Tuesday, February 15, 2011

#301: Where There's Smoke

So I'm walking into the gym this morning and there's a cloud of smoke hanging around the front door. Young men and women in their twenties and thirties are hanging out in the cold smoking. What does this tell me? It tells me that the gym will be filled with pre-schoolers. These smokers are people who get up early, put their kids in the car, drive them to the recreation center, send them out on the gym floor to run and laugh and be healthy... then pop out into the gray winter morning to suck on a paper tube filled with burning leaves.

OK, look. I was a smoker. I'm not anymore. I quit soon after my Dad had his second heart attack. The one that killed him. You can probably guess how a throat cancer survivor feels about smoking. But that's not what was on my mind this morning. What I was thinking about was those little kids.

They want to grow up to be like their parents, just like I did. They watch to see what it means to be a grown-up, just like you did. They imitate their parent's virtues and vices, just as we all do. So if you're a smoker, and you have kids, I have a question for you...

What kind of a stupid moron do you want your kid to grow up to be?

I know, I don't have kids. I don't know what it's like. Childless people love to give parenting advice to people who actually have children. So let me do an equal opportunity thing here. Say you don't have kids. No matter how much of a failure you may think you are, no matter how lonely or guilty or disappointed you are in your own life, I guarantee that there is someone who admires you. Someone who would like to be just a little bit like you. There is something about you that is worth imitating. You are some one's teacher.

Do you really want to teach someone to commit suicide by tobacco?

It isn't my Dad's fault that I smoked. It isn't his fault that I got cancer. Those were my choices. In some ways, I guess it was easier to imitate his vices than his virtues. I never thought I could be as good a man as he was, but at least I could be as cool as he looked as he took a long drag after dinner or flicked a butt out into the night over the porch rail. My relatives smoked. Some of my best teachers smoked. Nearly every actor I admired smoked. All the people I really wanted to be like were smokers. I chose to smoke.

I want to grab those parents outside the gym door and shake them. I want to scream, "They're watching you. They want to be like you. They want to act like you, eat like you, relax like you. Be the kind of man or woman you want them to grow up to be!" I want to scream that, but I don't. I hold my breath and I walk through the smoke and I hit the locker room. It's none of my business.

But up in the weight room, I can still hear the kids playing basketball. They're laughing and running and shouting. And not one of them has that raspy cough.

Not yet.

I want you to quit. I don't want you to have fist sized lumps cut out of you or be shot with radiation or pumped full of poison that will kill you if it doesn't kill the cancer first. I don't want to work in a theatre without you or attend a reunion without you or just watch you disappear from facebook one day, never to return. I don't want to go to your damn funeral. I want you to come to mine, after I die of old age.

So cut it out. Whether you believe it or not, someone out here needs you more than you know. We need you. I need you. Stop it.



  1. My dad was a smoker. Two-three pack a day man. Smoked at the dinner table. Smoked in the car. I admired him. He taught me. I never picked up the habit. Because one of the things he taught me was that it was a filthy habit and not one he was proud of. He gave us kids an object lesson one day. Blew a smoke through a clean, white handkerchief. A big yellow stain appeared. "Imagine what my lungs look like," he said. That was all I needed.

  2. I feel this way every day. It is one of the hardest parts of living in the world, seeing the things we do to ourselves and each other without even knowing and with no way to stop. It breaks my heart.

  3. I tend to lose it when I see parents smoking with their kids in tow (on food or in a car). If I'm not in my work uniform, I mutter nasty comments related to the habit to them. It usually pisses people off, and I doubt that it does any good, but it's a bad habit I choose not toe work too hard to change.

    I just can't imagine making a kid live in the smoke that is spewed out of my lungs. SO nasty.

    If I can find a useful approach, I might try it, but for mow, people might rather avoid me if they're spewing smoke around kids.


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