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Shrewsbury, Massachusetts – The other day while doing some yard work in the back of my house I sat down on a rock after a time to rest since I no longer have the stamina I possessed when younger. Sitting there I realized that to any casual observer it would appear that I was just a lazy old coot waiting for the Reaper, rather than a still vibrant guy whose energy sadly disappeared along with his hair. Unlike Sampson though, I was done in by time rather than Delilah.
In earlier days I was never self-conscious about being thought of as goofing off since when needing a break from physical exertion I would simply light up a cigarette so any onlooker could immediately see I was at least doing something. That was one of the benefits of being a smoker, I could always appear like my time was occupied even when it wasn’t.
One Fall after having successfully stopped smoking for about a year I was raking leaves when I suddenly got a tremendous urge for a butt, and pondering the reason for the unexpected pang after all that time I realized that a cigarette had been an unconscious excuse for taking a break when tired. I always felt that smoking was merely a habit and not a physical addiction as the companies that make anti- smoking aids would have you believe, and this incident was the proof.
It may seem ludicrous to speak of smoking as having benefits after all the anti-cigarette campaigns that have been waged for so many years, but having grown up during the 1940s and seeing all the actors constantly smoking in movies, the cigarette to people of my generation was a symbol of sophistication and maturity, just as the tobacco companies had planned all along. My friends and I couldn’t wait to be sixteen so we could buy “loosies” after school from the candy store for a penny a piece and smoke as we walked to the train station on our way home.
Of course in those years virtually everyone smoked so our breath and clothes reeked from the acrid odor of burning tar and nicotine without ever being aware of it, and even non-smokers inhaled those carcinogenic fumes unknowingly when in restaurants, bars, and especially at parties. I can vividly remember being a child at family gatherings and having my eyes tear from all the smoke, being forced to go outside to stop the burning sensation. Unfortunately, my wife and I subjected our own youngsters to the same abuse as they sat in the back seat of our car while we casually puffed away in the front.
It’s amazing how quickly we’ve become a non-smoking society to the point where the faintest whiff of burning tobacco makes us sick to our stomachs. My wife and I have become so sensitive to the smell that we can detect the stench in a hotel room that was once smoked in, even after it was supposedly completely sanitized and made smoke-free. At one time we’d look with derision on such whiners, but now we’ve joined their ranks.
Since smoking used to give one at least the appearance of being busy it’s too bad it’s so dangerous, a smelly and dirty activity that’s engaged in mainly by the under-educated and poor. As one of the idle rich characters (Lady Bracknell) in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest replied when hearing that her prospective son-in-law smoked, she said “That is well. A man should always have an occupation.”