Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 9, No. 48
November 29 - December 5, 2001 
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In Montgomery County,
Freedom Goes Up in Smoke

… and taste good strong thick stupefying smoke!
— Robert Browning: “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxeds
Church,” 1845

Hey Bob, we thought of your poetry the other day when reading in the daily press what the powers that be in Montgomery County think about smoking.

It doesn’t have to be that good, strong, thick, stupefying smoke of which you wrote. The way I read it, just a whiff riding the breeze into a cranky neighbor’s yard would be sufficient to cost me 750 bucks if I were living in that jurisdiction, which I’m thankful I’m not.

Living there, to my way of thinking, is something akin to residing in Kabul under those Taliban fellas who took it upon themselves to dictate what people could do in the privacy of their own homes.

The do-gooders out there in Montgomery County also remind me of the words of George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier, who in 1891 wrote: “The wretcheder one is, the more one smokes: and the more one smokes, the wretcheder one gets — a vicious circle!”

Believe me, I’d feel pretty wretched having to cough up 750 clams for burning tobacco, which, as we smokers know, gives us enough of a cough.

This is not meant to be a defense of smoking. Smokers — at least most of them, including this writer — appreciate that it’s a bad habit. Sooner or later, not an insignificant number of us will pay the consequences in health — not to mention in hard-earned moola as anti-smoking campaigns have driven the price of tobacco so high we can’t afford to pay that 750 bucks in the first place.

The Rule of Pols
Thomas Riley Marshall (1854-1925) was presiding over the U.S. Senate when he said “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.” I consider it appropriate to add what this country — or at least Montgomery County — really needs is a little common sense. But I guess that’s asking a lot of the politicians of today.

Hey smokers, methinks it’s time to circle the wagons and prepare for a fight to the finish. We cannot bargain to save our necks, as did those going West through hostile Indian territory more than a century ago. That would mean ratifying the truce by smoking the peace pipe, which would have Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan on our case.

Doug, you see, is the publicity-seeking pol who announced at the very beginning that if the new law passed the county council, he was prepared to affix his John Hancock. Obviously, he has fantasies of his name played in the press across our nation, ala that old politician’s line “You can say what you want about me; just spell my name right.”

Maybe he thinks he’s doing smokers a favor, giving them a big monetary reason to quit. I’d be willing to gve up the addiction if the bowl of my last pipe, stuffed chock-full of dried camel dung, were lit up and puffed into the air of an elevator stuck between the 99th and 100th floor of the Empire State Building with him as the only other passenger in the car. Doug old boy, you’re looking a bit green, better take a deep breath.

Again, I stress, this is not a defense of smoking. But this is a free country, and in this free country the sale of tobacco products is bona fide and legal — as is the sale of alcoholic beverages and all the fatty artery-clogging foods sold in fast food eateries, both which I dare speculate eventually kill as many citizens as does the smoke from tobacco.

It’s a small world indeed. The Muslims of Afghanistan have had their Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, and we have our Doug Duncan and his tribe of county councilmen. It’s decreed the Muslims can’t smoke or watch television even within their homes, and now the rulers hereabouts would deny us the opportunity to smoke. Of course they’d allow us to stay glued to the imbecilic tube, which methinks is as contrary to the well-being of today’s society as Browning’s taste of good strong thick stupefying smoke.

All this makes me curious about what Doug and his council have been smoking. Some of that funny stuff? In any event, there’s something odoriferous in all this gang rule, but then we’ve become accustomed to the antics of Montgomery County and its politicians. It’s a curious situation over there in that county.

Assaulting My Castle
Tell me if I’m wrong, but the way I see it, if I light up and if the nostrils of my neighbor or a passerby gets just whiff of my Cavendish and decides it’s not to his or her liking, I’d be fined up to $750. It would make no difference whether I were indoors or outdoors. It’s the scent that determines culpability.

Whatever happened to society’s rule that a man’s home is his castle? I just paced off the distance from the glider where during reasonable weather I puff on my briar while reading the morning papers, and it’s 87 feet, which sounds like a lot. But there are times when those making their morning walks past the home have complimented me on my choice of tobacco.

That’s 87 feet from where 2-E the cat and I sit. I point that out to convey an idea of how small the world is when it comes to the travels of the aroma of burning tobacco. If just one neighbor complained that the smoke was annoying, I would have to pay up.

If I chose to move indoors, I’d have to keep the windows closed because it makes no difference how the smoke gets to where it bothers someone. Just a whiff and it’s guilty. Next case. Where’s the American Civil Liberties Union when we need ’em?

One county council member of those who opposed the legislation said a smoker would have to be in the middle of a two-acre tract for one to light up without fear of the Duncan Gestapo swarming in with fire extinguishers and deodorants. My household is on only three lots, a long thin strip, and you know how tobacco smoke rides the whims of the breeze.

Yet the guy down the street can blare Polish music while he washes his car. Noise travels much farther than scent and can be just as stressful if one doesn’t like polkas. The guy next door can legally barbecue with the tempting smoke from juicy ribs riding the air to annoy me as I try to curb my appetite to stay on a diet. A neighborhood dog can wander into the yard to harass 2-E as she sits with me without the owner facing a fine as hefty as I’d be subject to for taking a few puffs in my very own yard.

The smoke doesn’t have to gag, or cause any woes other than annoyance. Remember Otto Harbach’s popular song from the mid ’30s: “When a lovely flame dies, smoke gets in your eyes?”

Meanwhile, Mullah Duncan and his Taliban-like cohorts are quoted as saying most people won’t be inconvenienced by the moral police force. All I can say, besides thank God I’m an American, is thank God I’m not a Montgomery Countian.

Enough said …

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly