November 25th, 2014


The Quit-Once Problem Tower

It was a tower of clear plastic, or clear something like plastic, all in tubes, twisting and turning and intersecting, some ten stories high. The sun caught my eye uncomfortably as I looked up at the tower, but I saw billows, and twisting joints, and smoke or steam from a dozen vents. Inside those tubes were snakes of different sizes and breeds: some dozing in the sun, some coiled around a steaming vent, some crawling about seeking a new place to hide. Thousands of snakes, their movement and stillness forming a sort of machinery of its own.

I asked the inventor, “What the Sam Hill is this thing?”

He cleared his throat and thought a bit before he answered.

“The best thing a person can do in modern America to extend their lifespan is to stop smoking, right?” he asked me.

“Sure,” I said, “I guess.” I mean, technically the best thing you can do is to refrain from jumping off a bridge this instant or something, or maybe to get yourself a new robot body, but I was willing to go with the context of his premise for now.

“The only problem is,” he continued, “it’s not something that non-smokers can do. And if you start smoking again you lose all those benefits. So you can only do it once. This machine is designed to fix that.”

“To allow you to quit smoking multiple times and gain the same life extending benefits each time?”

“That’s the plan.”

“I don’t think statistics work that way,” I told him.

He crossed his arms defensively. “That’s just your opinion.”

“Why snakes?” I asked.

He kept his arms crossed. “Well, there are four kinds of problems in this world: problems you probably can’t solve using snakes, problems you can maybe solve using snakes, problems you can definitely solve using snakes, and problems that you can’t solve without snakes. The quit-once problem is definitely in the fourth category. So here we are.”

I don’t think problems work that way, either.

And neither does Sam Hill.