Volume 15, Issue 3 ~ January 18 - January 24, 2007

Burton on the Bay

By Bill Burton

Smoked Out

We smokers have a right to be paranoid; they are after us.

You can hide the fire, but what are you going to do with the smoke?

—Uncle Remus: Plantation Proverbs by Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908)

Readers and friends who savor a puff or two now and then, it’s time for us to find an answer to Uncle Remus’ question. The anti-tobacco nuts are out to get us. We gotta hide to smoke, then hide the smoke.

They’re after us on the federal, state, city and county level, and if you lived at the Burton household up here on the shores of Stony Creek in North County, you could add in the home as the battleground.

Lately, wife Lois has taken up with antis, a small band of about 175 million or more who curiously have something against those of us who light up now and then on the leaf of Sir Walter Raleigh.

Soon as I click a lighter to put the flame on a freshly tamped briar bowlful of the weed, she wrinkles her nose like the time she did when my late white cat Frieda made a mistake in the living room.

Frieda got whisked out to the porch for several hours, the same porch I figure by Lois’ curled-up nose that she’d like to send me to before I blow the first smoke rings curling above my briar.

Then, she starts coughing and heads for another room. Once I feared I would be done in by spontaneous combustion when she returned with a canister of something like Lilacs of Napa Valley and started to spray me, my $180 meerschaum and the rest of the room.

Taunted by the Smell of Death

She won that one; I retreated to the porch. I can’t stand the smell of lilacs; they were the flower of death when I was a boy in the Great Depression. A purple lilac bush was on every lawn, and if someone bit the dust in warm weather, the viewing room in the household was loaded with lilacs.

I saw more than once a man light up his pipe and puff furiously to blow away the scent of fresh lilacs. Back then, I delight in reminding the antis, there was an ashtray everywhere in the room but at the bier. There were no complaints of second-hand smoke.

Everything was second hand during the Great Depression, so why not smoke from a 10-cent pack of Model tobacco?

Anyone who knows anything about smoking a pipe can tell you that meerschaum is a Rolls Royce among pipe aficionados. Meerschaum is a soft clay, and good meerschaums usually come from Turkey. They’re glistening white when you get one, and over the years — if you don’t get mouth or throat cancer first — they turn to bright amber.

Mine was halfway there, but once soaked with the Lilacs of Napa Valley spray it was out of the pipeline. Meerschaum is soft and almost porous; my fine smoking piece absorbed the spray, and thereafter when I lit up I thought I could smell death, which Lois says is appropriate. She’s always been a fatalist.

’Tis said there’s nothing worse than a reformed alcoholic, to which I ask Have you ever been married to a reformed smoker?

Tormented by a Reformed Smoker

I can’t fathom how Lois got mixed up with the antis; when we first met in 1966, she could do anything with a Marlboro but blow smoke rings out of her nose. Smoking was hip among college graduates; wherever they assembled, it was like London fogs on the nights Jack the Ripper took to the streets.

Lois quit as many times as Oprah has gone on a diet, but one day she snuffed out her last Virginia Slims. As they say in the military, the smoking lamp was out.

Now her Toyota Camry has everything imaginable among options, except an ashtray, which is why I switched from Japanese jalopies to a Saturn with an ashtray big enough to hold a few pipes.

We often ride in my station wagon; if we take the Camry, even in a blizzard in the dead of winter, from her driver’s seat she pushes buttons that open every window. She should have been an Eskimo.

For a time, an ashtray was virtually impossible to locate in the house, as in her car. But she wasn’t playing around with a dummy. Once I started tapping the pipe on goblets of crystal to remove the ashes, ashtrays reappeared. The curious gyrations around her nose continue at the click of a lighter. She ought to see a doctor about that; she tells me if I keep smoking, I’ll be seeing one.

When I remind her that because I smoke, Aunt MiMi gave me an ashtray she bought for 15 cents at a rummage sale 50 years ago — and that same ashtray has been authenticated as some kind of pottery dish made in Italy in 6,000bc, and the last of its kind sold at auction for $1,800 before I was born 80 years ago — Lois doesn’t get the point.

She reminds me of the $300 sports coat she gave me before my pipe burned a big hole in a pocket; or the snazzy raincoat that was a first anniversary gift that met the same fate.

Nowhere to Hide

I see in the papers that Anne Arundel County is about to ban smoking in all public places; ditto for Baltimore and the state.

Nor can I go to Washington. I see by the daily press that new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has taken it upon herself to yank the rug out from under smokers.

You get an idea of what we face when the top lawmakers in our nation can’t even light up. You wonder if they’ll be outside grabbing a quick puff when some crucial vote is taken. Pelosi’s action threatens the democratic process.

Closer to home in Annapolis a new administration is taking over and facing real big issues such as health, education, transportation, law and order, maybe even slots and tax increases. What appears to be the priority in the early days? To make sure the smoking lamp isn’t lit. You gotta worry about primacy in the eyes of our Solons when in the session more deliberations will involve tobacco than Chesapeake Bay restoration. And, we pay ’em!

If There’s a Will

For me, looks like Uncle Remus’ question of what are we going to do with the smoke goes back to my long stretch in a Navy hospital in Hawaii during World War II when on occasion a doctor would snuff the smoking lamp; we sailors mastered that by lighting up, putting the cigarette inside an orange juice container, then blowing the smoke into same — and capping it so it didn’t reach the nurse’s station.

Tell you what: We smokers today had better start saving Clorox jugs.

Enough said.

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