit generally had followed a similar arc. I would finish off my remaining cigarettes and resolve to abstain from smoking from then on. Generally, I would cave within three days when the cravings were the strongest. But were I to make it past that point, I would undoubtedly confront some stressful situation within the next two weeks that would immediately send me speeding to the nearest gas station for a pack of Camels that I would smoke frenetically. And because I’m an addict, I couldn’t not smoke the pack of cigarettes I had in my possession because I lacked the strength to say no to the cigs I adored. So I would finish that pack. And not wanting to go through the nasty experience of withdrawal again, I would immediately buy another pack. Quitting quickly established itself as a regular routine throughout the end of my high school and early college days. I would quit, put myself through a lot of unpleasantness and start back up again within two weeks. This time, I was going strong into the third week. Unbeknownst to me, two friends, both editors at this magazine, also quit days after I did. Like any life change, quitting is easier done as a group. But if my quitting had a domino effect on the smokers around me, it also worked to our collective disadvantage when a group of us went out on a Saturday night to Shakespeare’s on Ninth Street. Our friend’s boyfriend was visiting from out of town. A pack-a-day smoker (who shares my affinity for Camel Turkish Royals), he pulled out his cigarettes on the patio. I’m sure you could see the glint in my eye. The other two jittery addicts I was with were also eyeing his pack wistfully. When he offered to share, two of us demurred. But when the third said yes, we immediately changed our minds and asked for a cigarette. So there we were, three people who were nominally trying to quit smoking, ruefully taking drags of cigarettes we didn’t
have the strength to refuse even if we knew we that we should. The Greek philosophers had a term for this weakness of willpower: akrasia. It roughly means doing something even though we know that it’s harmful to us. Plato held that no man would knowingly choose to do something that’s to his detriment. Any smoker knows that Plato was dead wrong. From the time we’ve started smoking, we’ve understood the detriment. There isn’t a single smoker today of sound mind who believes that cigarettes are healthful for him or her. All of us will admit we know it’s posing a significant risk to our well-being. Many of us have our old standbys, the predigested arguments that we’ve come to rely on to justify our smoking. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve cited “a new study” that shows people who quit smoking by the time they’re 40 generally see no long-term ramifications to our health and live almost as long as people who’ve never smoked. But maybe the answer is that we’re just generally weak-willed and prone to take risks. Maybe we’re just incapable of confronting that part of ourselves. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell points out that most smokers share a certain impetuousness and weakness. We also have a greater sex drive than the average adult population and “tend to have greater levels of misconduct and be more rebellious and defiant.” Gladwell goes on to say: “They make snap judgments. They take more risks. The average smoking household spends 73 percent more on coffee and two to three times as much on beer as the average nonsmoking household.” Maybe the reason the three of us sitting at the table that night couldn’t say no was that we’re more physiologically or psychologically hard-wired to say yes.
WEEK 4: RITUAL AND WORSHIP
The last time I met with Tiffany before my month was up, she was curious whether I would keep coming back to her office after my story ran, whether I was committed to staying off cigarettes. I’d like to, I told her, and I know that part of me would never have taken this assignment if I didn’t believe it was the spark plug that would eventually get me past the two-week mark and force me to quit for good. But part of me doesn’t want to quit smoking, even if everyone else does. The culture wars are over. Cigarettes have been vanquished in the public eye. Gone are the days when big tobacco could hawk its products by advertising that “more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” No, no. We live in a society that has so entirely shunned cigarettes that even we smokers are a little embarrassed about it. We know they’re going to kill us eventually, and we know no one wants us smoking. But we persist anyway. Because we’re weak.
She can’t stop, and she won’t stop. But we beg, Miley, please.
Barack Obama’s glory days of pipes, puffs and pot have lost their appeal in the White House. 16 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.03.13
Katherine Heigl can quit Grey’s Anatomy, but she can’t kick the habit.
We were glad Jack saved you from the Atlantic, Kate Winslet, But then you broke out the cigs.
And you thought Gatsby had a decline? When Leo picked up the e-cig, his sex appeal went down.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FLICKR
TRASHY OR CLASSY
Some make us flick the Bic, and others make us slap on the patch. Check out pop culture’s smoking studs and duds.
Because we enjoy them. Because we’re addicted. Tell me that a cigarette isn’t absolutely ambrosial while you sit on your back porch on a clear October morning, and you light up as you sip your first cup of coffee. Tell me smoking isn’t gratifying once you’ve tried a cigarette with a pint of beer. And dear Lord, tell me that there is nothing better after a full steak dinner and many bottles of wine shared with friends, when you’re all satiated, content and a little sleepy — tell me there’s nothing better after that, than having a cigarette with your after-dinner espresso. There’s something so sublime about those moments that it’s spiritual. The feeling of the smoke pressed against the roof of your mouth. The slow inhale and long satisfied exhale. The beautiful repetition and symmetry of it all; there’s something spiritual about that. Of course, tobacco has always been associated with the divine. It’s said that more than 3,000 years ago Native Americans used tobacco to commune with the Creator. For me, though, smoking has been about being able to take the time to commune with myself as much as it has been about enjoying smoking. It’s time away from reality, even if it’s only five to 10 minutes every couple hours, in which you can step outside for time alone. The writer ZZ Packer summed up this blessed solitude of smoking rather nicely in an interview a few years back: “There’s really no chance in society to have a moment to oneself. If you were outside a building and just sort of there and quiet for 10 minutes without doing anything, people would ask you, ‘What’s wrong?’ But if you were outside a building smoking a cigarette, people would know that this is your time to think, and that’s sanctioned. And I could see how everybody needs that.” One of the things I’ve struggled to fully understand over the past month is how much I need that time to myself each day, how much I need to give myself a regular reprieve from the normal contours and currents of everyday life. These are the things I’ve missed the most about smoking. Although it might be the addiction or my weakness talking, there’s a part of me that never wants to quit smoking entirely. The better part of me, the part that’s not overcome with akrasia, knows that I want to reach the point where I don’t have to wear a patch just to keep the nicotine coursing through my bloodstream. Part of me wants to make it through, not just hours, but months without thinking about a cigarette. And I want to cling to that instinct that one day I will no longer have to call myself a smoker in the present tense. So I told Tiffany the truth about what will happen after this story runs: I don’t know.
THE NICOTINE PATCH, MY ONE SALVATION, FAILED ME COUNTLESS TIMES.
*Editor’s Note: Edward has gone six days without a cigarette, and today he will start a reduced level of nicotine patches.
Only Don Draper can make cheating, drinking and smoking sexy.
High school is a big popularity contest, and James Franco smokes the competition.
Marilyn didn’t mind living in a man’s world—as long as she could have a smoke in it.
Carrie Bradshaw made sex and cigs two of our favorite things.
James Dean: The ultimate in smoking badassery.
10.03.13 • VOXMAGAZINE.COM 17
M A G A Z I N E
THE VOICE OF COLUMBIA
Over the TOp
More than just extreme interests — they’re lifestyles • • • Forty years of comic history | page 5 30 musicians, six bands, one epic battle | page 7 SPEAK out against bullying | page 19 • • •
Human beings are, by nature, prone to push boundaries. Our instinct to follow our curiosity has taken us to the peaks of mountains, across enormous seas and to outer space. Tireless men and women have split atoms, cured plagues and
y rdinar ve o a r t x e ha These might not s count ter e c g a a r p a ch s our storie , but limits ead seven aking R e does. oundary-br nd a b about iduals here at v e i lin ind ore on com. m r u o . f gazine a m x vo
built skyscrapers, all in the pursuit of greatness. This week, 11 Columbians share their stories of over-the-top interests and give us a look inside the lives of those who follow their passions to extremes.
NATURE’S PLAYGROUND Neighbors Judy Fry and Tim Wall put their best gardens forward
BY BAILEY OTTO
PHOTO BY BAILEY OTTO
and lack of sleep that accompany this chronic disorder take their toll. She alternates her time udy Fry remembers the first time she saw Tim Wall. He was surveying the yard next between resting inside and working diligently in her garden. One hour in, one hour out, with door. Looking like he should be driving an old Bentley, he wore a tweed cap similar to about four hours a day spent outside altogether. Fry created and maintains a garden that the one her father sported. Fry liked him instantly. Wall first toured the house on Garth Avenue in March, and by April he owned it. He surrounds her house like a cocoon. She guesses there are around 50 types of plants blooming. “I just can’t keep up with it,” she says, shrugging. “Partly, I’ve kept it going because liked what Fry had done with her garden and had aspirations for his own. Wall knew the yard people love it so much.” could boast a pretty garden, but he didn’t know the treasure trove he’d landed. As summer Every day Fry works outside, kids, adults and teenagers stop by. And if they’re leery moseyed along, new plants popped up, blooming and twirling upward from the dirt. of the bees or butterflies, she offers them a guided tour. Soon they’re plucking blooms, In gardening, the two neighbors are kindred spirits. Now, three years after Wall moved enchanted by the caterpillars and butterflies and have reconciled with the bees. They leave in, the two offer yards stuffed with flowering plants and native grasses to those walking and with a bouquet. Many come back. driving past. In fact, the plants are so dense and some so tall that “That’s why I’m out here often during the day,” Fry says. “I want to show the two houses only peep over the towering plants. And yet, the two properties complement each other with their In fact, the plants are as many people and kids as I can the serenity, the calmness.” But it’s time for her to wind down a little and select the plants she wants distinct personalities. Wall enjoys wildness while Fry tames her so dense and some to preserve. Wall believes his low-maintenance policy has influenced Fry to plants a little more. Fry dedicates one-third of her yard to tall put in less labor in constant upkeep. But it’s a two-way exchange. Wall has so tall that the two prairie plants that thrive on their own. Only a strip of ground about more flowers, many of them Fry’s native prairie plants. five feet wide separates the two yards and gardening philosophies. houses only peep over added Wall, 34, is nearly 6 feet tall and wears gym clothes with flip-flops or goes A small stone path leads from one property to the next. the towering plants. barefoot when working outside. His arbors stretch across the middle of the Fry’s yard is a playground for butterflies and bees, a forest of front yard, vines twining around the poles. Emerald-green peppers hang like foliage where onlookers could get lost if they stepped off the path. ornaments from their hooked stems, the crunchy exteriors trapping the heat inside. Jalapenos Four out of her 15 butterfly bushes stand at least 15 feet high, like towers overlooking the dangle among habaneros, tomatoes, raspberries and grapes. flowers below. Wall walks through the thin patch of plants that divides his yard from Fry’s and holds Two female hummingbirds size each other up above the garden as Fry ruminates in a out a handful of red-orange Tommy Toe cherry tomatoes, offering some to Fry. The spongy chair on her porch. Her grandmother gardened, and Fry remembers carefully following in layer beneath the tomato skin splits, and the splash of juice is sweet and a little sharp. They her grandma’s footsteps as a little girl. talk of gardening. Just over 5 feet tall and about 100 pounds, Fry, 64, is slight. As she talks, her hands Wall goes above and beyond to create a garden that provides food for him and his wife. flutter like butterflies. Her quick, precise movements and hair, still light brown and held in a He makes wine from the grapes and salsa from the vegetables growing on the arbors. ponytail, belie her age. “It’s a primal thing,” Wall says. “It’s this connection to nature; you and some other living Fry has been a sentinel of this world she has created over the span of 13 years, but she’s thing are forming a team, a symbiosis that forms between the gardener and his garden.” getting tired. Fibromyalgia has plagued her since adolescence. The total body pain, fatigue 10.10.13 • VOXMAGAZINE.COM 11
THE LIMIT DOES NOT EXIST Rosemary Howell calculates her way to success
12 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.10.13
BY CAROLINE MICHLER
PHOTO BY KEVIN COOK
osemary Howell has eight composition notebooks filled with notes and practice problems, four binders of study materials, four calculators, two math-themed coffee mugs, two perfectly symmetrical light-brown eyebrows and one big sense of humor. She might be an intense studier, but she’s like a balanced equation. One minute she’s laughing at herself while describing her favorite calculator, and the next she’s using a business-like tone to describe the process of becoming an actuary. It’s a long one full of tests, but Howell is ahead of the game. Howell is an MU senior majoring in math with an emphasis in actuarial science, a career that applies math and statistical methods to assess risk in insurance and finance. She is studying for the MLC, Model for Life Contingencies, which is her fourth actuarial exam. She plans to take the exam Nov. 5. Her favorite calculator is the BAII+. She jokingly holds her finger up and cocks her head to one side for just a second, so her light brown Howell estimates hair isn’t even on both sides and she has studied about says, “Make sure you get the plus; a difference.” Howell has 900 hours total for the there’s used this calculator on her past three actuarial exams two exams. Actuarial science is an she has taken. emphasis area in the math department, but MU is not involved in the exam process, so it’s hard to estimate how many students are taking the exams. Howell knows eight to 10 current students who have passed one or two exams and two people studying for their third. MU doesn’t require students to pass an exam to graduate. The Society of Actuaries and The Casualty Actuarial Society recommend candidates study 100 hours for every hour of the given exam. So far, each of the exams she has studied for has been three hours long. Howell estimates she has studied about 900 hours total. And she’s not finished. Although Howell already landed a job with an actuarial firm after graduation in May 2014, she will continue to take exams while she’s a working professional until she has passed all the exams required for her to become a retirement consultant. Each particular track for an actuary fellowship is modified every few years. As of right now, she has to pass five preliminary exams, three of which she has already completed. After she passes, she’ll take an associate professional course, which is the last step in applying for her associateship. She will then take three more exams for the retirement track. After the exams, she’ll take four online course modules, followed by an admissions course, which completes her fellowship. Howell wants to make the most of her time as a student because she thinks this is when she’ll have the most free time to study. She took her first actuarial exam her sophomore year while enrolled in a course on the same material. The first time Howell completed the exam, she didn’t do any studying so she could get a feel for what the exams would be like. She failed. She took the exam two months later after studying and passed. Howell studies as much as she can each day. She reads notes and completes practice problems for about three to four months before the exam. A month before the exam, she starts taking practice tests. Her goal is to get through a chapter daily. Sometimes she gets creative with her studying. She has reviewed flashcards and study materials on the elliptical, at her sister’s graduation, on planes and if she’s lucky, at Panera in a booth in the back with many cups of coffee. There, she’ll be wearing what she calls “smart glasses,” fake glasses she dons when she’s doing intense studying and wants to feel extra smart. Howell attributes her success so far to luck. That’s hard to believe for anyone who has watched Howell drink out of her “Never Ever Question the Actuary’s Judgment” coffee mug and work during her 900 study hours and counting.
ALL ABOARD Randy and Kenneth Hackman have big plans for a little railroad BY COLIN HOPE
he clouds are always out in Kenneth Hackman’s basement. Model railroad tracks set against plaster moldings of mountains encircle the room. A cloud-speckled azure sky painted on the ceiling completes the setting for a miniature rail line of the Old West. With a flip of a switch, the model railroad master makes the basement glow a soft nocturnal blue. Above the ground in his Jefferson City log cabin-style home, Kenneth, 79, and his son Randy, 40, are planning to bring their love of the rails outdoors. In July, the two broke ground in their garden for what they expect will be America’s largest private outdoor model train circuit. Kenneth and Randy will weave more than 4,000 feet of railroad tracks through a miniature version of a Colorado mountain terrain set in their half-acre backyard. The father-son team has a passion for railroads and trains that blows most people off the tracks. It’s present in everything from their basement’s sprawling 19th-century cities and rail lines to the train-themed wind chimes on their front porch that faces the Union Pacific westbound line. Kenneth’s history with trains goes back more than six decades, and he fondly remembers the magazines and models that stoked what would become a lifelong pursuit. “It’s something exciting,” Kenneth says, after remarking how his favorite pastime has grown over the years. “It’s something to keep me active and focused.” Outside, a train whistles from down the line. The retired postal service worker makes his way to the porch in time to catch the train cars clamoring on the rails past his home. Like some mighty wind, an electric enthusiasm sweeps over Kenneth as he hollers to his son
PHOTO BY MACKENZIE BRUCE inside, “Coal train!” It’s hard to believe a single locomotive passes unidentified by the trainspotting duo. To bring more life into the hobby shared with his father, Randy started discussing the idea of a garden train with two of his father’s friends. Together, they decided to re-create Colorado’s Durango and Silverton rail line — a family favorite — in 1800s detail. “It’s not a club,” Randy says about the ambitious group of four. “It’s just a group of guys who are crazy about trains.” The Hackmans plan to name their first building after Kenneth’s late wife, Belva Hackman, who passed away in 2011. Her memory is reflected in their home through the models she made by hand during her years raising the four Hackman children. That family affection is abundantly present in the Hackman’s garden where thin furrows filled with gravel snake across the landscape, bend around hundreds of newly planted perennials and momentarily disappear behind piles of dirt that will soon be made into Colorado mountains. After borrowing a hydraulic digger from a friend, Kenneth and Randy have put down their shovels and are picking up steam in laying the foundation for an outdoor track. “Hopefully, this project will bring the entire family together,” Randy says, considering his father’s 10 great-grandchildren who he knows will want to see the project once it’s completed. Although the Hackmans estimate they will not finish their garden circuit until next year, they take pride in the steady growth of their mammoth miniature railroad — their spirits visibly recharged each time they share the sight of another train pressing its way onward.
“It’s not a club. It’s just a group of guys who are crazy about trains.”
10.10.13 • VOXMAGAZINE.COM 13
FULL STEAM AHEAD Ben Watkins directs to impress in “Steamworks and Shadows”
BY GRACE LYDEN
PHOTO BY KHOLOOD EID
he room begins to sweat. A crowd clothed in leather vests and lace corsets stands eagerly awaiting the premiere episode of Columbia’s first steampunk Web series. “Welcome, everybody, to the ‘Steamworks and Shadows’ premiere!” The audience cheers raucously for the film’s director, Ben Watkins. Many have come to DoDeca-Con II: The Revenge, Columbia’s second annual comic book and steampunk convention, specifically to see this. Steampunk is a science fiction subgenre in which futuristic machines exist in an alternative version of the Industrial Revolution era. Watkins and eight others play the crew of the fictional Airship Vindus in the film. The Columbia-based group formed in July 2012 after meeting at the steampunk day of a pirate convention in Kingdom City. Shortly after, members decided to create their own universe. They spent every Saturday and Sunday the rest of that summer filming, mostly in Watkins’ garage. They built their own weapons and scoured thrift stores and antique shops for authentic clothing. Their faithful costumes exceed their acting abilities. For the Airship Vindus crew, this is no mere hobby. It’s a lifestyle. As Watkins starts the film, the chatter of the costumed crowd evaporates. Small speakers emit dramatic opening music. Eight and a half minutes of action and humor follow. The good guys chase a villain through a small Western town as he steals a mysterious box, but he gets away and vanishes into thin air. Then credits roll, and the crowd erupts into applause again. “Would you guys watch more episodes of that?” Watkins asks the crowd. “Yeah!” They respond, even louder. More than 400 people have come to the Days Inn for the convention. Upstairs, vendors are eager to sell them pocket watches and replicas of World War I guns. Kevin Purvis, 42, actor and producer of the Web series, doesn’t need to shop. He’s in the antique business and made his own gun — a 6-foot rifle with a bayonet and a piece of a light saber at the end. Most people at the convention would be at home in an H.G. Wells novel, a George Lucas film or some combination of the two. Watkins, 28, has a ponytail, a full beard and the cool charisma of a politician. Sporting his homemade leather-and-brass costume, he shakes hands and spouts phrases such as “share in the vision” and “raise awareness about our culture.” His steampunk character is Judge, a monster hunter. The left shoulder of his jacket bears the Airship Vindus’ winged hourglass logo. Locks of werewolf and Yeti hair (black and white braids) swing from his vest, and he wears a cowboy hat with a pair of Victorian-era goggles perched on top. Watkins believes anyone can be anything in steampunk. “It doesn’t matter what you want to do,” he tells a group of newcomers. “If it has existed in legend, lore or literary fiction, we want it, and we want it steampunked.” Steampunk has been popular on the East and West coasts for years but has only recently gained momentum in the Midwest. Jashin Lin, 25, plays Lady Jade Summers, the Airship’s wealthy benefactress. She thinks Airship Vindus is responsible for the spike in popularity in mid-Missouri. After joining social media, dozens of pseudo-actors from neighboring states showed up for filming, up to 40 people in one day. “We started this just over a year ago, and it blew up,” Lin says, whose character wears a leather corset and looks like a biker. “You’ll find raging debate online about corsets,” Lin says. A good one can cost $20 to $500. Steampunk is an expensive hobby, especially for people who work mostly serviceindustry jobs. Watkins runs a business replicating science fiction movie props but also works a 5 to 10 a.m. shift at Michael’s several days a week. “It’s really, really hard financially,” Watkins says. “There’s no question about it that we struggle to pay bills every single month. And yet, it’s OK because we love what we do.”
“If it has existed in legend, lore or literary fiction, we want it, and we want it steampunked.”
14 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.10.13
HOT AND DANGEROUS Ethan Meyers is enamored with exotic species BY MADELINE O’LEARY
even of the most important females in Ethan Meyers’ life are unnamed, yet he sleeps next to them each night. Instead of talking they hiss, and instead of walking they slither — they’re reptiles, after all. Meyers’ fixation with snakes is undeniable. He even had the curved body and beige, gold and milk-chocolate skin of one tattooed down his torso. The hues of her skin hypnotically blend and contrast like soft stones at the bottom of a babbling creek. Meyers’ leg pays testament to the serpentine anatomy of another. Unlike the other snake, this one is black, blue and tan. “She hates me,” he says quietly; she grows tense and stares daggers at him from her corner of the room. “I won’t give a name to anything that can kill me,” he says. Meyers, a 26-year-old jewelry salesman, keeps seven snakes in his bedroom: an atrox Western diamond-backed rattlesnake, a banded monocled cobra, the West African Gaboon viper, a sunfire albino monocled cobra, a Costa Rican eyelash pit viper, a jungle carpet python and a rhinoceros viper. The python is the only snake that isn’t venomous. He owns 10 snakes; the other three are currently in a breeding program away from his house. Their individual cages form a semi-circle around his bed, broken only by a black pool in one corner that holds a small alligator. No more than 15 square feet remain open for him to maneuver around his room and bed. Fiercely territorial, impassioned and poised to pounce at a moment’s notice, venomous snakes have surrounded Meyers in his sleep since boyhood. At 6, he got his first ball python. By 14, his room was wall-to-wall snakes. Home schooled his entire life, Meyers admits to an untraditional upbringing. “At my house, it was like, ‘Oh, well, the tarantula got out, again,’” he says. Meyers never studied reptiles within the confines of a classroom. “My dad gave me the option of having regular science classes or picking my own interests,” he says. The young Meyers chose the latter and scoured every book about snakes that he could get his hands on. He calls his snakes “hots,” which is a colloquial term for venomous snakes among reptile enthusiasts. Although there’s a small community of such enthusiasts in Columbia, he says an
PHOTO BY KHOLOOD EID even smaller number share Meyers’ passion for vipers and cobras. Missouri has no means of keeping track of the foreign beauties of Meyers’ obsession. Because they hail from far-flung corners of the world such as Thailand and Africa, they’re outside of the state’s jurisdiction, according to Stephanie Liebi at the Missouri Department of Conservation. If they’re native venomous snakes, though, the state requires the holder to have a Class II permit, which is a permit to hold certain species of wildlife. Permit holders are subject to cage-condition inspections from state officials. If the environment in which they’re kept doesn’t meet state standards, permit holders could face fines. Between July 1, 2012 and June 13, 2013, just 11 Missourians registered as permit holders. Not one was from Boone County. As far as Meyers knows, Holts Summit native Bill Becker is the only other person who shares his elevated passion for reptiles. Becker gave Meyers several of the snakes he has now, Meyers says. They came from Becker’s snake collection of about 400. Even the deadliest snakes get hungry. From a dingy cardboard box, Meyers lifts a squirming gray mouse by its tail and dangles it over the West African Gaboon viper’s cage. Like a seasoned butcher gutting a lamb, Meyers is detached from the act. “I don’t enjoy feeding them little fuzzy mice that some people might think are cute, but it’s all a part of dealing with animals, reptiles and anything that’s alive,” he says. The mouse thrashes and squeals before being dropped softly on top of the viper’s bedding. Just a fraction of a second lapses before the viper stealthily sinks its two-inch fangs into the soft flesh. “Tell me that’s not intense,” Meyers says, his 6-foot frame bent at the knees, shooting a green-eyed gaze of admiration into the cage. A few paces away, Meyers’ roommate flips on the television in the living room. “When he first moved in, he slept with a bath towel rolled up under the door,” Meyers says. “But I haven’t had a snake escape since I was 15.” “I don’t come home and tenderly love my snakes,” Meyers adds. “But I’m fascinated by them. I want to learn more about them, study them and understand them.”
“I won’t give a name to anything that can kill me.”
10.10.13 • VOXMAGAZINE.COM 15
GOLDEN GUY Tiger superfan Adam Crutchfield gives Truman a run for his spirit BY STEPHANIE GRAFLAGE
dam Crutchfield stands as the Missouri football team approaches the red zone. Sitting eight rows up from the 10-yard line, Crutchfield anxiously awaits the Tigers next play. Seconds later, he roars and high-fives his buddies as the team marches into the end zone. Most MU fans know Crutchfield by his online persona, Mr. Shizz. His YouTube channel has more than 20,000 views. He has created more than 15,000 posts on blogging websites, and his tweets about the Tigers have gained him more than 1,500 followers on Twitter, including NBA player and former MU basketball player Kim English, who has tweeted at him for his dedication to Mizzou athletics. Crutchfield is a full-time loan officer at Veterans United, but his over-the-top fandom of the Tigers takes up about 20 hours per week. Crutchfield is the creator of Cropdusters, a series of video sketches that poke fun at the Tigers upcoming opponents. He is also known for his Shizzlers, blogs that recap every aspect of basketball games and often feature 10 funny facts about the competition. In addition to Crutchfield’s endless posts about Mizzou, his use of slang terms such as “shizz” and “pwn” have set a trend on sites such as Power Mizzou. “He’s one of Power Mizzou’s most recognized posters,” says Kurt Krieger, a friend of Crutchfield’s and a co-worker. “It seems like every day at the office or anytime I see him he’s wearing Mizzou gear. He bleeds black and gold.” His wife, Katie, known as Mrs. Shizz, stayed home this game with his legacies: his 2-yearold son nicknamed Mini Shizz, and his 6-month-old daughter, Minnie Shizz. Katie married Crutchfield and Mizzou. Not only did the Crutchfields have a Tiger groom’s cake at their wedding reception, but the couple also made their grand entrance to the Tiger fight song. Later in the half, as the Tigers take a timeout, Crutchfield looks over his left shoulder to greet a woman who recognizes him from previous games. Another fan a few rows behind pulls out his phone to snap a picture of Mr. Shizz and tag him in a tweet that reads, “Your (sic) a baller when you have Mr. Shizz sitting in front of you at the game!” This isn’t the first time Crutchfield has had his photo taken by fans.
PHOTO BY JACOB HAMILTON At least three times a week fans stop him, some asking for a photo with him. It’s also common for fans to offer to buy his drinks when out at a bar. Although just 31 years old, Crutchfield has had season tickets for 27 seasons and attended more than 525 Mizzou athletic events in his lifetime. In his brand new Dorial Green-Beckham jersey and cargo shorts, Crutchfield adjusts his yellow snap-back hat that sports his nickname “Mr. Shizz” in black. The hat, which has been weathered over its five-year lifetime, is bound together by fraying, yellow duct tape. He has worn the hat to every Missouri Tiger football game he has attended since the beginning of the 2007 season. “It always makes its way back home,” he jokes when describing a time he lost the hat at a bar. A fan returned it. Crutchfield’s closet is a sea of black and gold. With more than 250 articles of clothing to represent the Tigers, there isn’t room for much else. He had his man cave painted Mizzou gold to better accentuate the posters and other memorabilia on display. A red, white and blue metal emblem decorates the wristband Crutchfield began wearing during the 2007 football season. That was the Tigers best year as the team finished the regular season 11-1. With the Tigers off to a 5-0 start, Crutchfield and his buddies are convinced the bracelet was the team’s good luck charm. At the end of every game, the band rests in the top drawer beside his bed until the Tigers play again. At the football game, Crutchfield sits near buddies. With his deep voice, he lets out a roar as the Tigers come up with a big gain. Sweat runs down his dark, scruffy facial hair as quickly as the time on the clock runs down. Anxious because the Tigers are about to give up another first down, he tugs at his jersey. “Get him,” he yells as the Tigers miss a tackle. “Come on,” he mutters under his breath as the University of Toledo sets up another play. As the time on the clock runs out, Crutchfield relaxes and lets out a cheer as the Tigers pull away with a win.
At least three times a week fans stop him, some asking for a photo with him.
16 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.10.13
ON HER TOES Missouri Contemporary Ballet dancer Emily Baker eats, sleeps and breathes ballet
BY CLAIRE LANDSBAUM
PHOTO BY FAREEHA AMIR
he air is tropical-rain forest thick — so hot that the wall-to-wall mirrors are smeared with a thin fog. A sheen of sweat covers everyone in the room. As they move across the floor, the dancers glisten. Emily Baker rests against the long wooden barre that runs along the wall at waist height. She leans on it, and her arm forms a right angle with her elbow jutting out over her hip. Her earrings jingle as she tilts her head back and laughs at a fellow dancer’s joke. Sweaty brown curls have escaped her bun and are plastered to her forehead and the back of her neck. A quick adjustment of her olive-green leotard, and she’s off across the floor again, arms held aloft and right leg extended above her ear. Her face reveals no hint of the effort. Baker, 23, is the newest member of Columbia’s Missouri Contemporary Ballet; she joined in August. Roughly 30 hours of class and rehearsal per week is the norm. Members rehearse 32 weeks out of the year for a total of nine performances. Monday through Friday, the day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. with only a quick lunch break. Afterward, Baker hits the gym. She uses the elliptical or bike machine because the treadmill hurts her shins. She’ll work out for 30 minutes and increase the resistance as she goes. She does a pilates core workout, and sometimes she’ll squeeze in a yoga class before heading to her second job as a waitress and bartender at the Shot Bar downtown. She also teaches a ballet class at MCB on Tuesdays for 6-year-olds and up. She regulates her diet to maximize the performance of her 5-foot-6inch, 125-pound frame. In the morning she eats oatmeal with a banana and almond milk to stock up on nutrients. Between classes she eats half a PowerBar. Lunch is the other half, plus yogurt and a piece of fruit. When she gets home, she snacks on a bagel sandwich. She likes to change up dinner, but keeps it healthful. Baker’s lifestyle serves her job completely. To pursue the craft they love, professional dancers devote their entire lives to ballet. They pick up side jobs and push their bodies beyond their physical limits. She has been injured multiple times throughout her career. Yet even sprawled on the black floor of the studio, legs flung out in a straddle wide enough to make any normal person wince, she feels comfortable and natural. “I dislocated my shoulder once in rehearsal,” she says nonchalantly, brushing it with a forefinger. “I’ve sprained my lower back a bunch. I’ve had tendonitis in both my hips and strained both my hips. I’ve sprained my knee. I’ve had Achilles tendonitis. I’ve had flexor hallucis tendonitis.” But watching her dance, you’d never know. She and the rest of the class have moved on to jumps. The ballet mistress, Julie Artemova-Schauwecker, sets a combination of jumps. She says it once and expects it to be memorized. Baker stares Artemova-Schauwecker down, moving her hands as though they were feet to memorize the steps. The music starts, and she’s off. Baker has belonged to studios across the country: California, Colorado, Arizona and Georgia. She’s open to auditioning for other companies — Ballet Nouveau in Colorado or Smuin Ballet in San Francisco — but plans to spend at least a few years in Columbia. She likes to go where her dancing will be most valued and needed. Class draws to a close. The final exercise, fouetté turns in the center, is optional. Baker opts in, spinning in tight, centered circles. Her head whips around in time to the music. One leg rotates and comes into passé; the toe connects above the left knee joint while the right knee points to the side. The other leaps from pointe to flat pointe as the knee straightens and bends and straightens again. She is perfectly balanced.
To pursue the craft they love, professional dancers devote their entire lives to ballet.
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M A G A Z I N E
THE VOICE OF COLUMBIA
Contempory cultivators fit in farming on the side
• • • Navigate the numbers of SHRYOCKS| page 4 ZIPLINE, sip wine, and solve crime| page 6 Books to BATTLE breast cancer| page 20 • • •
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MODERN AMERICAN GOTHIC The definition of farming is changing, but the love of the land remains the same Photo stor y by Jacob Hamilton
irt was his first love. As a boy, John Corn tilled his grandparents’ garden in Fulton, and images from those days remain ingrained in his mind. He remembers his grandfather at his side as they harvested the rows of vegetables. He can still hear the crunch of his grandmother’s radish and butter sandwiches or taste the sunflower and pumpkin seeds she shelled by hand. Memories like these floated through his head at an auction in November 2009 when he and his wife, Sandy Gummersheimer, bid on and won a 16-acre plot of farm land on Moreau Road. For $2,000 an acre, the newly acquired Mighty Acorn Farms, located just 15 minutes northwest of their home near downtown Columbia, gave the family a chance to plant roots and become part-time growers. Working the land might be in his blood, but it isn’t his day job. John is a home inspector in Columbia, and Sandy works as an MU adviser. Because the couple earns the majority of their income from sources other than farming, their land is considered a farmette. As part of a growing trend, small, family-operated farmettes are an increasing part of the $5 billion generated by agriculture sales in Missouri. The most recent statistics, released by the USDA and MU’s Institute of Public Policy in 2007, report that 23 percent of the state’s farms sit on less than 50 acres, and 36 percent of those are classified as farmettes. John believes the movement is linked to the popularity of urban farming and the increasing demand for locally sourced produce. New government-sponsored programs, such as grants for small farmers and the use of food stamps at the Columbia Farmers’ Market, mean more Columbians can buy produce grown less than 50 miles from their homes. For the past four years, John and Sandy have tried to bring local flavors to residents. The couple has cultivated 2 of their 16 acres. The family grows its produce without pesticides or chemicals, which they say maintains soil fertility and produces the best crops. Taste, John says, is paramount; he believes it’s the factor that will keep their customers coming back for more. His love of good food is one of the things that led him back to farming, he says. “There are farmers who become foodies and foodies who become farmers. I was the latter.” There is no magic formula for how he and Sandy juggle the day-to-day craziness of jobs, family obligations and farming. But one thing is certain: Friday afternoon is harvest time. Their ritual is simple. They pick produce until the sun begins to set, then load up the truck to bring the produce home for a quick wash before the next day’s market. Each day they spend on the farm, Sandy and John learn something new about the land and themselves. Both are looking forward to seeing their small operation grow in the changing world of farming. + ABBEY DEAN 10.17.13 • VOXMAGAZINE.COM 11
Sandy and daughter Ashley Pierce harvest arugula at Mighty Acorn Farms. The peppery aroma of the plants becomes more powerful with each pluck of the small, leafy stems. The irrigation system’s water tank, which John designed and built, stands watch in the background. In the four years since they purchased the farmette, John and Sandy have continued to add features, including a greenhouse and electric fence to keep out deer.
John and his family grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. After each Friday harvest, they take the produce home to rinse it for the next morning’s Columbia Farmers’ Market. The 2 acres they cultivate is part of a larger, 16-acre plot they purchased in 2009.
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Every Saturday at 7 a.m. John sets up his tent at the Columbia Farmers’ Market in the parking lot of the Activity and Recreation Center. Although trips to the market are a necessary part of the business, John enjoys the ritual of selling his produce and relating with customers. Excluding one week, he has been there every weekend since the start of the outdoor market season in May. John is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Columbia Farmers’ Market.
The family demonstrates the large variety of produce they grow by bringing different options every Saturday. Above, the vibrant colors of cayenne and pimento peppers, spicy arugula and roma tomatoes entice customers to stop by John’s booth. Other choices include okra, squash, potatoes and cucumbers.
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Their love of food and cooking inspired John and Sandy to start farming. The couple enjoys planning meals and experimenting with recipes that revolve around their freshly picked produce. Regular meals include pizza, garbanzo bean chili and tomatillo tostadas. John and Sandy share and barter their crops with other local producers. These new additions to their table, such as wine made by family friend Heinrich Grohe of St. James, serve as a sampling of products from other small farmers.
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The family grows produce year-round thanks to a hoop house, which John assembled himself. Though similar to a greenhouse, a hoop house has walls that can roll up or down to shield produce from the changing elements. This allows John and Sandy to start planting when snow is still piled high outside.
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Twilight signals the end of another long Friday afternoon of picking produce. Sandy and John prefer to pick the crops less than 12 hours before transporting them to the Columbia Farmers’ Market. As they harvest their fruits and vegetables, they have the satisfaction of knowing their hard work and constant balancing act is worth the effort and stress.
For more photos of John and Sandy’s life on the farm, visit our website. 16 VOXMAGAZINE.COM • 10.17.13