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This was a sci-fi short that I read in the early 90s. It starts with a man walking up to somebody who’s trying to roll a cigarette using weeds, and starts telling him how good real cigarettes used to taste.

He upsets everyone he talks to because he makes them realise what they don’t have.

I’m looking for this story to help put together an article on the repudiation of history.

I’ve tried various google searches, but it keeps throwing out 'we can remember it for you wholesale' which isn’t right.

The irony that I might be the only person who can remember this story isn’t lost on me!

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    Not this but take a look at Consider Her Ways and The Futurological Congress Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 8:31
  • Hi and welcome to SciFi.SE, Please can you take a look at this list and edit in any more details you can remember?
    – fez
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 8:31
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    I've read it as well but can't recall title/author. The old man is being smuggled around by an organisation who wants everyone to remember how good it all was in the old days. He describes the dashboard of some car (dodge viper?) and this petrolhead bursts into tears. They sit him down for a meal and he knows they're really spoiling him because he counts 27 peas on his plate.... I read this in an anthology and the story intro was something like "this man's crime against society is remembering how good life was" I think the secret police were wanting to stop him spreading unrest
    – Danny Mc G
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 14:09
  • The cigarette thing reminds me of a Phillip K. Dick setting that he used for both a short story and a novel. Can you recall any other details? Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 14:18
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    Danny McG - this is exactly right. You’ve remembered a lot more than I did. Now we just need the title! Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 9:19

1 Answer 1

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This is Ray Bradbury's To the Chicago Abyss (1963) (Per DavidW comment, full text available on Internet Archive -- it's also part of The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction: A Special 25th Anniversary Anthology (1974), which is where I read it); going from memory:

  • The protagonist (an old man) has a habit of talking to strangers and describing now-rare or gone things, acting with gestures, sound effects, and sense memory (like opening a vacuum-sealed coffee can or starting a car). As you say, this tends to upset people, and he gets beaten up by a younger man who knocks his teeth out.
  • He's saved by someone from an underground, who shelters him, feeds him (with the peas as described above), and sets him up for a train journey to a safer community. (He also provides a chit for a dentist to fix his teeth, with the rescuer hoping it will help the old man figuratively keep his mouth shut.)
  • The police (going door-to-door looking for him) show up, announcing a hefty reward of rare, vacuum-packed canned goods.
  • It mentions that one of the Great Lakes is getting ready to breach the crust of a crater near the settlement to which he's headed.
  • At the end, the man is on the train, and despite being warned to keep quiet, can't resist remembering something to a child passenger.

(I didn't realize that this was also filmed as an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater in 1989; there's also a play version.)

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    The story is available in the May 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction at the Internet Archive. The bit from the question about someone trying to roll their own cigarette is on the first page.
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 17:44
  • As pointed out this was adapted for television and is easily found on youtube at the moment. Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 20:47
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    Thanks to all of you for your kind attention. It’s very much appreciated. Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 13:06

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