A Rant About Smokers

I’m sure that the very people who need to read this the most will be the very people who will not do so, but I feel the need to get this off my chest. I hate smoking and everything about it. I’m tired of soft-pedaling that attitude simply because it’s an addiction.

I’m quite sure I’d be just as addicted to nicotine as the next person, but here’s the difference: I chose never to start smoking. If you did not make that same choice, it’s on you. Own it. Yes, tobacco companies tend to target youth, who are more apt to make stupid choices, and heaven knows none of us are the same people we were at 14, but even so, you made that choice. Take responsibility. Stop making excuses.

And for God’s sake, stop throwing your saliva-soaked cigarette butts on the ground. It’s disgusting. I used to love to walk in the rain. It makes the world seem so fresh and clean. But the last time I did that, I had to wade through about a thousand soggy cigarette butts, and it left me dry heaving. I’d rather look at dog poop. Yeah, you’re addicted. But that doesn’t give you license to be a pig. And any smoker who tries to say they’ve never thrown a butt on the ground, not even once, is lying to themselves and everyone else. And as one of the unfortunates who has to clean up after your lazy ass, know that I’m cursing your name with every butt I have to pick up.

And then there’s the stench. You are so used to it that you probably don’t even smell it anymore, but trust me: you reek. Your house stinks. Your car is even worse. When you sweat, it oozes out of your pores. It clings to your hair and your clothes. (My mother died 26 years ago, and her raincoat, which I inherited, STILL stinks.) And if you leave ash trays around, that disgusting odor permeates the room. Many of us believe that you render yourself unkissable and undateable.

Growing up, the first sound I’d hear every morning was my mother’s smoker’s hack. Do you have any idea how terrifying that is for a child? It’s awful knowing that something is wrong with the person who is supposed to keep you safe. Sure enough, she died of cancer when I was 26.

And I suffered from chronic bronchitis because she chose to expose me to that secondhand smoke at a time when my little lungs were still developing. That’s one powerful addiction if you choose it over your child’s health. Shame on you. And don’t even get me started about women who smoke while pregnant. Would you inject rat poison into your own placenta? No? That’s what you are doing to your unborn child.

And if I hear one more smoker complain…actually have the nerve to complain about not being able to smoke anymore in restaurants or on planes or in other public places, I hereby reserve the right to slap the shit out of that person. Even heroin addicts have the sense not to gripe about these things.

The worst part about all of this is that you are an unbelievably selfish human being. You are killing yourself. You know it. Everyone knows it. You are committing suicide in the slowest possible way. And that hurts the people that you love. That leaves the people who depend upon you vulnerable. That in turn puts an unbelievable strain on the economy and the health care system.

You are shitting all over the incredible gift of life that you have been given. And because of that, while I might like you or even love you, I have zero respect for you and your effed up life choice. Zero.

End of rant.

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A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Least Favorite

I just finished doing the least glamorous, most disgusting part of my job. I spent an hour getting cigarette butts off the sidewalks and bike lanes of my bridge. So many thoughts go through my head while I do this.

Smoking is a disgusting habit, compounded by the fact that these butt-throwers clearly have no civic pride or sense of personal responsibility. And if you’re health conscious enough to jog or bike, what the heck are you doing smoking in the first place? When it crosses my mind that I’m interacting with things that have been in the mouths of about a hundred total strangers, and surely some portion of them have a communicable disease, I start to dry heave.

When that happens, I have to force myself to put a positive spin on things, so as not to retch all over the sidewalk and then have to clean that up. So what am I learning by doing my least favorite part of the job? What is this bringing into my life?

  • It’s good exercise.
  • It shows me the type of person/pig that I don’t ever want to be.
  • It allows me to be out in the sunshine.
  • Inevitably one person walking by every time I do this takes the time to thank me.
  • It reminds me that the rest of my job is actually pretty freakin’ fantastic.
  • It gives me a stronger sense of who I am, who I want to be, what I’m capable of, what I like and don’t like and why.
  • It provides me with an idea for a blog entry.
  • It feels sooooo good when I’m done.

I suggest to you that your least favorite things shouldn’t be avoided. Rather, examine them closely. Deal with them with perspective and an open mind for the lessons that they provide. Gifts can come from the most unexpected places. I’m grateful for every gift that comes my way.

Butts

Why I Will Always Shop at CVS Pharmacy

I’m not someone who sets great store in brand or company loyalty. I don’t even buy American necessarily. Nor do I subscribe to the concept that large conglomerations care about the consumer. The only thing they care about is that our money continues to flow in their direction.

But something happened recently that will make me loyal to CVS Pharmacy for the rest of my life. They decided that they will stop selling tobacco products as of October 1 of this year. This is the second largest pharmacy chain in the United States, and they anticipate losing 2 billion dollars a year in revenue by making this move, but they’re doing it anyway. They felt it wasn’t in keeping with their image of being purveyors of health and wellness.

I can’t remember the last time I heard of a corporation doing the right thing. And this right thing took a lot of chutzpah. Granted, 2 billion dollars constitutes less than 2 percent of their annual sales, but to risk alienating all of their smoking customers? That’s unprecedented, and I couldn’t be more impressed.

Whether you are a smoker or like me you are someone who has had to stand by helplessly while someone you love participates in that slow but inevitable death, I’m sure you have a story about how tobacco has negatively impacted your life. I suspect CVS is banking on the fact that a lot of consumers will be like me and support them with our loyalty, but that’s quite a leap of faith when most businesses would much rather err on the side of caution.

My mother had emphysema and died of cancer. One of my earliest memories of her was of her morning smoker’s hack. That made me never smoke. I’ve seen many people die over the years due to their tobacco use, and it frustrates me no end. I’ve watched the cigarette companies target the most vulnerable among us: young people, minorities, and people in third world countries. I’ve seen people with asthma suffer just from the proximity of smoke. I’ve seen arguments ensue over where smoking is acceptable, and I’ve seen disgusting cigarette butts in every imaginable place.

I realize that smokers will simply go elsewhere to buy their cigarettes now, but if even one person is delayed from smoking for just an hour, it’s worth it. If one sneaky smoking kid is inconvenienced because the CVS is the only thing within walking distance, hip hip hooray!

Whether CVS’ motivations are pure matters to me not at all. What I love most about this is that an influential nationwide company is sending a message that cigarettes are bad for your health and they aren’t going to participate in providing them to the public anymore. That’s a message that everyone should be sending.

My only question for CVS is, why wait until October 1? Yank them off the shelves now!!!

CVS

[Image credit: onenewspage.us]

Do Republican Women Hate Themselves?

When I was in college I was invited to join the youth division of a service organization called the Rotary Club, and I was seriously considering it. I thought it would look great on resumes and applications, and it would be wonderful to have a positive impact on this world.

Then I had a conversation with one of my professors. “Why on earth,” he said, “would you even think about joining an organization that does not allow adult women to join?” (Although the Rotary Club does allow women in its membership now, it didn’t at the time, and hadn’t for the first 75 years or so of its existence.)

That’s really all it took for me to give it a pass. No way was I going to lend my talent, effort and enthusiasm to an organization that, upon my 19th birthday, would deem me unworthy to join their ranks based solely on the fact that I did not have the requisite reproductive organs.

From that day forward I’ve always been rather befuddled by women who endorse any group or philosophy that supports the notion that women are in any way inferior. In particular, I will never understand why a woman would join the Republican Party here in the United States. Let’s look at their policies:

  • Republicans don’t mind you having birth control covered by your insurance, as long as you don’t work for an organization that would get upset about it. For example, if you have a job in a Catholic organization, regardless of your own particular religion, they think it’s okay for you to be deprived of your right to affordable contraceptives.
  • They also do not see any problem at all with a woman earning less than a man for doing the same job.
  • They do not support or condone the equal rights amendment.
  • They want to cut the funding for WIC, a federal aid program for pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children under the age of five.
  • If you want to be totally outraged, simply Google “Republican” and “Rape”. Their views, even the less extreme ones, make it quite obvious that they are still of the philosophy that most women bring it on themselves. They aren’t even comfortable with the idea that we should reform policies to crack down on sexual assault in the military.
  • Conservatives oppose the support of violence prevention programs and battered women’s shelters, as evidenced by their opposition to the Violence Against Women Act.
  • They have practically criminalized the term “Planned Parenthood”. In 2009, this organization, according to Wikipedia, “provided 4,009,549 contraceptive services (35% of total), 3,955,926 sexually transmitted disease services (35% of total), 1,830,811 cancer related services (16% of total), 1,178,369 pregnancy/prenatal/midlife services (10% of total), 332,278 abortion services (3% of total), and 76,977 other services (1% of total), for a total of 11,383,900 services. The organization also said its doctors and nurses annually conduct 1 million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams.” And 75 percent of their clients have incomes 150 percent below the poverty level. Oh, yeah! These folks are EVIL!

And let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? Abortion. Many women that I’ve talked to identify themselves with the Republican Party because it is opposed to abortion.

Here’s what utterly confounds me about this line of thinking. I am opposed to smoking. There is overwhelming proof that it kills you. But never in a million years would I try to introduce legislation that would prevent a consenting adult from making the choice to smoke, as insane as I think that choice may be. That choice means, effectively, that that person is killing a full grown human being and possibly people in their vicinity. And if they’re pregnant, they’re flooding the fetus with carcinogens. These are people who are loved by others, and often depended upon by others. But it is not for me to decide what he or she does with his or her own body.

So in essence, women who join the Republican Party because they oppose abortion are NOT saying, “I disagree with abortions, so I’ll never have one, and I will try and talk my loved ones out of having one.” That I could respect. But no, what they are saying is, “I disagree with abortions, so I want to join a political party that is hell bent on depriving every woman of the right to make their own life choices, because the male-dominated political arena is more capable of doing that for them. I also want to reverse the law of the land and put desperate women who are doing desperate things in jail, and relegate the rest of them to back alleys and coat hangers, so that instead of just the fetus being killed, the woman will be killed too.”

Yup, sorry. If my choice is between saving the life of a full grown, fully developed human being or a fetus, as distasteful as having to make a choice of that kind may be, I’m going to choose the adult every single time. And the irony is that if you oppose family planning and sex education and access to contraceptives as the Republicans do, you give women two choices when the inevitable unwanted pregnancy comes along. Either they become brood mares or they seek the very abortions you oppose.

I don’t get it. Why on earth would any woman want to join the war on women? Do they hate themselves and their daughters and their sisters? It makes absolutely no sense to me.

I am braced for outraged comments, but I hope people have the good sense to realize that I’m expressing my opinion, and I’d love it if someone could make me understand, but I really don’t see that happening.

Even if you personally never take advantage of the programs, benefits, and services that the Republicans so vehemently oppose, if you are a Republican, you are depriving women, not men, of those programs, benefits and services. As a woman, how can you do that?

There’s no reasonable explanation for supporting a group that does not support you.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

[Image credit: opednews.com]

That’ll Fix ‘Em: Self-Destruction as a Form of Aggression

There’s nothing more absurd than someone who harms himself to punish others. Everyone knows a story to that effect.

I know a woman who started smoking as a teenager simply to piss off her parents. 30 years later she has cancer. Was it worth it?

And then there’s the guy who has a tattoo on the back of his hand that he now calls his “stupid mark.” Everyone who knew him tried to talk him out of it, and that’s why, ultimately, he got it. Nobody was going to tell him what to do! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against tattoos, but if you’re going to get one of Tweety Bird, you might want it to be in a location where it will be covered up during business meetings 20 years later.

I used to work with a woman who would consistently come to work looking exhausted. I once asked her if she was getting enough rest, and she told me this story: When she lived at home with her mother, who was a real piece of work, one of her many rigid inflexible rules was that everyone had to be in bed by 11:00 pm. Not one minute later. It didn’t matter your age, or the situation, or whether you were sleepy. You absolutely HAD to be in bed, lights out, by 11:00 pm. Forget about dating. Forget about prom. Forget about late night Twilight Zone marathons on a summer Saturday night.  So my coworker vowed that when she finally moved away from home, she would ALWAYS stay up past 11:00 pm. No matter how tired she was. Even if it was just until 11:01 pm, she’d fight to stay awake, even if it killed her. Because she wasn’t going to ever give her mother the satisfaction. Not even 10 years after her death.

After she told me this, I went back to my office and marinated with it for a while. Then I went back to her and said, “You know, by doing this, your mother STILL controls when you go to bed. Wouldn’t it be better to look up at the sky and say, ‘Eff you, Mom! I’ll go to sleep when I darned well please! Some days that will be 9:00 pm, some days it will be 3:00 am, but regardless, it will be when I decide!’”

I left that job shortly thereafter, so I’ll never know if she took my advice, but I hope she did, because she wasn’t punishing her mother. She was punishing herself.

But who am I to criticize? Whenever I get angry about something, what I tend to do is eat. My entire body is coated in a layer of furious fat. Does that solve the problem? Does that exact revenge upon the person who has wronged me? Does it even make me feel better? No. It puts me at risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and a whole host of other health issues.

There has to be a better way. My instinct is to say that it would always be more beneficial to confront the person. Tell him how you feel. It may not be easy. It may not feel comfortable. But at least it’s not self-destructive.

Tweety

The Cigarette Girl and the Waving Man

I spent the first 10 years of my life in Connecticut, so when we moved to a small Southern town in the 1970’s, it was quite a culture shock. The segregation was more subtle than it had been in the 50’s, of course. We all went to school together. But we certainly didn’t live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same churches or socialize in any significant way. Every rural town has its characters, but in Apopka, Florida where I grew up, ours were even more tragic or heroic or, I suppose, both, due in part to this unofficial segregation.

Every day, rain or shine, you were bound to come across the cigarette girl. She looked like she was in her early 20’s. She was always in a ragged house dress and barefoot, summer or winter. I never saw her move, but she must have, because she popped up on various street corners throughout town, and she’d just stand there in a catatonic state, looking like an impoverished, unkempt and extremely neglected statue. The saddest thing about her was that she always had cigarette butts stuck haphazardly in amongst her corn rows. It was disgusting. It was tragic. And the fact that her family and the powers that be in the city did absolutely nothing for her, and I felt completely unequipped to do anything myself, made me feel like the world was not a safe place, and that you couldn’t count on adults at all. Whenever I saw her I was mesmerized by her, but was too afraid to approach her. I tried to find out her story, and I did hear a rumor that she had been gang raped when she was 5 years old, and hadn’t been “right in the head” since. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I do know that the entire town seemed to be content to let her roam the streets like a stray dog, and there’s something very, very wrong with a community that’s willing to do that.

On the way home from school or the library or the drug store, we would have to drive through the poorer neighborhoods because we were extremely poor ourselves, and therefore lived on the outskirts of town. Every single day unless it was raining, we would pass this broken down shack next to the railroad tracks, and sitting out front on one of those ratty old webbed lawn chairs would be a very old, weathered man. Whenever a car would drive by, he’d wave and smile, so I called him the waving man. I knew nothing more about him. He never had anything with him. No newspaper, no radio, no book, not even a glass of sweet tea. But he never looked bored. He just sat there and waved his wrinkled old hand as if that was his calling, as if he had always been there and always would be.

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(Image credit: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/tags/lreyns/interesting/ )

At the time it never occurred to me to stop and talk to him. I think I’d have been too scared because of the neighborhood or too intimidated to cross our great cultural divide. But I was always curious about him, and would have loved to know his story. He looked happy, and yet I’m amazed that shack he lived in didn’t fall down every time a train went by and rattled its already shaky foundation. I never saw him with friends or relatives, but he looked much too old to be taking care of himself. Still, he was there, day after day, smiling, waving, enduring and apparently timeless, living his life. And I would always wave back. I hope he was content and cared for by his neighbors during his last days, but I’ll never know, now.

The last time I went back to Apopka it had changed so much that I could barely find my way around. The drug store was a mere shadow of its former self. The library, once housed in a cozy corner of a strip mall, had moved on to bigger, more modern accommodations. Everything seemed bigger and more modern, in fact. My town had joined the 21st century at last. But I will always remember it as a small town that looked the other way, and maybe that was good, and maybe it wasn’t. That was just the way Apopka was.

Habits You Didn’t Even Know You Had, or “Who’s Driving This Body, Anyway?”

When you get dressed in the morning, do you do sock, sock, shoe, shoe, or sock, shoe, sock shoe? Most people don’t know without taking their shoes off and trying it. And even THEN they won’t be sure that they’re doing it the way they usually do. Unless you’re extremely obsessive, your body is on automatic pilot most of the time, and you aren’t even thinking about this stuff.

Here’s an experiment. Interlace your fingers. Don’t just sit there. Do it. Okay. If you’re right handed, odds are your right thumb will be the one on top. The dominant hand always takes charge. Now try switching up the fingers so that your other thumb is the one that’s on top. Feels weird, doesn’t it? Sit like that for a minute or two. Become one with the strangeness of that feeling. Your brain right now is probably freaking out. Suddenly YOU have taken over. Your brain doesn’t know how to deal with that.

The fact is that every living thing has habits. Some of these are strictly for preservation, such as choice of habitat. (Habitat. Habit. Coincidence? I don’t think so.) If a turtle suddenly decided it should live in the treetops, it wouldn’t last long. Other habits are beyond our explanation. For example, why do some types of trees grow in conical shapes and others in dome shapes?

Any smoker will tell you it’s difficult to kick that habit, but often the blame will be laid upon the doorstep of nicotine. Granted, the chemical addiction is a strong one, but another thing one must consider is the behavioral habits related to smoking. For example, if you have a habit of smoking while talking on the phone, you can’t expect to just stop that. You have to replace that habit with something, or your body is going to constantly be in a state of discomfort similar to the one you felt in the experiment above. Your body and your brain NEED habits. Any good hypnotist knows this. They will not just take your habits away, or your body will find something to fill that void. They will replace one habit with a hopefully less self-destructive one.

So the next time you look up with a start and realize that you’ve been doing something without thinking about it, just remember that you’re not always in the driver’s seat. And most of the time, thank goodness, that’s okay. Unless, of course, you’re operating heavy equipment…